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.
This week's guest is Mianmian Zhang, Technical Support Engineer.
Hi everybody, welcome to Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Customer Support Cloudflare TV segment.
My name is Shane Ossa. I'm on the customer support team here at Cloudflare and this segment is all about getting to know our team, who we are and what we do.
And if you have questions, actually, there's an email somewhere down below.
I can't see it. That's why I'm pointing indiscriminately around the place.
Maybe it's above me. I don't know. But there's an email on this webpage that will allow you to ask us questions.
You can ask us questions about customer support at Cloudflare.
Actually, if you have like an actual customer issue, you should just open a ticket.
But if you just want to ask us about who we are and what we do, now's the time.
So today I'm joined by Mianmian Zhang from our APAC team from the Singapore office.
Hi Mianmian. Hi Shane. Hi everyone. My name is Mianmian. I am the support engineer in Cloudflare.
I work here for over a year now. And thank you Shane for having me here.
I'm excited to join this segment. Yeah. Thanks for agreeing to come on.
I think we missed APAC heritage month by like two days, but I think it can last.
It can spill into this month and we qualify. It's great to talk to someone from the APAC team.
I'm in Pacific time. So we do have a little bit of overlap, but I was able to visit Singapore, oh gosh, before all the weird stuff happened.
So I think it was a couple of years ago and get to know some members of the team.
We have an incredible team out there, including yourself. So welcome to the segment and thanks for agreeing to come on it.
No, thank you. I remember last time we see each other was in the training bootcamp in San Francisco before COVID.
You're probably one of the last people to fly new hires, to fly to San Francisco and get training from us in the office.
Yeah. Right. That was a great time and great opportunity to join with everyone from different group and just see Matthew and Michelle in person and get training from the training team hands-on.
It was a great time.
Yeah. And that's my job at Cloudflare for those of you watching. I'm the training manager.
So it's my job to make sure everyone gets the training they need to do their jobs.
And then Yanmian Zheng is one of our technical support engineers who is actually handling customer inquiries all day and resolving, investigating issues and troubleshooting and resolving issues.
And so, yeah, you said, you mentioned you've been here, is it a little over a year and a half?
How long was it? Yeah. I joined last year, February 21st. So just had my one year anniversary two months ago.
Wow. Yeah. I know this whole last year for me is a time warp.
It's hard for me to even put my mind to what month it is and what year it is now and how long it's been since anything has happened because I've just been in the same room for like the last year, not seeing anybody.
But yeah, you came on board actually as a customer support agent and were promoted to tech support engineer.
Customer support agent is one of our other roles on the team, similar job, pretty much the same job, slightly more junior.
So it's for people who are a little newer to tech support, but you really quickly picked it up and were promoted to full tech support engineer.
And do you want to talk a little bit about your journey so far and and how you were able to achieve that?
Okay. Thank you so much, Shane.
So of course, with the great help from the training team, as well as all the teammates that have provided me huge, huge support.
So yeah, I did start my Cloudflare journey as a technical support agent.
So I started to work on the free ticket, helping free customers.
And then I a little by little go over to helping the pro customers and a little more how Cloudflare works and just try on different things on my own.
And I was having questions every single day with our EE member.
We have great knowledge to share and they just help me a romp up and just every single day ask questions.
And we all work from home, so it can be a little challenge to when we compare with we just in the office and we can ask around.
Yeah. So actually that was a great time where I feel I just learned so much things every single day.
I mean, even to now, still so much new things to learn. And I feel it's like climbing the stairs, like a marathon, you know, you little by little, but still, yeah, you'll never get to the cross line.
Like, hey, I know all the Cloudflare things now.
I feel right. Just a lot of practice, ask so many questions and with great support from my teammates, as well as the training and a huge kudos to our EEs.
Well, thank you. And that's very modest of you. I mean, we helped, but it was really your hard work that got you here.
And so kudos back to you for putting in the work and learning the tools and the tricks of the trade.
There's so many things you mentioned there that we could go off and talk about.
And you mentioned that you got helped by our EE team.
EE stands for escalation engineer.
So at Cloudflare and many other places, we have support teams have escalation paths within the team.
Customer inquiry might come in as an email or a ticket.
We process everything as tickets. And if, you know, me and me and we'll investigate that issue and resolve it.
Great. But occasionally support engineers need to escalate it to someone in engineering that can actually push code and fix bugs and stuff like that and conduct deeper investigations.
