Between Two Clouds - A Look Inside Cloudflare Support
Inside Cloudflare Support explores the people and processes behind Cloudflare's Customer Support team and service. Each segment will include a discussion with a different Customer Support professional on their experiences and their take on the effort to support Cloudflare's customers and products.
Oh, hello. I didn't see you there. Welcome to Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Support.
My name is Shane Ossa. I'm on the customer support team. I'm the training manager for the team, and this is our segment where we talk about what Cloudflare customer support is, and we get to know some of our support professionals on the team.
Today, I'm honored to be joined by Lisa Sak, who is the North America support manager for the whole North America organization, and I can see that the Zoom background is doing some fun things with you.
Lisa, hi. How are you? I'm a ghost.
Yeah, you are Between Two Clouds. I'm Between Two Realms. I'm hosting my new show next week, starting in Between Two Realms, hoping not to take too many of the people that you've got on your list.
Oh my gosh, is it like a live D&D session?
Yeah. Let me go ahead and turn this off. Hello. How are you? I'm good. I'm good.
It's a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco, and you're based in Texas.
I am in Austin, Texas. Land of the free. Pew, pew. Is that where you're originally from, Lisa?
I'm originally from Kansas City. Okay. Missouri.
Well, I was born on Missouri side, and then I grew up on the Kansas side.
Okay. Go Chiefs. Go Chiefs. Yep. Cool. And Royals. All right. Well, it's fun to get to talk to you.
We're going to talk about customer support at Cloudflare. We're going to talk about your experience in the support industry.
You've been at Cloudflare about what feels like nine months or so, which feels like maybe nine years already.
Yeah. It has been about nine months. June. Let's see. I already forget.
I believe it was June. Yeah. I started in June, so I've been here about nine months, and I manage the North America Support Organization, as you said.
So getting in and getting to know lots and lots of people, and then hoping they like me for a little bit, long enough to maybe make some great changes.
Yeah. It's been amazing to have you on board.
We're so lucky to have you. You've made some amazing contributions already.
Thank you. And I love working with you. So yeah. So you have, how big is your work now?
We have like, what, 30 or 40 or maybe even 50?
Yeah. We're in the 30s right now. I couldn't give you an exact cut count. My sheet does that for me.
Yeah. But yeah, we're about, we're late 30. We're late. Pardon me.
We're, yeah, late 30s. So I mean, we're growing rapidly last year alone, and we didn't, but just in the organization alone, added 48 people.
So we're still growing rapidly.
I'm myself fulfilling, or fulfilling backfills right now, and I do have hires open.
So that's always exciting. Yeah. So hey, if you're a support professional out there, or if you're an engineer that wants to come and do tech support with Cloudflare, we're hiring.
So apply. Please. I always need really, really great talent.
Always looking for really great talent. And yeah, so that's the exciting part of my job, is within, I would say, three weeks of starting at Cloudflare, I was already looking at putting in my first hire.
So if you can imagine, in a pandemic, getting hired, and then immediately starting to hire other people, it was a pretty good feeling, considering the situations that we were in.
So yeah, we were, it was a good experience to be able to do that. Yeah, for sure.
Continue to be able to do that. Yeah. And just to jump around, I guess, I have some stuff I want to ask you, but while we're on this subject, for people applying, or just in general, what do you look for, or what do you think makes a good support engineer, or support professional?
Sure. That's two very different questions.
So let me say, what do we look for? Honestly, we are looking at this point, we're moving more towards, to say that other categories are not capable, but we're moving more towards looking for folks that have network engineering, or network support experience.
Yeah. More so because our products are starting to move in that direction.
Yeah. And so to make sure that the business, and that our organization can help all customers, we're essentially changing who we're looking for just a little bit.
So we're focusing on those network skills, essentially, layer three, four right now.
And then we'll train our three, four network folks to layer seven.
But that's just regionally, my region is much different than other regions.
And my North America region is going to focus more on having only support engineers, like tech support engineers, as opposed to customer support agents as well.
Right. So we'll always be living in that technical support realm, higher realm.
We're looking for folks that have capabilities and support, and just like to help people and solve issues.
Really, it's the fun of the solve.
Yeah. And that's a great response. And to just catch everyone up on what Cloudflare customer support is, we're 24 seven customer support, globally distributed.
And we work every day, including weekends, including holidays. So we have people in Europe, in North America, in Asia.
These are tech support engineers trained to solve all types of customer issues, customer support agents as well.
