Cloudflare TV

What is Customer Support at Cloudflare?

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.


Transcript (Beta)

Hello and welcome to What is Cloudflare Customer Support? Cloudflare TV segment. My name is Shane Ossa.

I'm the Global Support Training Manager for the Customer Support team at Cloudflare and today I have with me the Head of Support, Otto Imken.

Hey Shane, it's good to see you. Yeah, I'm Otto Imken. I'm the Head of Support for Cloudflare.

Good to see you. Good to see you too, although we talk pretty frequently and today we're here to talk about what is customer support.

I'm going to ask you some questions and kind of pretend that that I don't know and we'll just have a conversation about, you know, the customer support offering at Cloudflare, what customers get, what we do, how we do it, and we'll just kind of treat this conversation as a normal conversation that the two of us may have.

No, that sounds great.

I think a lot of people assume they know what customer support is or sometimes take it for granted, but once you see what people are actually doing on the team, it's really interesting.

It's really the heart of the company, I like to think.

So yeah, I love talking about it. Perfect. I think we got it.

I don't want to spoil it too much more. I know, yeah. Yeah, always whenever I do something, then I try and rephrase it the next time and then I overthink it.

It's like, no, the first time was fine.

Yeah, don't recreate the wheel. That was a good take.

Cool. Yeah, Michelle was encouraging me to start doing more regularly and find people, other heads of support or people at other companies doing support and kind of bring them in to talk about support and how they do it at Microsoft or ServiceNow or Splunk or whatever.

Good idea. Yeah, yeah. It should be fun.

So I think people would want to talk about it and see it as a platform for talking about their company or whatever.

Right. Yeah. So what are you doing? Oh, you do that?

Oh, we're doing this. Yeah. Yeah. How do you do CSAT? We haven't figured it out.

We have no idea what we're doing. Please help us. Oh my God. Yeah, I always give this week.

Yeah, I give those guys a hard time about it all the time and we don't seem to have a good understanding of what's going on.

Yeah. I mean, has it been, is it that it's been off sort of a little bit skewed, like better this whole time?

I don't know. I mean, I think what it is today is real and it's that many people give us bad responses and not that many people give us good responses.

So it's bad today.

If it was artificially good in the past, I don't know, but regardless, I want to look at it today and make it better.

So yeah, maybe, I don't know.

I mean, and I was giving them a hard time. It's like, I'm not that concerned. I am concerned about the bots and we should figure that out and understand what's going on.

Yes. But if today our CSAT is, you know, 50%, that's a big problem and we need to figure out why.

Yeah. So if it was artificially high in the past, that completely sucks.

Yeah, that's what I'm worried about. That's what I'm worried about is coming in and remembering, why is it so low?

We're going, well, a little bit low.

Yeah. It's actually got a little low last week, but it's actually, you know, we filtered out the bots and we did some other stuff and we found out that it's always been low and then maybe we'll see.

But, you know, I see that as an opportunity, you know, in some ways with us being so high, it was really hard to improve from there, even though like there was tons to improve on like.

Yeah. And you do have to split it by plan type because free is such a huge component that it brings it down.

So, and then I've always felt like the overall aggregate CSAT is not so valuable.

The other thing is if like we saw, if the sample size drops way down and you only get 10 responses and three of them are bad, then you're going to look bad, you know?

Yeah. Yeah. I always thought the percentage of people responding was pretty high.

You know, it was surprisingly high, so it could well be bots.

Right. But I don't want to hide a link that to a good, that a bot chooses. I mean that gaming the system sounds like a terrible idea.

Yeah. Yeah. So, so that's why I was thinking that we should maybe switch over to a survey monkey with three or five questions and that forces people to go to another survey that they fill in and it'll drop the number of people doing it for sure, but it'll, we'll know that they're real answers.

So yeah. I'm going to close this door. It's kind of rattling. Yeah, for sure.

Pick it up.

It's cold. I was chatting with Scott Jones.

He seems to be doing well. We had our monthly. Yeah. Oh, that's good.

Yeah. He was happy. That's good. Yeah. No, he loves it. He's happy. Yeah.

It's doing good stuff. We've got some other kind of new things we're going to try.

I'm going to try sort of a new style of courses. Yeah. And I wondered that we might switch to skills-based routing and just start thinking about how that would change things.

And I said, like simplistically from the outside, it was kind of rearranged the order of the learning path, but there's probably more, more to it than that.