Maybe they have access to a little bit more data, a little bit more sensitive data.
And so that's why we have a escalation engineering team, which is also 24 seven on the customer support engineering team.
And shout out to our escalation engineers in APAC.
There's one in particular I'm thinking of who has taught a lot of people on the team in APAC and globally.
And shout out to the trainer in APAC region as well for all the work they're doing.
But yeah. So good morning. I guess it's morning over there.
You're drinking coffee. I'm winding down. I'm ready to open a bottle of wine and have a glass of wine with my pasta.
But I thought we would sort of get into something you mentioned when you started.
You started working with the free customer tickets.
And for those of you that are watching out there, customers and the like, Cloudflare support team processes tickets from customers, customer inquiries or issues.
We use tickets. We use a ticketing system. And the customers are sort of routed based on their plan level, right?
So you get better support if you're higher plan level.
So enterprise obviously gets the best because these are the highest paying contracted customers and it's in their contract.
And then the pay as you go customer segments like the business plan, the professional plan, and the free plan all get like different levels of support from there, right?
We still help our free customers, but they get a lot less support and resources than as you could imagine our enterprise customers would.
So you started working with the free customers and that's a bit of a training ground for us.
How did you find that sort of either progression or the free customer issues, I guess, especially at the start, was it all over the place?
Like fix my website, it's down. Or were we surprised by the level of technicality or the things that they were trying to do with their applications?
And I don't know if you want to talk to your experience there.
Okay. Thank you, Shane. First of all, great description of the whole EETU and how we work and how different tiers of customer.
So first I want to start off, free ticket and free customers question are not always the easiest one or the quickest one we can resolve because we have huge base of free customer where they come from all different backgrounds.
We have really technical free customers.
They know what they're doing and they know for sure this is a bug that we need to fix or they are just really nice and then point out one thing that we could have improved.
Or we have really non-technical customer and they probably are not familiar how call for works and just have general questions of, oh, why am I seeing all this IPs coming to my server?
Or, oh, why my mail doesn't work?
Things like that. So it's just great range of all different questions and different people we're dealing with free customers.
I actually, in the beginning, enjoy free ticket a lot.
We all have a great discussion of, oh, what ticket you have encounters a day and share little stories between us.
And in the beginning, the challenge part for me was trying to identify what is really the customer's issue.
When I fresh graduated from college where I learned all these OS models, where I learned the TCB handshake.
And then when you get into the field and then you see it in action, it's really different than how I will go on and troubleshoot why this part fell.
So I was like a transition period, I would say. Yeah, I was going to ask, and you mentioned it there, but what was your background before coming to the Cloudflare tech support team?
Okay. So before coming to Cloudflare, I was actually, my last job was as a graphic designer.
So I'm helping to design a website.
I helped design posters for the company. We have like a group where we take freelance, we take videos, and I also make some webpage with my teammates.
So among my teams, I feel I'm probably the one with the more techie and they are the ones who are more into the RC and then how do I put this front here and then what color do we choose?
So yeah, that's how I discover. And you mentioned that you had studied like TCP over IP in college and you studied IT.
Yeah. So after my first job, I would like to challenge myself more and I want to always get into the field of the cloud and the Internet.
So I want to study IT in Singapore here.
And yeah, we study like securities, all different attacks. We study networks, subnetting and how routing changes work.
And I study, yeah, the OS models, the IP's DNS, what is DNS and how that works.
So it is, I feel in the first stage was really fascinating for me, how I see the things we learn is really in action in life.
That was pretty awesome. And how it can fail in this part and how, yeah, when people send me the PCAP and how I see action, what was the handshake happening?
It's really cool. Yeah, that's really cool. It really helps a lot that you had that background where you studied some of the technologies that are at play with customer issues.
You mentioned free customers can write in about absolutely anything and we see a really large spectrum of issue types there.
Everything from, you know, people who are web developers, who know, you know, how to code and program and, or people with a blog on, you know, on a popular blogging platform who are just need more information about how name servers are set and stuff like that.
So you get a huge spectrum. One of the things we're working on is Cloudflare.
It's been great. We've had tremendous growth of our customer base, of our features, which is getting us more customers and our team's been growing too.
So when I started four years ago, we were, I think about 30 people and now we're 120 people and this is wonderful.
