Cloudflare TV

What is Cloudflare Customer Support?

Presented by Shane Ossa, Otto Imken
Originally aired on 

Shane Ossa will interview Otto Imken, Cloudflare's Head of Support. During this interview, we will cover Cloudflare's support offering, describe what customers contact us about, explain how we help customers, and show how we operate at scale.

Customer Support

Transcript (Beta)

Hello and welcome to What is Cloudflare Support, the Cloudflare TV segment. My name is Shane Ossa.

I'm on the customer support team at Cloudflare. I'm the training manager for the team, so it's my job to make sure everyone gets the training they need to do their jobs.

And I'm here today with the head of customer support, Otto Imken.

Hey Shane, good to see you. I think this is our third or fourth meeting today, my first Cloudflare TV segment.

Hey everybody, I'm Otto. I'm the head of the customer support team at Cloudflare.

I've been here for over five years now.

It's been a wild ride as we've grown the team, grown the business. Previously, I've been at various startups and large companies around the Bay Area doing customer support for about 20 years.

So yeah, I'll let you take it. Cool. Yeah, I've been here about four years myself.

It's been an amazing journey. When I started, there was maybe 25 or 28 people on the team.

We're 120 now. We've grown our customer base.

We've grown the amount of features. It's been a real adventure to try to figure out how to train such a large group.

And it's been a great opportunity so far.

So thanks for the opportunity. I just want to quickly plug, if you want to ask us questions, there's an email somewhere below here, somewhere below, where you can write in and our wonderful helpers will send us the questions that you're asking.

So if you want to ask us questions about what Cloudflare support is, what our roadmap is, what are we doing for this, that, go ahead and feel free to send them in.

We'd love to answer some questions live. Yeah, please do.

That'd be cool. Yeah. Yeah. So I guess I'll just start us off with the title of the show and then we can go on tangents.

So what is Cloudflare support, Otto?

What do customers get from us? Yeah, for sure. So in one sense, our support is similar to tech support at lots of big and small companies, but I think we do a really great job and we're in a really unique place.

Cloudflare is many things. It's a platform with dozens of different products.

We strive to make them easy to use.

So you can click a button and turn on various products, but in reality it gets really complicated really fast.

So Cloudflare support, I am biased, but I see us as being at the core of the company.

We're here for all of our millions of customers every day, 24 seven, 365 to help them make the most out of Cloudflare.

We help people get set up and configure.

We explain, we point them to videos and the knowledge-based articles, and we help them when they have problems.

So in the business, we call it break fix.

If it's broken, we help you fix it. If you have a question, you come to us and we really, through your help, training the team, become experts on everything.

So no one can know everything, but when customers have an issue, have a question, they come to us.

So what is Cloudflare support? The actual people, it's really a people team.

And so we have 120 people around the world in London, Lisbon, Munich, San Francisco, Austin, Singapore, Tokyo, and remote in other locations in Washington state and Florida state.

And especially through the pandemic times, people are scattered and sheltering in place and Zooming all day long.

So yeah, we're everywhere. Yeah. So we have people distributed all around the globe so that we can answer customers' questions 24 seven.

We tend to prioritize the highest urgency questions.

So if your site is offline for any reason, we're going to prioritize those issues.

We tend to prioritize our enterprise highest paying customers.

Of course, they get the highest grade of support and the highest trained, most experienced people on the team.

Yeah. For any customers listening, that's a good tip.

We'll try and give you some tips throughout the half hour. Help us prioritize your tickets.

So we use a system that's pretty standard throughout the industry of P1, priority one is an urgent ticket.

P2 is high, but not life threatening for your site.

P3 is normal. And P4 is just a perfunctory question. And so if you tell us, sometimes it's hard to tell.

A P1 would be something like your site is under attack and feeling the effects of that attack.

And it's not being mitigated right this second and you need help.

Your site is down or partially down. And so you need help with that.

So if you can tell us, this is something I tell, I talk to customers every week, put P1 in your subject line and tell us this is urgent.

And we trust you. I mean, our customers are professionals running big and small companies all over the world.

We trust you to not fake it and say it's urgent when it's not urgent, but it really helps us.

If you say P3 normal, this is just a question.

That's great. We'll treat it that way and we'll get you a good answer.

We get, what was it last week? Like 4,000 tickets last week in one week and seven days.

And we can talk about what we do with all those tickets, but yeah, we have to prioritize them because we don't want that under attack ticket to get lost in those other, I just have a question about how to set up some new products.

So we have to prioritize them by urgency.