Yeah. Changing the sequence of instruction, for sure. We got a lot more planning to do, but I put it as a big agenda item in the next training team meeting.

Okay. And I was sat in on the meeting. I'm like fully involved in that group now.

It makes sense to bring me in. All right, cool. I'm going to shut up and then start talking.

Sounds good. Wish I had more light in here, but whatever. You look okay.

Yeah, you look good. Cool. Pick my nose first.

Hello, and welcome to the What is Customer Support at Cloudflare, Cloudflare TV segment.

My name is Shane Ossa. I am the technical training program manager for the support team at Cloudflare.

And today I have with me the head of support, Otto Imkin.

Hey, Shane. Good to see you. Long time, no see. Yeah. Nice to see you too. Cool.

Thanks for doing this. Yeah, this is really fun. I've been doing every week or every other week that is a segment on how we train tech support engineers at Cloudflare.

And this time I thought it would be good to change it up a little bit and bring you in to talk about what support is at Cloudflare.

So I'm just going to ask you some questions and sort of pretend I don't know, here and there, but mostly sort of let you talk about what the customer support offering is, what customers get, what we do, how we do it.

Sounds great. Yeah, I love talking about support and it can be taken for granted.

And so it's good to dive in and see what people really do day to day and how important it is.

Yeah, go for it. Yeah, definitely.

So what is Cloudflare Customer Support, Otto? Is it just like a pre -recorded message of saying, did you try turning it off and on?

No. Cloudflare Support is a well-oiled machine that runs 24-7, 365, all over the globe.

And it takes a village, a large village of people to keep Cloudflare Support going.

I like to see it as being at the core of the company, Cloudflare, because we have such a group of technical products that are really complex and easy to use, easy to turn on and get up and running.

But once you start putting them out in the real Internet, there's anything on the Internet can happen to Cloudflare customers.

And so they really come to us, our team of 99 support engineers around the world, for help.

So how does this work? What is this? Why is this happening? And they can't do it on their own.

So yeah, so it's not just a recorded message. Yes, that's right. Yeah, customers contact us all the time.

And sometimes it feels like we're troubleshooting the Internet at large.

One of my favorite types of tickets to see is, my site is offline help.

And it's like, wow, where do we go? And we have such great tech support engineers that know what to do from there.

And it's a really amazing service that we provide now.

I've been at Cloudflare for about three and a half years.

And when I started, the support team was about, I think, 25 or 30 people.

And like you said, we've gone to 99 now. And we have people stationed all over the world.

Yeah, when you started, the training was very tribal, and very ad hoc, and very come sit next to me, watch me talk to customers until you know what you're doing, and then go do it yourself.

And it was very, put the onus on individuals to really figure it out on their own with little structure.

And I'm so happy ever since you started and built your whole training team of five people, I guess now, that you've put great structure around that and captured the knowledge of the individual support engineers, the team leads, the product engineering teams, the customers, kind of capturing what have they tried and worked and didn't work, and really built up a training program where I feel like we can hire a smart person who doesn't know much about Cloudflare and put them in front of that.

And they can, over a period of a few months, really figure out how to provide really good support.

So thank you.

Well, thanks. Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. And I mean, it's been a great journey.

And I certainly didn't do it alone. I did it with the help of tons of really talented and knowledgeable people, and was constantly asking for feedback from the other people as they went through it, and then eventually asked some of them to be trainers or instructors in the program.

So it's really been a whole team effort.

And I've just been so honored to work with the amazing people that we have.

But you know what? I'll have you back on how we train Cloudflare tech support engineers on that segment to talk more about that.

I love talking about training.

I could talk about it all day. But maybe we'll jump back into what the support offering is and how the sausage is made internally, so to speak, for us.

How do we provide that?

So do you want to talk a little bit about, first of all, the channels?

How can customers contact? How do and how can customers contact us? Yeah, for sure.

So we have millions of customers, and they're contacting us all day, every day.

We have many channels because you want to be where the customer is, and you don't want to force them to go through a certain funnel that they aren't comfortable with.

Some people prefer phone. Some people prefer chat. Some people do read the articles, and that's what I love.

I prefer writing and expressing the question and answer in written form.

And so those are my favorite customers who will go and research it themselves and find the answer.

The thing you always have to remember is a customer, you or I, when you have a problem with your cable, you don't want to have to talk to customer support.

You want to either figure it out on your own, or you want an easy button to click to reset it or whatever.

