Posts Tagged 'Customer Service'

August 15, 2012

Managing Support Tickets: Email Subscriptions

This week, the development team rolled out some behind-the-scenes support functionality that I think a lot of our customers will want to take advantage of, so I put together this quick blog post to spread the word about it. With the new release, the support department is able to create "Ticket Email Subscriptions" for different ticket groups on every customer account. As a customer, you might not be jumping up and down with joy after reading that one-sentence description, but after you hear a little more about the functionality, if you're not clapping, I hope you'll at least give us a thumbs-up.

To understand the utility of the new ticket email subscription functionality, let's look at how normal tickets work in the SoftLayer portal without email subscriptions:

User Creates Ticket

  1. User A creates a ticket.
  2. User A becomes the owner of that ticket.
  3. When SoftLayer responds to the ticket, an email notification is sent to User A to let him/her know that the ticket has been updated.

SoftLayer Creates Ticket

  1. SoftLayer team creates a ticket on a customer's account.
  2. The primary customer contact on the account is notified of the new ticket.
  3. Customer logs into the portal and responds to ticket.
  4. Customer gets notifications of updates (as described above).

There's nothing wrong with the existing support notification process, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make the process better. What if User A creates an urgent ticket on his/her way out the door to go on vacation? User B and User C aren't notified when an update is posted on User A's ticket, so the other users aren't able to get to the ticket and respond as quickly as they would have if they received the notification. What if the primary customer contact on the account isn't the best person to receive a monitoring alert? The administrator who will investigate the monitoring alert has to see the new ticket on the account or hear about it from the primary contact (who got the notification).

Ticket email subscriptions allow for customers to set contact addresses to be notified when a ticket is created, edited or moved in a particular ticket group. Here are the ticket groups differentiated in our initial release:

  • Billing - Any ticket in our Billing department
  • Maintenance - Scheduled maintenance notifications for specific servers
  • Network Protection - DDoS mitigation and Null Routes
  • Monitoring - Host Down Alerts
  • CST, SysAdmin and Hardware - Any ticket in our support and data center departments
  • Managed Services - Tickets that relate to any managed services
  • Network Maintenance - Scheduled network maintenance

You'll notice that Abuse isn't included in this list, and the only reason it's omitted is because you've always been able to designate a contact on your account for abuse-related tickets ... Ticket subscriptions extend that functionality to other ticket groups.

Because only one email address can be "subscribed" to notifications in each ticket group, we recommend that customers use their own distribution lists as the email contacts. With a DL as the contact, you can enable multiple users in your organization to receive notifications, and you can add and remove users from each distribution list on your end quickly and easily.

When User A creates a ticket with the data center and goes on vacation, as soon as SoftLayer responds to the ticket, User A will be notified (as usual), and the supportsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will get notified as well. When a network maintenance is ticket is created by SoftLayer, the netmaintsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will be notified.

Ticket email subscriptions are additive to the current update notification structure, and they are optional. If you want to set up ticket email subscriptions on your account, create a ticket for the support department and provide us with the email addresses you'd like to subscribe to each of the ticket groups.

We hope this tool helps provide an even better customer experience for you ... If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to the lab to work with the dev team to cook up more ways to add flexibility and improvements into the customer experience.

-Chris

April 6, 2012

Of Cage Nuts and Customer Service

Sometimes it's the little hardships and annoyances that really mold you. How do you react? Do you manage to work through them, or do you let them eat away at you to the point that you're more paralyzed by them than you are a bigger problem?

As a new hire, I was required to take part in a Truck Day — an experience that helps everyone in the company understand (at a base level) what is involved with the actual products and services we sell. If you've ever had the fortune of working on one, there are certain activities that can leave you feeling weary. For me, that weariness-inducing activity was working with cage nuts.

For those of you unfamiliar with cage nuts, they're small pieces of metal that accommodate screw-in server rails on a rack meant for slide-in server rails. Installing them is one of the most frustrating things ever ... They have two little clips that fit inside the rack, and you have to bend them to get them in. Here's a great illustration of how they work from an Oracle Sun Rack user's guide:

Cage Nuts

I'd installed them before, but never more than eight or so at a time. After Truck Day, I now have nothing but the greatest respect for the amazing people working in the data centers who have to do them in massive volumes. I don't think I've ever received as many tiny cuts on my hand as I did in the few hours I spent installing the relatively small number I managed to complete.