We have team leads that manage those folks, we have support managers that manage the team leads, we have trainers like myself, we have some other specialty roles, we have programmers on our team that also build some of the automations and tooling, program managers that help herd all of the cats like us.
And I hope I'm not forgetting, we got a lot of different specialty roles, but the bulk of our team is tech support engineers responsible for frontline answering customer inquiries all day, every day.
And so Lisa manages the North America branch of this whole team, which consists of team leads and tech support engineers and other folks.
And you've come up to speed remarkably fast in the nine months that you're here.
I feel like I've learned a lot from you. And you've brought a lot to the table.
So obviously, this wasn't your first rodeo. So do you want to talk a little bit about your past support experience and what sort of brought you to Cloudflare?
Yeah, getting a just support directly was kind of a fluke as well. So I'm going to take a step back and kind of start a little bit at the beginning, because I think that kind of shaped how I am and where I'm at.
So I started my career out in audio engineering.
My first degree was in audio engineering. I'm a musician, too.
That's cool to hear. Yeah. And so I went to Full Sail, if anybody's familiar with Full Sail.
And Full Sail is a university down in Florida. Prior to that, I didn't know what I was going to do.
So I was like, I was in California at that time after Kansas City.
And I said, I don't know what to do. I'll go to Florida.
I think that'll be a really good challenge, right? My whole family has been in business and tech.
So I've grown up with a lot of tech. My mom was a typing teacher.
And then she became a business teacher. When I say typing, I mean, we're talking on typewriters, and then moving into computers.
And so one of the things that I did when I was a kid was I did all of the installations for all the new computers that would come into the school.
And so I got really good really early in my life at messing with tech, right?
Breaking down computers, building up computers, and networking.
And so after my, I guess, experience in the music world, which lasted about three years, and I moved into more audiovisual.
I love that.
To me, it was it really blended the business, audio, and tech, and video. And I did that for quite some time.
That ended in 2000. And about late 2009, I believe, the last time we went through a recession.
I say the last time because so the last time we had a recession, and so I was with that company about four years, I love that job.
But I did a lot of, I started out doing more like front end receptionist work, and ended up doing more tech, managing installations, managing whole customer experiences, vendor, purchasing, you know, all different types of stuff.
I did my career there.
But I did get laid off at the end of that. And so that's where the interesting part starts, right?
I think they all say when you get laid off, you kind of you learn to adapt, right?
So what I did was like, I want to start my own business.
So I started an IT business. And I remember it was something innate that came innate to me, even though I hadn't been working directly with it in a while.
So it actually was doing really well. I was, I had my own company, and I was growing the company.
And, but I'll be honest with you, I was bored. I know that sounds really weird.
But I was bored. And that was running my own company. I love that experience of learning how to grow your own company and creating, you know, all of the things that went into that.
But I think what I felt like was that I wasn't, I wasn't having enough impact, I suppose.
Maybe that was the gut feeling that I had.
And I also needed health insurance. So I actually went and got, well, I started looking for jobs and got a job at Apple part time.
Now, this is in 2012.
Okay. Okay. Now, they were putting out, I guess, ads for people to work at home from Apple.
And I was like, that's a joke. That's not real. That's got to be like, you know, because back in 2012, these working at home scenarios were like, they were all a ploy.
Yeah. And they were a marketing ploy. And like, they were a lot of them ended up being like, I don't know, pyramid schemes.
Yeah. I was like, this is no way this is real.
So but anyway, I applied and I went directly to the Apple website.
Okay, it's real. I applied and I actually ended up getting it and loved working for Apple.
So I ended, I ended the company essentially and worked for Apple for about seven to eight years.
I started at the bottom, bottom. I was taking phone calls, part time.
Yeah. And at that stage in Apple's, I would say, growth, it was a lot, it was a lot more hardcore on the numbers, I would say.
Okay, so you were that's how you learn through a lot of failure, right?
A lot of running into the wall, hitting your numbers or whatever the case may be.
To me, I thought that was a good way for myself to learn not say it was a good way to learn, but it was good for me to learn.
I like to learn fast and hard. And, you know, we learn.
Yeah. So that's what started my direct support experience. This was back in in about 2012.
So we're talking about a decade, a little over a decade ago.
And it grew from there. My love for actually grew really, really rapidly within a year of working at Apple, I was a manager.
And the story just unfolds from there.
Yeah. The last role that I had prior to this, I was a director of support for a startup, which I love.