We prioritize them by plan type for sure. And we have plan types that's free.

Our mission is to make the Internet a better place.

And so we give away lots of our services for free. So I tell anyone when they ask where I work, you should be using Cloudflare if you have a website, because it's going to make your site faster and more protected for free.

So there's no reason for everybody not to use it.

And we have lots of customers who use a credit card to pay for professional services, business services.

We have lots of enterprise customers.

And now lately in the past year or so, we've differentiated premium customers who get even more faster SLAs and higher priority and all kinds of added white glove services that our biggest customers really love.

So we love our free customers.

We're always going to have free customers. We're always going to support you.

And so don't think that we're neglecting you, but some people pay us a million dollars a year and we support everyone.

So we put those into different queues and we can talk about those workflows and how that goes.

That's right. And just to echo what you said, just if you are a Cloudflare customer watching this, just what Otto said, be explicit about your issue, the urgency to you.

Sometimes an example of someone might say, oh, our SSL doesn't seem to be working and that doesn't sound too bad.

But then we turned out later that this was actually breaking their production site or something.

So say like Otto said, say P1, this is an emergency for us.

But we have our emergency phone line for enterprise customers as well.

So just to go over the contact channels that are included with Cloudflare support, people can write to us via the portal, the support portal,, where there's a lot of great content that will help you solve your own issues.

Hopefully before you contact us, we're trying to put out really great content that will make it so that you can solve your own issue.

But if you can't, then you can, of course, contact the support team and be explicit.

I want to give a shout out for our ticket submission form and our support portal, has so much good content there.

It's been curated by the product content team, by our product managers, by all of the support and success teams.

Cloudflare is 2000 employees or so now, and a large number of those people contribute to the knowledge that's there at support.Cloudflare and on our dev docs, developers.Cloudflare.

And so a lot of the things that a support engineer who's highly trained by you is going to tell you is already publicly available there.

And so we're happy to answer questions. A lot of times we're going to just be trying to use the same content.

But if you go to support .Cloudflare and you're logged in, then you can submit a ticket there.

And what's really cool, the secret sauce there is we have a support operations engineering team that is really focused on building out a best in class diagnostics and suggested federated search there.

So for example, what you can do is as you're logged in and you come in and you say that you have as your domain, we'll run diagnostic tests on your setup.

We'll recognize that you're logged in, that this is a domain that's hosted or not hosted by Cloudflare.

And we'll do currently like 10 or 12 different tests on your site, checking your DNS settings, checking your SSL settings, checking various things, and then telling you.

And this really helps a lot of people right there saying your SSL is misconfigured.

Your DNS is misconfigured with a link to how to fix it.

And so this can really get a jumpstart on solving it.

You may have a question about something different and that's totally fine, but telling you something maybe you didn't even know that it was misconfigured can really either solve the problem that you're looking for an answer to, or alert you to something you didn't even know was happening.

So that form, and we're constantly iterating and making that better so that we're adding new diagnostics.

And my picture is like a mechanic, do a little tune up on my site and show me.

I love to see green, green, green, green. Great. My site's all perfect, but if you see a yellow or red, we can help you fix that.

And so then the ticket submission form, you go on and you tell us what your problem is, choose a category and submit it.

And that comes into our ticketing CRM, which is called Zendesk.

It's one of the big players that we use and it'll create a ticket. So that's one way you can contact us.

The other big channels that people use are chat.

So chat is available for business and enterprise and premium customers. And support engineer in Tokyo or Lisbon has logged in and you can chat directly with them.

And what was I thinking about chat? So it does some diagnostics there too. So we've started building out some of those into chat so it can kind of pre-qualify.

And I hope people understand, some people are averse to kind of automated questions like blah, they just put in ABCD.

I didn't want to talk to a human, but these really help us kind of diagnose and start troubleshooting and give us info.

One thing that a lot of customers seem to think that we have the answers to everything and we can see everything.

And I saw a ticket yesterday where someone said, well, can't you just see what happened?

Like something changed. You're a cloud player, you must know.

And we can figure stuff out, but if you give us a head start and give us a hint that really helps us down the road to solving your problem a lot faster.

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there's so many things that you mentioned that I can go back and flag and talk more about.

It was really great. So, I mean, you mentioned the automations and that we have our bot that's attempting to triage and categorize the customer's inquiry and respond to them with the correct information so that a human doesn't have to.

So what we want is for the humans to do what humans are good at and what humans enjoy, which is solving novel, technical, interesting problems, right?

So we're both interested in the customer experience, but also the support engineer experiences.