As a Customer Support Administrator (CSA), I spend the majority of my time sitting at a computer, helping customers with their servers and doing my best to resolve issues as they are encountered. Physically installing cage nuts isn't part of my day-to-day responsibilities (until the next Truck Day), but I realized that my job has its own "cage nuts."

A customer wanting to lease a server from us isn't particularly worried about the fact that cage nuts have to be meticulously installed in the rack, and they also aren't paying any mind to the fact I might have worked with a dozen customers in my shift already — And, certainly, they shouldn't. They're paying for a great customer experience and helpful, friendly service, so they don't need to take into account the context of our operations when they're simply asking for us to help them with a server reboot to finish the installation of an OS patch upgrade.

SoftLayer, as a company, has amazed me in that everyone I've met is not only willing to deal with their "cage nuts," but they will also do so without losing the smile from their face (even if there's some good-natured grumbling every now and then). In many of the places I've worked, this sort of task would be met with protest, foot dragging and a tired resignation to doing the work. That simply isn't the case here.

I'm definitely a newbie around here, and I'm still getting a feel for the culture, catching up on the inside jokes, and learning the ins and outs of the company (and the people in it). The one thing that was abundantly clear to me from the very first night, though: SLayers are truly dedicated to what they do, and the resulting work environment is one that fosters and rewards that dedication.

So in my estimation, how have the little annoyances — the cage nuts of our lives — molded SoftLayer and the people who work here? I'd say that not only do we work through them, we do so enthusiastically in the company of friends, proud of the fact that these seemingly small things are part of what has made this all possible.

I hope all of you work in environments that enable you to deal with the small things you see every day without cursing under your breath and feeling stressed. If you don't, maybe you should look into finding a place that does. I hear we're hiring.

-Gregory

February 23, 2012

How to Get the Best Customer Service (Anywhere)

Shelves of books have been written about providing great customer support, but I haven't seen many written about how to get great customer support. Lance wrote a quick guide called "The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets" in May 2007, but because there have been over 730 blog posts between that post and this post, I thought I might take a shot at the topic again without stealing too many of his ideas. When you work with a service-based company, you're probably going to interact with customer support representatives regularly. During these interactions, your experience will not be defined by your question or the issue you have. Instead, it will be defined by how you present your issue.

It can be extremely frustrating when a server goes down or a script isn't working the way it should. When something like this happens, my gut reaction is to get upset and throw my keyboard. I've also noticed that when I am angry, I have a difficult time trying to explain my problem to technical support. I know I'm not alone in that regard, so I tried to pinpoint the most important points to remember when contacting customer support. While some of the explanations below are more SoftLayer-specific, each of the tips below can be used in any situation where you need customer support.

  • Remember there's a human on the other end. It doesn't matter where the customer support representative is; they're human, and their responsibility is to help you. I don't have any empirical data, but human nature tells me it's easier to be nice to someone who is nice to you. Once you realize there's a person on the other end of the phone trying to do his/her job, it's a little easier to thank them in advance for their help. It may seem insignificant, but if you thank me in advance for my help, I'll subconsciously work harder in an effort to deserve that gratitude.
  • Don't assume your request will be ignored. I'm surprised by the number of people who start or end their e-mail with, "No one will probably see this, but ..." or "Not that anyone cares, but ..." Don't assume that you'll be ignored. That assumption just creates overarching negative tone; it isn't a "reverse psychology" play. The support process can be defined by the expectations you set for it, so get started on the right foot and expect that your questions will be answered and issues will be resolved.
  • Don't start with a threat. "If you don't do this, I'm going to report this to my bank and other authorities," or "If you don't respond within 25 seconds, you'll be hearing from my lawyer." It's not uncommon to hear things like this in the first message in a ticket. It's much easier to help someone who seems easy to help. Invoking lawyers does not make your ticket seem easy to address. :-)
  • Provide useful, descriptive and relevant information. This tip can be tough since it's hard to understand what information is "relevant," but think about it before you send a support request. If you are having trouble logging in, then "I can't log in. Any ideas?" is not quite as clear as "Whenever I try to log in, the login screen just reloads without an error message. I know my username and password are correct. Any ideas? Thanks." That extra information will help considerably and will reduce the number of back-and-forth e-mails between you and the support representative.
  • Don't write overly detailed, wordy support requests. The longer your e-mail, the more difficult it is to read, diagnose and to respond. A representative has to read the entire ticket to find what's meaningful and figure out exactly what's wrong. Since they're trying to help you, you want to reduce their burden. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. So, be clear, concise and brief. If you've got a couple different issues for support to look at, break them out into individual tickets. Different issues may need to be addressed by different departments, so multiple issues in a single ticket can lead to delays in responding to specific issues in the ticket.
  • More Tickets ≠ More Support. The flip-side of the above recommendation is that you shouldn't create multiple support tickets for a single issue. While it seems like you're drawing more attention to the issue and creating a sense of urgency, you're really slowing down the support process. Support representatives might be addressing the same issue in parallel or information might be lost between tickets, elongating the time to resolution.
  • Escalate your tickets smartly. If you think a ticket should be handled differently or if you would like a supervisor to look into a specific issue, you should always feel free to request escalation to a manager or a supervisor. The best way to make that request is to update your open ticket, initiate a live chat or place a call into the technical support phone line. If you aren't satisfied with your support experience, then we aren't either, so we want to hear from you.