So we try and make that as easy as possible. Our main channels for support are the knowledge base, support.Cloudflare .com.

You can get there through the dashboard or through support to our ticket submission form.

And the reason we combine everything in one place is you can go and see our status page and see if we are having some kind of incident in your part of the world and see, oh, there's something going on in Amsterdam or in India.

And you can see, okay, I probably don't need to write them.

I'll just wait until that comes back online. So the ticket submission form is really important for our paid customers.

We do provide chat support and emergency phone support.

And if people can't find the ticket submission form or they're away from their computer and on their phone, they can email us at

It's not hidden at all. We don't want to hide that. We want people to talk to us.

We want their service to work. But to put in a plug for the ticket submission form, which we've really built up over the past couple of years into a really useful set of resources, the reason to go there is when you start typing in your answer, we'll run diagnostics on your zones if you're a Cloudflare customer.

And we'll check and see if you have some of the most basic issues with DNS being set up, with your SSL certificate being live, with mixed content on your website, and your time to first byte for loading your site.

And we'll show that to you.

We'll say, hey, it looks like you might be writing us about this or that.

And here's the most common answer for that. And that really helps 10 to 20 to 30% of customers right there by the 80-20 rule.

80% of problems are known issues that millions of people see on a regular basis.

And we have a known answer. So here it is.

If you wrote in or if you called us, you would get the same answer. So we just want to show it to you right there.

So that works really well for a lot of people.

Yeah, it's a smart form, right? So if I type in, it starts running diagnostics and telling me what's wrong with my zone and giving me the support article that I need to follow to fix it, which is what the support engineer is going to do, like you're saying, 80% of the time.

And some of this is like taking our internal troubleshooting tools in some cases and exposing them to the customer.

Customer writes in and say, I've got this issue.

We run these tests on the back end and say, okay, here's the data and here's what you should do.

And it said, wait a sec, let's just let them run that test.

Let's actually just run the test and show them the results and show them how to fix it.

We want to save everyone time, right? Yeah.

And that's the path we always follow with any kind of troubleshooting or tools that we build or plan out ourselves is we'll figure out a good way to diagnose a problem manually in the support office.

And then we want to make that tool available to customers.

So when they come to us, you can do that yourself. And then we want to push that out even further so that it's in the dashboard.

And when you're looking at our SSL page in the dashboard, we'll also have a tool where you can check your SSL cert and be sure it's correct and run some other tools and then eventually do that automatically.

So we have this for a few things today, but we want to really add alerting so that when you log in, you get a little yellow light saying, Hey, there might be a problem here and take a look and really help you proactively.

So from the manual, having to write in and talk to an individual in one of our locations to it happening automatically is really the dream of customer support.

Yeah. Or if you want, you can toggle on email alerting and it'll email your dev team.

There's some latency on your origin server. There's observing latency in Japan on your origin server and here's what you should do.

Yeah, there's a great one that we built recently around billing.

So we have usage -based products where you use Argo and you get billed per your usage throughout the month.

And in the past, a long time ago, people might've been surprised by how much traffic they really had and a small penny per day really added up over time.

And they were surprised by their charges.

We identified that as an issue for people that we don't want to surprise you.

We want to be transparent. And so now you can go and turn on usage-based alerts in the dashboard and set thresholds.

Like if it's over $10 a month, if it's over a thousand dollars a month, send me an alert.

And now we can do that.

And that cuts down on support tickets. It cuts down on paying for customers.

It makes it easier and better to use. Yeah. Yeah, that's right. I mean, so yeah, customers can contact us through the form, which is through the Cloudflare dashboard.

They can contact us just directly by emailing us. They can, if they're a paid customer, they can chat with a live agent 24 seven.

And they can call us on the phone if it's an emergency, if they're an enterprise customer.

And so those are sort of our main ways.

You left out my favorite channel is community

Oh yeah, of course. Yeah. We were talking about that this morning with the team.

It's amazing. And we've had it for two and a half, maybe three years now.

And when we first launched it and built it, not everybody at the company was convinced that it would be useful or that people would want to use it.

And through, I think both of our experience in the past with communities and the social media team, Ryan and Tim and Junaid, through our experience, we knew that people are passionate about Cloudflare and that once we had it there, they would come start using it, start talking to each other, start asking questions.

And I forget the exact numbers, but it's like a thousand posts per week and a thousand new users, thousands of posts, thousands of users, new users per week.