Support engineers don't want to answer the same question over and over again that's documented.

They want to solve interesting problems typically, right?

So we're trying to solve both things by having intelligent, automated responses and the same with the chat.

If we know that there's a type of issue that a customer is raising that we know is going to need to be in the form of a ticket that is not suitable for a back and forth chat exchange, then the chat bot will say, hey, with your billing, your invoice discussion, that's going to need to be a ticket.

So it's all about trying to be efficient with everyone's time, with everyone's resources.

And we know that for the most part, customers don't necessarily want to have a back and forth with support.

They want to solve their issue as quickly and easily as possible, right? Yeah.

No, that's a really good point. And to highlight HelperBot, I'm really proud of all the work that we've done with HelperBot, because exactly what you said, there's the 80-20 rule, 80% of tickets have a known answer and could be solved with automation or a knowledge-based article.

And we're really trying to train the humans to understand that the bot is really here to help us.

And the way we do that is to make the bot really smart, so that that answer it's giving you really is most likely the correct answer.

And if it's not, you can write back to us and talk to us for sure.

But we're mining the millions of tickets that we've received, and really machine learning on top of that, and humans training the bot.

You train the support engineers to train the bot to make the answers better.

And so every time it suggests an answer, and it's doing it there in the ticket submission form, it's doing it if you email us, which is one of the other channels we've passed over, and it's doing it in chat.

And it's learning that, hey, every time someone says this word in combination with this other word, it usually means that their DNS is misconfigured.

And so I'm going to run a diagnostic and see that it is misconfigured and combine those two pieces of info to say, hey, newbie customer, DNS is hard.

We understand that. And here's the video. You're going to see that. We have full transparency.

I don't think anybody would be surprised. I mean, we have millions of customers, and we're not going to have a million person support team.

So we have to scale that. And we tend to want to automate as much as possible.

And this is the best interest of the customer as well. We're just not going to have a one-to-one ratio.

And you mentioned diagnostics and people saying, hey, could you analyze all the things and tell us everything?

And there's another initiative that we have internally is to expose all the data and tools that we have to the customer.

And that's part of what HelperBot and other things are doing is we don't want to really have anything that only we can see and not you.

If we're seeing data that's showing us that there's errors at a certain part of the network and a certain part of the world, we want to expose that to you and let you click the button that fixes that or customizes your network configuration without having to write to us and for us to run a report and send it back to you.

Yeah. I mean, the truth about support is that customers don't want to have to contact support.

They just want it to work.

They want to understand everything. They want it to be there and clear in the dashboard.

And so if you are contacting support, we want it to be as clear and painless and easy as possible.

I love what you said about employee satisfaction being a key performance indicator that we look at, something that we really care about.

We're a pretty tight team of 120 people all over the world.

We're constantly talking to each other in hangouts 24-7 and asking for help.

That's one thing I tell the team whenever I meet with new people is always ask for help.

Everybody needs to ask hundreds of questions before you start getting up to speed with something.

But that employee satisfaction, nobody wants to be doing a redundant job where you're answering the same thing over and over again.

And believe me, I've done that with support teams where you get this exact same phone call over and over and you're not stretching your mind.

You're not learning anything new.

You're just fulfilling a job that a bot could do. And what the team really loves is troubleshooting new issues and helping Cloudflare customers solve their problems.

Because we know that the Internet is a really complicated place.

We're doing a large fraction of all traffic on the Internet is touching Cloudflare every day.

And it's really complicated. There's new things every day.

And it's really, I learn something new every day. So there's really fun and exciting stuff.

And that's what keeps our support engineers happy and engaged and growing and developing professionally is doing those new tickets.

Some of them, we've talked a lot about the bot.

There's really kind of the high end of premium and large enterprise support, which has been a big focus as the company has gotten bigger.

And those, when you get a big company and a big Cloudflare network interacting, there's all kinds of things that are unexpected that can happen.

And those can be a lot of fun when you're looking at a Grafana and a Kibana and an internal dashboard and asking the customer for what they're seeing.

It's a problem solving, a Sherlock Holmes sort of thing.

And that's what really engages our team. Yeah.

Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned that. And you talked about how we have this globally distributed team and that we're always in these kind of video chats with each other.

And can we talk a little bit about our process or how much we can talk about it?

We do a handover every day. The US region hands over to the Asia Pacific region, which hands over to the Europe and Africa region.

And we just have this very regimented follow the sun.

And this is common with 24 seven support follow the sun teams.

And I don't know if that's breaking news for anybody, but we do that. And we also are implementing and experimenting with a new workflow model, which is called a skills-based routing model.