As you can see, the prescription is not too complicated: Prepare yourself to receive the best support and help us provide the best support, and you're much more likely to receive it.

-@khazard

May 25, 2010

Customer Service

Customers are the heart of any business. If you don’t have customers you will not have a business. Here at Softlayer we take the meaning of customer service to another level. Yes, we have a Customer Service department but we don’t view customer service as an event, but rather as a series of interrelated pieces of a process. Many departments within our organization in addition to Customer Service provide a degree of customer service whether it’s to an internal or external customer.

Softlayer employs the “best practice” approach to take the perspective of the customer in all that we do. Since our customers come in through our website, the Softlayer team is continually working to improve the online ordering experience with the customer usability in mind at all times. One of my first tasks here at Softlayer was to “act” like a customer and order a server. I then had to do a write up on the experience. I have to be honest; it required some thought as to what could be improved because this process has been fine tuned as it’s been done over and over again. I thought the website and ordering process was very well put together, intuitive and easy to use.

Another way a customer will experience Softlayer is through our portal. Now, working from the inside, the portal is quite overwhelming at first. As you spend more time on it you realize just how powerful it actually is. We have quite a few developers working on it daily and this is to ensure that the customer has every tool, option, and task at their fingertips so they can get the most from their servers. Being in the internet business we understand that a competitor is only one click away.

Also during my first week here, I spent several days working in the NOC. Aside from being thoroughly awed with our facilities and how neat and organized everything was, I was impressed as I listened to the techs on their calls with the customers. The calls are handled with customer satisfaction as the first priority. Yes, I even heard the challenging calls that were very difficult to handle. The techs remained calm and focused to solve the problem at hand. The quality of work depends on the quality of people in place so if you have any technical problems these are the folks you want to speak with.

According to Wikipedia, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”[i] Here at Softlayer we exceed the customer expectations and will continue to implement and improve best practice processes and initiatives to improve our customer’s experience.

May 4, 2010

Early Morning Phone Call

Working for a company like SoftLayer requires a lot of dedication. Our staff is on call 24/7, and is ready to react in any given circumstance. Our BlackBerry’s keep us in the know, and allow us to quickly communicate with each other via email, telephone, and SMS. It is this communication that allows us to rise above the competition.

One specific example of this occurred in the wee hours of the morning. As per usual, communication was established via email of a specific customer issue. Having updated the customer, and established the required email thread regarding the request, I proceeded with business as usual, being sure to keep this issue in the back of my mind to brief the inbound shift once they arrived. I was quite surprised as my phone rang shortly afterwards. It was one of the senior members of our management team. While I won’t name specifics, because it’s quite inconsequential, I was particularly impressed that at around 4:00 in the morning (on a Saturday, nonetheless), they were awake and reading their email. Occurrences such as this aren’t unusual. Our team, regardless of the level of responsibility is always ready to take ownership, or assist when necessary.