There's hundreds of thousands of people who have logged in and use the community.

The best is we have MVPs, our most valuable people, passionate users.

Shout out to all of you, men and women, Matteo and S.

Damon and Dom and everyone else. Don't want to leave anybody out, sorry.

But they do thousands of posts over the past year or two, helping each other.

And like we said, there's so many different use cases for Cloudflare that people see all these different things.

And it's really, they just want to talk about it.

There's people geeking out about how can I do this special thing with my website?

And there's people who are newbies who have no idea. And it's like, please help, please help.

And there are other users who will be in there and help each other.

Yeah. It really helps us scale the support that we can give, because like you mentioned earlier, we have millions of customers with millions of domains.

And we try to serve them all, of course, but we do prioritize our enterprise, highest paying customers and our other paid customers, and inevitably the free customers, which we love having, because there's millions of them.

But eventually, and sometimes they just, we need to send them to the community because the answers are there.

And there's other people there that will help you quickly, more quickly in the case of us in some cases.

Although we do have an amazing automated answer service that runs for free customers that tries to, it's really cool.

It's built by our support operations team, and it's using machine learning models and natural language processing and keyword matching kind of thing.

So, if you write in and you say, oh, my site is seeing, my customers are reporting a 522 errors, then it's going to read that.

And it's going to give you the, this is how you fix 522 errors content.

And this is sort of turned on pretty adventurously for the free customers as well, to sort of just to try to help give them the information they need, not only from the ticket submission form, like you said, but from this automated answer service that we have running.

And then we're also saying, hey, we're also providing this other community forum for them to go and bounce ideas off other Cloudflare users from around the world.

Some of which who are using, like you said, not unique setups, they're using, they have edge cases, they're using different flavors of Linux, and they're trying to really different types of web apps.

And so, you know, it's great. Yeah. When people contact us for support, I could not be happier with the level of support we're giving people.

And they know when they get someone in an email that they're talking to someone really technical, who's an expert on Cloudflare, and they get excited.

And so, we see customers over and over going, thank you for the help with that.

What about this? What about that?

What about this? And our natural instinct being support people is to help them.

And we want to go, yeah, okay, let me show you how to do this. Let me show you how to do that.

And we just don't physically have enough hours in the day to help every all millions of customers with all of their questions, because there's endless questions.

And so, at that point, it is the 80-20 rule, you know, 80% of those questions have known answers that we've seen over and over and over again.

And now you're a new user, and you're having that question for the first time, but we've seen it thousands of times.

So, we need to be able to point you to the community, to the knowledge base.

Our knowledge base has 450 articles in seven or eight different languages that cover all these things, you know, with nice videos and nice graphics and nice explanations.

And the community where you can dive into that, and someone else will, you know, chat with you about it.

Lots of people will jump in and chat about it.

But we just can't physically answer all those questions.

And, you know, it's sad, because you do see someone, they get excited.

What about this? What about that? What about this? But they understand. And it's hard to say no, but when you do, it's like, yeah, yeah, I know.

I was just trying to see what other answers you had.

Yeah. I mean, you know, it's all about getting like the relevant content to the people that need it as quickly as possible and make that like really available.

And what that allows us to do is allows our tech support engineers to do deep dive investigations on technical issues for our high for our paying customers.

You know, you can't spend two hours kind of walking someone through something that we have great content for already recorded on, you know, in our help center.

And if we can just get that to them, then it allows our team to sort of focus on the fun stuff and focus on the hard stuff that you really do need a human to go and investigate pull logs and parse the data.

Right. Yeah, you mentioned our automations, helper bot and chatbot, which we built ourselves.

And there's certain things that a computer is better at than humans.

And there's other things that humans are better at than computers.

And we really need to split up the work.

And when it's the same questions repetitive, we have a good answer. That's helper bot is going to jump in and go, oh, I've seen this a bunch of times.

Here's a good answer.

It's not pretending to be a human. It's saying, you know, I'm helper bot.

And that's what I do. Yeah. Then you get a really complicated issue with one of our large enterprise customers who has a big network with, you know, all around the world.

They see different things and they see, you know, different types of problems that really do require an investigation, troubleshooting, something we haven't seen before.

And we work with them and they love our help as much as the new free WordPress customer does.

And that's where we can really add a lot of value at, you know, those complicated new issues as opposed to the known issues.

So we work with our bot friends and we help each other.

It's just being efficient, really, you know, and being efficient with our time.