So yes, that's where a lot of this experience comes into play is bringing something from that is raw, that has very little form and or shape, and helping to shape it into something that works right, and is successful.
And yeah. And not only that, but that, that has that plans for years into the future.
So I'm excited because this Cloudflare was another opportunity for me to do that, but just on a larger scale, rather than a brand new startup.
Yeah, that's been really, really fun is to bring my experience from both of those situations here, which has helped a lot, right?
Because it helps me prevent us from going down roads that maybe we could, I've seen happen in the past, for example, right?
Yeah. Or however that but yeah, having the experience coming into it has been amazing.
And I do believe it's allowing me to help. And I'm, and I hope that I am giving a lot or you all are enjoying the input.
Yeah. Yeah, thanks. You're such a great manager.
I don't think you need to tell me to tell you that. I would hope so.
I hope so. Yeah. Stage, you know, if I'm not somebody better tell me. Because, you know, there's, as you become a manager of being open to your own failures and successes, it has to be primary, right?
You can't teach anybody to be open to their own failures and successes without being open to your own.
So I really try to not just like tell people when I mess up, but tell people how I messed up and how I, what I learned from when I messed up.
That's one of, I feel like my greatest strengths as a manager.
And I do hope that that continues to help people grow in their own willingness.
Because once you can get past those things, you, you see, there's a lot of achievement and you feel a lot, very successful.
Yeah. I mean, I heard a quote, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Yeah.
Feedback. I remember who said it, but I saw, I read it somewhere and I'm not taking credit for it, but I thought I'd do a lot of sports analogies by the way.
And I'm not even into sports.
I call it sports ball, but the only thing that really, like I did a lot of sports growing up, but the only thing that makes a lot of sense to me when I'm describing how support works is to use, is to use sports a lot.
Boxing is one of the ones that I use quite often.
So I use a lot of like curling. Yeah, you were serious.
I was like, oh, great. No, I think it's super obscure sports analogy.
Yeah, that's cool. I mean, so you're actually, you're, you're, you're actually a manager of managers, right?
I mean, I know you manage the skip levels, but do you want to talk about, I know you've done both, but do you want to talk about different strategies for managing managers as opposed to managing individual contributors?
Very different. Yeah. Individual contributors. It's a lot easier.
Well, at least in a performance -based organization, and you can say the same for both levels, but in a performance -based organization, you know, if I have a TSE, for example, managing them directly is, there's a couple of ways that I'm going to look at it.
Where are they at in their career right now? How am I going to help them succeed in their profession personally and master their profession?
How it can help them succeed into the future, right?
But on a more meta level, I'm helping this one person and getting this one team, but that one person's effect doesn't necessarily mean that they're affecting five other people, right?
That person alone is an IC. So they, their, their impact can be as great as they set it to be, right?
Then you have the management level and the management level is different in that, that their influence, the influence that they have is, should be matched to, you know, how we measure ourselves to the number.
So influence, right?
And numbers. So that's the biggest difference is that this person has to have a level of influence that allows them to teach, right?
So I have to teach people that teach people, so I can teach them how to teach essentially is what it comes down to.
Teach them how to challenge their own beliefs, teach them how to understand the human aspect of this.
A lot of management comes down to interpretation of the human aspect of it.
And I could talk all day about psychology and customer support and coaching and customer support, but understanding that the meaning and that, for example, managers, their influence.
So I could come to you and I could say, I need, you know, your CSAT's bad, you know, 75%.
What's your CSAT's bad?
Yeah. You know, as an uninfluential manager that you're going, you may say, okay, so do you see what I'm saying?
What happens next is what that influences.
So the influence there, you know, you would, if you're building a rapport with this person, you've built trust with them, you understand where they succeed, you understand how to, how they learn what they need, all of those different, that's, that's what I call, you know, impacting or influential.
If you grow that relationship with them, then you can say, Hey, it seems to me like maybe like that, that your CSAT has slipped a little bit.
Is anything going on with you? Like as a human, you know, you see what I'm saying?
That's a very different approach to management than you would say somebody that says, why is your CSAT low?
We need to move your CSAT.
Now this, this takes a little bit longer, but you're going to get way more happiness out of this, out of this team than you would out of this team, because you're going to, these people will be happier day to day because they're going to celebrate their wins.
They're going to learn through these experiences.
So yeah. And ultimately all day long about, about that. Yeah. And I appreciate that.
I mean, ultimately that's what we want is we want, you know, we want employees that are feel satisfied with their jobs.