This says one thing very loudly, it doesn’t matter how high up in the food chain a member of the team is here. We all take customer concerns very seriously, and work diligently to ensure that customer requests are met in a timely fashion. This isn’t limited to the personnel in the NOC, or our management team. Our Sales team works endlessly to communicate with their customers. It’s not uncommon for a member of our sales team to sneak out while hanging out to answer a phone call or an email to ensure that our customers are taken care of. Our InfoSys and development team are frequently contacted in the middle of the night with issues that require their attention. They resolve those issues quickly, and allow us to continue on with keeping our customers up and running. Suffice to say, anyone who sports the three bars does so knowing that they’re the best in the industry. We all take pride in ownership of the issues, and making sure that they’re resolved quickly so that our customers can be successful.

April 19, 2010

Watch Us Grow!

It’s been two and a half years (roundabout) since I started here at SoftLayer. It’s amazing to take a look back and see exactly how far we have come in that time. We sacrifice sleep for innovation and food for customer service. Our Development team works around the clock to continue to release products and features that further enhance our customers’ ability to take control of their servers and reduce interaction with our support team (although we’re sure that you love us, right?). It’s often fun to look back at the past and see exactly how far you’ve come. Sometimes when you’re buried in the day-to-day, it’s difficult to take a look from above to see that.

As I first set foot in the doors at the Dallas NOC, I walked into a maelstrom of activity. Brad showed me the ropes and walked me through my first server build. He showed me how to monitor server provisions and reloads and taught me everything (and then some) about hardware. Concurrently, two new datacenters were in the works – one in Seattle and one in WDC. As the company grew, the crew grew with it. I watched as our team grew with the company. I saw promotions, new hires, and new titles being added every day. I decided I had to get a piece of the action. After some trial, error, and plenty of downtime on an old PC, I learned a few things, and made my move to SysAdmin. I was lucky enough to have a crew who was willing to teach me some tricks of the trade.

Soon thereafter Lance announced even more growth. We’re now opening up a new corporate headquarters (watch the progress here!), our network map has been updated to add our new POPs, and there’s plenty more exciting news forthcoming. Needless to say SoftLayer doesn’t rest. While it may be rough at times, it’s great to look back at the last few years and see how far we’ve come. We’re a tight knit family. The ones that have been here for a while work closely to ensure our success, and the newbies are quickly taught the way of the SLayer. We’ll continue to grow, and opportunities for both our staff and our customers will be endless. Congrats to SL for leading the path, and kudos to our customers for making us the best in the industry!

December 9, 2009

SoftLayer - Unbelievable Control, Capabilities and Innovation

I have been working at SoftLayer for 2 + years now as a CSA and it has been quite the experience! Imagine working at a place where you get to put your hands on the latest technologies, where customers can manage servers as if they were in their own datacenter, and where innovation is a daily norm. Welcome to my job at SoftLayer. I have seen this company grow at an amazing rate, and to whom do we owe the credit? YOU – The customer! Everything that we do, offer and build is a testament to the customers that use our services. This helps make us a forerunner in the industry and allows the customers that use our services to grow and achieve anything that their business requires. I am going to list just a few of my favorite capabilities we offer below:

VPN – The ability to control your server through a private, secure connection and to use our backend services without incurring usage against bandwidth.

IPMI – Having the power of a local console attached and with some cards a virtual dvdrom to install any operating system of your choice.

OS Reloads – We offer several types of operating systems to choose from and keep up to date with the latest versions.

Secondary DNS – You can host your own DNS and allow zone transfers into the SoftLayer Portal and use our resolvers as secondary failovers.

Content Delivery Network – This Feature is awesome as you can deliver your site or video from the closest point to an end user geographically to ensure a great viewing experience.

Support – 24x7 support that truly cares about the customer’s needs. We love what we do and this attitude shows in everything we do.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and barely touches on what we offer our customers. If you are not yet a customer I would strongly encourage you to speak with one of our Sales representatives as they are here and ready to help and will guide you in building the platform you need to get the job done.

May 20, 2009

Dealing with Customer Service

No – this isn’t one of those blogs or editorials ranting and railing about how no one out there is able to provide good customer service anymore. This isn’t about how no one in the service industry – from restaurants to retail and everything in between – seems to care about the customer anymore. People have been writing those stories for the past 50 years (about half as long as they have been writing about the coming demise of baseball). This is just a short little missive lamenting how the same people that complain about lack of service are often people that work in the service industry themselves.