And you mentioned earlier, you know, we were talking about exposing our tools and data to the customers as much as possible.

Can you talk a little bit more about our role as a team to take that kind of customer feedback and pass it to the product team and engineering team?

Yeah, for sure.

For sure. It's one of the most important things we do because on a given month, we talk to 15,000 to 20,000 customers every month and across the different support offices, you know, in three different continents, we are the, you know, the tip of the spear or the voice of the customer.

The eyes and ears, yeah.

The eyes and ears of the company, exactly. So we're seeing what they like and what they don't like and what their most common issues are.

And especially when we release a new product, we're releasing new products all the time, we can really give that feedback directly to the product engineering team and say, here's a bug.

We need to fix this bug. Here's something that's not a bug, but it's acting unexpectedly and customers are misunderstanding.

So we need better wording or documentation in the dashboard.

Here's something where they love it, but they want more.

So when we start thinking about version two, here's the direction we should go.

So this year we've added a couple of product specialists in the support team, and they have been super valuable to, you know, combine all that data with numbers and with anecdotes and package that and meet regularly with, I think we have 40 or 50 product managers across the company now.

Something like that.

Yeah. And so bringing them, you know, feedback on their products and they love it because they, you know, they need to know how customers are using things.

We're always trying to get them more involved with product engineering, come to the community, talk to these power users, talk to these MVPs who are using workers in unexpected ways, and they can help you build a better version three of your product.

So it's a two-way street. We need to constantly be telling them here's the problems and here's what they love.

And we need to be bringing more info back from, oh, that's not how we intended it.

Here's what we forgot to tell you in the documentation.

Great. Now we know and we can tell customers. So yeah, I mean, product managers love talking to customers and yeah, we're just a big channel for talking to customers.

We talk to customers all day. So if you want to know what the customer experience is like, you know, check in with the support team because we love talking to customers all day as well.

So there's a lot of overlap there. One thing that your team put together that I love and I always tell everyone in the company whenever I talk to someone else is our shadow request form.

And so it used to, when we were a smaller company, it was a lot more ad hoc and just, hey, come over and watch support.

But there's nothing better for anyone, someone in sales or marketing product or engineering to come sit with a support engineer for an hour and just look at the tickets because everyone thinks they know how customers use the products, but you don't know until you really see.

Customers come up with new ways of using products that I think product people and designers don't necessarily anticipate.

I'm seeing memes in my head about, you know, how the product was intended, how it was designed, and customers are using it this totally different way.

And then it comes to support and we pass that information back. Yeah, yeah.

And they can come with their own agenda and say, I'm really interested in knowing about this type of customer or people on mobile or people in South America or whatever they're interested.

We have so many customers that you can really come and we can search through our tools.

Zendesk is the tool that we use for ticketing.

And you can put in any kind of keyword and find tons of customer cases where you can dig in and see, oh, I had no idea that that's how people in South America on mobile were using Teams.

And yeah, there's people everywhere using our products in new ways every day.

Yeah. And we've really been working towards getting more and more organized about this.

Before, we had tech support engineers and team leads and trainers and all of our jobs to like, hey, let's try to aggregate this data and this customer feedback and the support engineer experience feedback and let's give it to the product.

And like you mentioned, we developed a full-time product specialist role, which is supposed to do this.

And these people were tech support engineers that were really, really interested in this.

And so one thing that's cool that we've been able to do over the last few years is develop specialist roles on our team for tech support engineers to grow in.

Because traditionally, at a lot of other tech companies and other places, tech support is something that some people do for a while.

It's a great way to get exposed to everything and then decide where you want to go from there in terms of your career path.

But something that's cool that we've been able to do as a team is develop specialist roles on our team that allow people to continue their career growth in the direction they want to take it.

And so we have trainers, if you want to join my team and you like training people and you want to help other people get better and grow, you can become a trainer.

If you really want to do what we talk about with product specialists, you can do that.

And we've developed sort of escalation engineer, which is another role, which is sort of like, I like to talk about it as sort of like a SRE light or an SRE that's on our team, which is sort of like...

Or the glue between support and engineering.

I guess we just have a few seconds left. Anything you want to say goodbye or...

No, yeah. Let's do this again. Let's do this again more often.

Thanks for talking to me. It was fun. Yeah. Thanks for organizing this.

I really appreciate it. And hey to everybody. Enjoy Cloudflare TV, everyone.

Yeah, yeah.