Right. And have a good experience, a good support experience.
So we want to give a good customer experience ultimately as well.
That's the number one goal here, but as well internally, especially as managers, I really appreciate that you're, you know, focusing on, you know, the relationship I was going to ask a very cliche question, but you may have already answered it and we can move on.
But I was thinking, you know, would you have, what would your one piece of advice be for a person who's new to managing managers?
Right. So what would you tell yourself, you know, stepping into this role for the first time, what's the one thing that they should focus on?
And maybe, maybe it is relationship and you've already said it.
Yeah. That's the one. Yeah.
And even then it's still a struggle, I will say, because relationship is one of the hardest things.
It absolutely is. Yeah. But immediately it's, it's, it's relationships because you have to be able to, um, meet them and in the middle.
And as, as a manager of managers, the, one of the first things you tend to do is rely on a sense of control, right?
I need to know what's going down all the way in my, all the way down to my business, to the lower rung, what's happening on my business.
Right. So that somebody that somebody doesn't say, this is my experience and I'm up here and I have no, nothing about what that experience looks like.
So relationship, the first thing I did was not meet with every single person in my organization, literally every single person, I don't care what you're doing, what, how you're doing it, where you are, we're going to meet and we're going to create, we're going to start establishing a relationship amongst us.
And then with the managers themselves, that the manager of managers always needs to work closely with that person, not, not overreach.
Right. I like, I don't go and coach their folks.
That's not what I do. What I do is I do influence campaigns through leads. Right.
So I say, Hey, it looks like this is an opportunity for them. Have you noticed this?
Or they'll say, this is an opportunity when I've noticed it. Right. We come to the table with opportunities, um, for us to help them succeed, not just on like their day-to-day level, but it could be anything from works, how they use their workstation, right.
To, it could be a bevy of different types of things to make them the most successful person they could be all the way to that to career development, for example.
And so you, you, you have to step back as a manager of managers and learn that your control comes through influence and it takes longer again, it takes longer, right.
But establishing influence. So the difference is, is that they're going to establish themselves as independent, really, really capable leads managers of their own.
And that's what I hope. And then when they start to see the positive benefits of them implementing the types and tips and tricks I'm teaching them, that's, I mean, everybody wins at that stage, right?
Because seeing that success and action and seeing like this nine month effort that we're in, right.
Because when you first meet with a team, obviously you hope that everybody immediately loves you and that, but that's not life.
That's not the way life goes.
So you have to work through over a period of time to really learn what is needed and then customize, customize.
Yeah. Yeah. I really love that. I, one of the things I learned from, from parenting actually, in some of the parenting classes I was taking was a phrase called relationship over behavior.
So like, I know we're talking, it's totally different for adults as children, right.
Intro to G versus pedagogy, but it's, I can, you can apply it in a similar way, which is, you know, you want to build a strong relationship rather than just correcting someone's behavior.
That's exactly right. Don't, don't do this. Don't do this. Do, do that.
Don't do that rather than, than connecting in a relationship level. But I wanted to go back and touch on something you mentioned before, and I really loved hearing your career arc and I didn't know all those things, which is fun.
And I had a similar journey in some ways.
I was kind of tracked as becoming a musician for a long time and a drummer, and I got really into sound and started doing that as a musician, just because you naturally want to mic yourself up.
And I started working at the local 16 stagehands union, IATSE international alliance of theater and stagehand employees where I was running a salon in San Francisco, big events.
So they would say like, okay, we need, we need you down at Moscone center.
You're going to be, you know, running the sound for, you know, Maroon 5 sing.
Now I wasn't like running the soundboard at first.
You're just plugging in wires and plugging things in.
And there are other people with more seniority doing that. So I loved hearing your audio experience because I have that too, but I had another similar experience where I came from a really small business.
It was a solar contractor, we call an EPC.
So an engineering procurement and contracting business in San Francisco, the oldest solar company in the Bay area.
And it was a really small outfit, really family run family owned outfit.
Eventually I wore all the hats, right.
But I started beginning unloading and loading trucks as like an 18 year old. And then I learned how to install the systems.
And then I learned how to manage a team of installers.
And I was a crew leader. And then I was managing multiple crew leaders.
So I was managing the managers and then I was designing the systems and project managing them.
And then suddenly I was estimating, bidding, designing, project management, million dollar solar installations.
Eventually was working really tightly with a lot of our manufacturers that we were speccing and selling.
And one of them recruited me because they knew I had expertise in their product lines.