Do we want to talk about that for a few minutes?

That's right. I think you mean routing. I think it's pronounced routing.

Depending on where you are. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. No, the handovers are awesome.

And for me, just to see what's going on in Asia and Europe in the morning and in the afternoon is really great.

The reason we do it is to make sure that everything gets owned and handed over and nothing falls through the cracks.

So we have internal wikis where we track every day.

What are the top issues? What are the announcements?

What are the customer issues that someone is looking into and are still not resolved?

And I'm going home at five o'clock in Lisbon. And so I need somebody in Austin or San Francisco to take this.

And I need to physically, not physically, I guess, virtually hand over the baton to the on-call person who's actually in Austin.

And so we'll have video hangouts and we'll talk about it. Do you have any questions about what this issue is?

Here's the links that you need to know.

And so then every eight hours, it'll go back to the next region. So it gets complicated now that we have people in so many different cities, but we'll hand over to Singapore and Tokyo, which are one hour apart.

And so some people start work at 8 a.m.

local time, some at 9 a.m. And then in the middle of our night, we're both in the Bay Area, at 1 a.m.

San Francisco time, there'll be a handover from Asia to Europe and then back again eight hours later.

Because it's really complicated right now because daylight savings time starts in North America a week and a half ago, and it starts in London in five days.

And I don't know what time it is right now.

Singapore doesn't even do daylight savings time. So they start half the year, they start at 9 a.m.

and the other half of the year, they start at 8 a.m.

And so anyway, but we make sure the reason we do that is so nothing falls through the cracks.

And so there's an owner of each of the queues and skills at any time of day.

So yeah, so we've over the past three months been switching over to skills-based routing.

The core reason for that is Cloudflare has gotten so big with so many products, it is literally impossible for the smartest person to know everything at a deep level about all products.

I do expect you and your training team who are all over the world as well to train everybody to a basic level so that they can set up every product and they know how every product works.

But again, when we start talking to the largest companies in the world with really complex problems about SSL or DNS or magic transit, it gets complicated really fast.

So you've got to be an expert on that. And you and I can't expect someone to be an expert on every single thing from layer three to layer four to layer seven.

So people get really good at five or 10 things. And so when the ticket comes in, we examine it, we see that it's about magic transit, and we'll route it to the people with the expertise in magic transit, which is our layer three, layer four protection, where you put your whole network behind us for those who don't know that particular product.

So the goal there is faster time to resolution and easier, you know, someone not having to go through all the basic steps of learning, you know, how the product works.

You're already an expert on that. And you can answer it in 20 minutes instead of 40 minutes.

Yeah, it makes my job easier in some ways, because instead of having to train 120 people on 150 features, I can focus on, okay, 10 people in each region is what we need to be experts on firewall.

So those, that's my target audience, we'll make sure those people are all up to speed and experts on it.

And then we'll add people to that group as needed, right? And it helps us with our KPI tracking as well.

You know, we previously were going with more of a swarming model, where all the, you know, enterprise tickets would come into an enterprise queue in Zendesk, and we would triage them and make sure we're handling the urgent ones first.

And, but, and so I, if I'm the support engineer, I could get a ticket on firewall, and then one on magic transit, and then one on caching, and then one.

And that was just a lot of context switching. So yeah. And the other thing is a sense of sort of completion, again, to go back to employee satisfaction, when you just see this endless queue, and it's, it's just, it's all just every day.

Now I can say, okay, here are the tickets that I've been given today in my area, I solve those.

That's what I'm doing. We're also doing ticket ownership now, which is better KPI metrics on an individual's performance as well.

Are they meeting our targets?

Are they meeting our standards? Instead of, you know, multiple tickets, engineers touching the same ticket in a day or an over the course of 24 or 36 hours.

Yeah, if it's not an urgent issue, and you can wait till tomorrow, you're going to deal with me again.

And I've already read your I already know your issue.

And I know your infrastructure, you don't need to explain that all over again, right?

So there's, there's just so many benefits to doing this up and down. Yeah, with the ticket ownership, we've definitely heard that from customers that if it's a long, complicated issue, they might talk to five or 10 different support engineers over a 24 hour period as they give us more info, and we ask them more questions.

And that can be frustrating sometimes. So if we can avoid that, if it's not an urgent issue, we can really have you continue to work with the same engineer in your time zone for two or three days as we dig into a complicated issue.

If it's an urgent issue, we're always going to hand it over. And if you're under attack, or you have something you need done by midnight, we'll keep handing it over so that that gets done.