We've grown. It's been a challenge and an adventure, but something that we've been trying to get smarter about is how do we continue to support free customers of which there are now, I want to say millions.
I know that there's millions of domains. I don't know if there's millions of actual user accounts, but there's quite a few let's put it that way.
And there's millions of domains and we're 120 person team.
And so how do we develop, you know, processes and tools for, for supporting that many people?
We can't have a one-to -one ratio of support engineers like NyanNyan to customer, right?
We'd have to hire a million support people.
So we do this in a variety of ways, right? We have really good content out there so customers can fix their own issues.
They like that better.
Anyway, no one wakes up one day and is like, gosh, I can't wait to contact tech support.
It's usually they got a problem. And then ideally there's good content for them.
That content is easy to find. And there's other tools that we can use to help customers solve their own issues, but eventually they may need help from a person.
One of the ways we are trying to do this sort of one-to-many approach where, you know, fewer support professionals on our team can support more customers is through the community forums.
The community forum Cloudflare, I think it's community.Cloudflare.com is really rich and full of answers.
And we have some great MVPs in there.
Shout out to our MVPs who are customers in there answering other customer issues, sometimes incredibly quick, fast.
And I do tell customers sometimes when they write into us as a free customer and they go, hey, you know, it's been a little bit of time and we're really hoping to get a response from one of your people on this.
And we go, hey, check with the community. You know, we have 80 people here working around the clock 24 seven, and we're really trying to focus on our highest paying customers.
And we want to get to you, but we will get to you, but you might get helped more quickly in the community forums.
Have you, have you participated in the community forums or any of the community jams or anything like that, Yangyang?
I have not, particularly myself, but there is one coming up and I will join that one.
And I have to say community is really a great place to start with.
When I first joined Cloudflare, I found many of the solutions and the answers from the community.
Oh, you did? Yeah. That was really helpful. And people are, I guess, more chill and easy on the community where they answer questions and they are really, I guess, quick to spot on, you know, what would be a quick fix for that issue.
So yeah, community is really a jam, I would say. Yeah, we're doing these things now to contribute to the community as a larger group where we organize sort of like a hackathon where we spend maybe a couple hours and we get lots of people cross -functionally across the whole company to come in and help in the community forums, answer questions that have been there a while or validate answers that have been there.
Because it pays off for us, it pays off for the customer.
Ultimately, that's what we want, is the customers to be able to find answers to their questions quickly.
And with the problem, it's a good problem, with the problem we have of growing our customer base so large and we have to just look to solutions like this.
So you mentioned that you found answers there.
It's funny because I talked to another candidate for a role here that got hired, but we have a take-home test that we challenge our candidates with during the recruiting process.
And some of the answers are there on our support knowledge base to some of the questions we ask.
And that's actually one of the things we're looking for is can someone, I know this sounds simple, but can someone find information that's out there on the web and put two and two together and answer a question based on that information that's there?
That's a skill. I have done the take-home test and I also done some interviews for the people who are interested in joining.
So I've graded their take-home test as well. I can see where they find this answer and it totally reflects on where I started in the beginning.
So many good materials and good answers are in our developer document, are in our KBs.
There are so many links we share every single day with customers. You can find your answer here, but I will address their question first and always point them where they can have a full comprehensive explanation.
As well as Clover blog, I love reading Clover blogs about how engineers are explaining things with a bit of history and how it's implemented.
Yeah, I think that's a great strategy when a customer asks a question and you find the answer, rather than just giving them the answer, you're going to give them the answer, but rather than just giving them the answer, you say, and I found that here.
So we're trying to show the customers how to find the information.
Information can be hard to find on the Internet.
I mean, there's so much. And that's another initiative we have going on in the background is to clean up our support portal.
It's pretty darn good if you ask me compared to a lot of others, but it could be even better.
It could be even better.
We could have federated search across our documentation sources. We could have diagnostic tools.
We could organize the information in such a way that it's easier to find the right answer you're looking for.
But yeah, like you said, I think that's a great approach.
And some people are just naturals like yourself who are already thinking, I'm not just going to give them the answer.
I'm going to show them where to find it next time.
And then hopefully they won't contact us next time because they don't know where to find the answer.
But you touched on something I want to ask you about.
Oh yeah, because the take-home test in the hiring process, would you have any recommendations for someone who is interested in becoming a support agent or a tech support engineer at Cloudflare who's applying through the process?