And they said, could you, would you be a trainer for our company? And I was like, oh, this is a really hard decision to leave this family business I've been part of forever.
And where I learned the hard way we had to make payroll every two weeks, right.
And sell and design systems. And then come to this big corporate situation.
And so I took that sort of leap and learned all about the corporate world of being part of a 10 ,000 person global company, where my job was to train design engineers, electrical engineers, and structural engineers, how to design our products, as well as our overseas tech support team in the Philippines on how to respond to those customers that we had when they were contacting them.
And then I got approached by Cloudflare who needed technical trainers.
And he said, we have tons of engineers and wonderful, talented people, but we need some help from a MetaSense as to how we can create a training program for a team that's scaling and a company that's scaling, right.
So I've been with the company about four years, and it's been an amazing learning experience and adventure to go from a startup.
I like to say startup, but when we joined, we were already, when I joined, yes, there was a lot of opportunity and low-hanging fruit of things to figure out.
But we were still a pretty established company on the web when I started.
And we were 400 people, which is a pretty big company in my books. And now we're almost 2,000, and our team was 25, and now we're 120.
And you spoke about your experience of scaling.
And I can't believe it's only been nine months, because really it feels like you've been here a long time because of the amount of things that we've done.
So yeah, so I guess, I don't know, if you want to talk to that challenge of a company like Cloudflare introducing groundbreaking, innovative products at the same time as hiring, like you said, on your second week, you're already hiring people.
What are the challenges? What are the fun things?
What's really hard? What's your sort of view on this kind of going big, right?
We have big aspirations as a company, we want to change the Internet and make it a better place.
So what's your thought? Going big is fun. I mean, I think I knew in my head, at least for the most part, where Cloudflare was as a company.
And so immediately, the one thing I noticed was an opportunity that I wanted to work on was change management, right?
How are we preparing for change? How are we talking about change?
And I noticed it was something that we had an opportunity to do.
And each time that we lapsed in not performing proper change management, or not talking about change, not presenting the change, not being transparent, even on accidentally, that we were creating and not building this trust up that needed to be there.
Or we were allowing misconceptions about a change to fester. And those misconceptions may be called cast out or cause negative feelings about something, when in reality, it should not shouldn't be that way, because the intent isn't understood fully, right?
So change management has been huge for me. Sometimes, I don't do it as much now, because it's fun to watch my manager leads, you know, become more managerial, right?
But you know, maybe even in still in month five, if there was some sort of change that would happen that seemed either to contradict what we have done before, or was pretty big, I would actually email my team preemptively and tell them how we needed to frame this communication of that.
It's one thing as a manager to just send something to your team and say, this is the change that needs to happen.
It's another thing to understand how your team is going to react to that change and anticipate that reaction.
And then all of that. So that's one thing that I changed. I think we're in a better place now than we definitely than we when we were prior to this.
And which is great, because people here, we're all they're all up for change.
But yeah, it's not about not being up for change.
It's about how we communicating that change. What does it look like?
And are we doing a good enough job of telling people what we're doing?
Are we being, you know, thorough enough? And, you know, all of those things.
So that that, to me is primary. So important. Yeah, yeah, we're changing all the time.
We need to have good processes around changing. We need to know how to change verbally telling people a lot.
I think if you have to remind you have to remind people where we are, it's so easy to get caught up in, in the now and the we've been here 10 years, or this is where I think we should be, or I came from a different company and have a different expectation of what I think cloud players should be, right?
It's setting that expectation before they come in.
And while they're here, a lot of what I do now is we trans, we trans, you know, transported the hiring to be a lot more receptive to trying to identify the right type of people that can manage the change, right?
You and I've talked about this a lot, right?
Yeah. So purpose and intent and change management has been a big part of what I have prioritized since I've been here.
I feel like it's helped us a lot. And as selfishly as they get better at it, as my leads and lead managers get better at it, I have to do less.
Yeah. Don't tell anybody. But anyway, that's just how I'm going to make them better at that.
But I would like to talk about this all day long.
I love change. And I love the love support. But how did this go by so fast? There's 30 seconds left.
And it's been a great chat. I think we could talk for hours about all these things.
We only scratched the surface. So come back, come back on this show.
Thanks for your time, Lisa. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Yeah, it's really good.
And hopefully you can come on again. And, and yeah. All right.
Well, I'll talk to you soon. Bye. Bye, everyone. Thanks for watching Between Two Clouds.
Watch again. See you in two weeks.