Yeah. So we have about five minutes left. This has been going by incredibly fast.

Yeah. I want to touch on you mentioned really earlier in the year, you mentioned where we all are.

And you mentioned some people who are remote.

And these days. Oh, yeah. A lot of people are remote. I was wondering if maybe we could spend a minute or two just talking about the challenges of 2020.

For us. I know we're three months into 2021. Now. But what did we do in 2020?

How did we make it all work? Yeah, yeah. So it's the elephant in the room or the pug in the room.

2020 was a really weird year. And I think we we met the challenge really well.

And so March 13, I remember we closed the office in San Francisco, at least, and everybody's been working from home 99% of the time since then.

And I think it went really smoothly. Because we were ready for it. We were already doing these handovers, video handovers and on hangouts and on zoom, and working collaboratively through wikis and Google Docs already.

Yeah. The so at the traffic spiked.

At the same time, all of our customers started using the Internet, you know, 1000 times more.

So it's good for the business that the whole world is using the Internet more.

And we're in, you know, a core Internet infrastructure provider.

That's great. We saw it shoot up and you can see good blog articles about that.

Our tickets in support also increased not at the same rate, luckily, but they definitely increased.

Yeah. So there was more work. And everybody's sitting at home in their spare bedroom, wherever they are around the world.

So that's been a challenge to keep us in contact.

Shane used to sit right next to me in San Francisco office.

And I haven't seen you in person once in 12 months. I have seen you once in like 12 months, which is really weird.

Yeah. So I so we do lots of things, you know, team buildings, yeah, lots of after hours, zoom stuff.

Some people are starting to as we open up, you know, meet for lunch in a park six feet apart, and that sort of thing.

But really managing your co workers and keeping them sane, you know, when they're, you know, educating their kids right next to them, or, you know, we're about the most are people who live by themselves and are sheltering.

And their only interaction is, you know, with you and me and our co workers, I want to, you know, take care of them.

And there are teammates. And so that's been, you know, challenges has gone on and on.

And so we try and be really vigilant and supportive, because that's what we are.

We're empathetic people who want to help our teammates.

So yeah, so overall, it's gone really well, but it is a different kind of challenge then.

I miss the office and going out to lunch and getting a falafel.

And you know, just chatting about whatever, making coffee incredibly well, I mean, traffic spiked, ticket contacts went up to the highest level ever, everyone had to transition immediately to working from home, like you said, working in their spare bedroom with their kids or with no one around for weeks.

And I think we did incredibly well to maintain everything and keep everything running.

And we still hired and trained 47 new people. Yeah, we're still growing the team so much.

And you and I haven't met so many of these people in person. And we know them pretty well, because we talk all day long, but it's still the physical thing is gone.

That's weird. Yeah, well, shout out to the Cloudflare customer support team and all the hard work you're doing.

If anyone is watching, we appreciate you.

Yes. We're coming down to our last few minutes here. Otto, do you have any parting wisdom?

Well, if you are watching this, we are always hiring all over the world.

We're looking for smart people.

And the way I always say it is if we can hire someone smart, I can give them to Shane's amazing training team.

And we can teach you all those things at Cloudflare, because everything changes every six months anyway.

So there's that. Maybe not you, but maybe your cousin or your sister looking for a job.

So check our jobs page. What else? So this is security week. So it keeps us in business.

There's always new products that we need to learn, that customers are adding on.

And so that's really exciting. So check out blog. Lots of new features.

Yep. Lots of cool stuff. Getting this week. It's really exciting. I don't want to quote them because certain things have been announced and certain things haven't.

That's right. You can't keep track. Yeah. We get trainings from over the last two weeks that I don't want to get that mixed up.

But yeah, it's a big surprise coming on Saturday.

I'm sure it's always one more thing. So watch out. Yeah. Yeah.

Well, thanks for your time, Otto. It's been great to chat as usual and catch up.

And hopefully we can do this again pretty soon. It's good to see you, Shane. And maybe in three or four months, we'll go out and get a coffee in person in downtown San Francisco.

I'm looking forward to it. Go on a bike ride and get some lunch.

Yeah. Cool. All right. Well, thanks everyone for watching. What is Cloudflare Support?

We'll do this again. Send us your questions and enjoy the next Cloudflare TV session.

Don't you have a regular show on Cloudflare TV? Don't you have a regular show on Cloudflare TV?

Yes. I also have a regular show called Between Two Ferns.

Inside Cloudflare Support. Tune into that next time. Bye, everyone. All right.

Good to see you.