I often find myself in a retail store wondering why I can’t get help locating an object. Or in a restaurant wondering where the wait staff is. Or trying to work my way through an automated phone help system. Part of me sympathizes with the wait staff knowing that they are probably just too busy to get to my table. Maybe the restaurant is understaffed or maybe they have an unexpected rush of customers. And part of me even realizes the operational value of the automated phone system. The ability to reduce head count and lower costs with an automated system seems like a great idea (and sometimes it is).

But when I find myself in those aggravating situations and my anger is just about to get the better of me, I generally come back to the fact that myself and everyone else that works at SoftLayer is in the customer service industry. Oh, I might complain to a manager or I might tip less or I might shop at that location less. But more important than that, I try to use that experience as a reminder of how important customer service is. I’m not talking about just the ability to provide the product the customer is looking for – I mean the ability to be able to answer questions in a timely manner, to answer the phone as quickly as possible, to handle outages as quickly and professionally as possible, to provide customers with frequent updates and most importantly, to treat every customer interaction with the level of urgency that the customer thinks it deserves.

And THAT’s the important part – not just solving the problem, but making sure that the customer’s expectations are met.

-SamF

May 15, 2008

Dreams

Everyone has dreams. Dreams may include having enough money that one never needs to think about money again. Dreams might include working from home. Actually, forget about working from home, how about working from the beach? I dream of providing technical support from my laptop at the beach while sipping pina coladas (virgin, of course, Mr. Crosby…I would never have alcohol on duty):

Photo

I spoke to a customer of SoftLayer via his cell phone while he was on a ski boat in the middle of a lake somewhere. This customer received an email regarding a monitoring alert for one of his servers via his cell phone. He called me, the issue was resolved in 5 minutes, and he went back to skiing. That’s right…all work being done remotely from your favorite locale. That is a great dream. Our hardware manager, Brad, would definitely be on the ski slopes in less than a minute if he were told he could manage from that location via laptop. I can just see him snowboarding down the mountain and typing away to his Server Build Engineers about the latest and greatest hardware we are about to roll out. I’m pretty sure Lance is setting us up for this according to his blog entitled, “Your Datacenter is Obsolete

Wait…maybe he is saying that CSA’s will be obsolete as well…uh…nah…he wouldn’t do that to us, right…right?

I speak to customers daily that are working from their homes and living their dreams. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a customer somewhere in a remote location in Canada. He is running a very lucrative business from a cabin. His location is so remote and desolate that truck drivers must be enticed by a yearly salary of over $120,000 to come up there and work. No one would do it for less money than that. I have always lived and worked in big cities like Dallas, Texas, and I cannot imagine living in such a place. This customer is often trapped by snow in the winter and cannot leave his cabin until it melts to the point that he can get out. And yet, he runs a business using SoftLayer servers making more than the truck drivers (how much? I don’t know) from this desolate place (Why? I don’t know…he must like it). What a great business opportunity for someone who chooses to live away from civilization. People only dreamed of such opportunities not so long ago. The days of having to move away from family, friends, and your home in order to find work are long gone. An internet connection and a few SoftLayer servers ; ) are all one needs to make A LOT of money.

I was speaking to another customer yesterday, who was very excited about his business and how Softlayer was helping him to achieve his dreams. While I quietly worked on his issue, he spoke at length about how he first came to hear about Softlayer, the depth to which his vision for his business has grown while partnering with SoftLayer, and his amazing plans for the future of his business. I was truly inspired by his passion for his business and his particular vision for his company. He shared some of the challenges that he has faced and how he overcame them. He readily admitted to some mistakes he has made in business and what he learned from those mistakes. He said that he would not deviate from his goals and that partnering with SoftLayer was integral to achieving those goals. He also said that SoftLayer had helped him greatly in overcoming some of those challenges that he had faced in the past with other datacenters. I must say that it gives me a real sense of pride when a customer tells me that they have partnered with other datacenters in the past, and that their experience with SoftLayer has been second to none. He was also up north somewhere. I don’t know where he was located exactly, but I know he was working from home because I kept hearing a young child playing in the background. This is one thing that so great about the opportunities in this industry. Work from where ever you like and SoftLayer, in particular, makes this easier than ever before.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without first dreaming of that accomplishment.” - based on a quote by Hebbel

-David

Subscribe to customer-service