Is there anything you could say that they should go do that would help them prepare or study?
Do you have any suggestions for someone that might be watching?
Oh, great question, Shane. Great question. So first of all, I think Cloudflare support is really a good place if you just graduated.
I mean, for the free pros and business customers, you can learn so much from them.
And you will apply your really into action. So I would say it's a great place for, if you like challenges, if you like learning and you like solve problems.
So yeah, let's just start from there.
And if you're interested to join Cloudflare, I would highly, highly suggest you register our domain and just start playing with Cloudflare's features.
Yes. And play in constructions. You can use the load balancer with Agotano together.
And all this will help you get started and you will encounter questions yourself and you will see why customer will have problem on this part.
So this is the first suggestion. Yeah. Second of all, I will suggest, like go to communities to see what are the common questions people ask and see if you can answer one or two of them.
Yeah. So that's a second advice. Third one, read Cloudflare blogs.
So you will see how, what is Cloudflare's vision? What are the engineers' problems they're trying to solve?
And what are our solutions?
These three things, I guess it's a starter. And then yeah, just submit your CV and we will interview you.
Yeah. So sign up for a Cloudflare, free Cloudflare account, play with Cloudflare features, set up features on a test server.
If you can install a web server, I would say that that's a good experience to install, you know, NGINX or Apache or something equivalent on, on a, you know, on a metal, on a server that you can get from any, you know, hosting provider that are out there and community forums, try to answer a question.
Those are, those are great.
That's great advice. You mentioned, you know, the different types of common issues that customers have.
Do you want, do you have any, I was going to ask you, you have any stories, maybe not a common customer issue?
Do you have any like fun customer stories that, you know, you've encountered in your, you know, journey here at Cloudflare, any funny ones that we can anonymize and share or just a typical one or just, just one that, you know, you've encountered before?
Yeah, I have a couple of stories.
Actually, we share also between the Cloudflare support, we share, you know, what are the interesting ticket you experienced or really difficult one that you learned how to solve it.
Among us, we're always sharing and learning from each other.
Yeah. I remember in the beginning of my Cloudflare journey where I encountered this, it's a free customer, but he is, he find a bug in, I wouldn't say a bug, he find things we can improve in Cloudflare firewall.
At that time, I still don't know what features he talking about.
And he already gone through so much troubleshooting himself and, you know, point out the problems.
And that's where I escalate internally and our firewall team can start looking at it.
So first of all, I feel, thank you for all the free customers where you send your suggestions and all the troubleshooting you already done on your end.
We really appreciate that because we cannot personally test every single thing.
So yeah, that was an interesting one where I don't know exactly what they see talking about, but it looks like it's something we could have done in our end.
And yeah, our engineers really appreciate it.
I think this is a good example of how free and other tier customers helping us grow and do better.
Second example I can think of, it's one, a big customer, one day he coming to chat, he's pretty upset about how his business is impact and how he, you know, lose so much revenue and he couldn't find out a way like what happened.
And what he tracked down is when the start on board to call for it.
And after he, a few back and forth communication and he provide all the documents we required.
Finally, I find out that the issue is one of his payment doesn't really support IPv6.
And when we really tracked down that issue, yeah.
And he was super appreciate our help. And, you know, he say like, thank you so much.
You saved our business and now everything can go back to normal.
So I think that's when the time where I feel while support is, I will say, it's a job really, you are feeling like a firefighter all the time, you know, where, yeah, you're trying to fix the issue on the spot for the customer.
But when you really find the solution and when you really help this customer, you feel this great sense of achievement or, you know, like, yes, I am helping him and helping his customer and help his business to succeed.
So I think that's always a great reminder for me, like where I start and then why I always should try our best to help.
Those are such, those are great stories. So day in the life of a Cloudflare tech support engineer, you know, you have a customer reporting a bug in the firewall and we're escalating that to the engineering team and getting it fixed.
And you have another customer who's saying, ah, my revenue stream has gone down and what's going on.
And then we're diagnosing that and helping them fix that and getting their revenue back.
I mean, it's, those are great stories.
And that's what we're doing every day. And, you know, if you're a customer out there watching this, contact us, give us as much information as possible upfront.
Tell us how urgent your issue is because we categorize and we triage things based on the priority.
So if you say my whole website is down, this is really urgent.
We're looking for that kind of information. Or if you just are saying, hey, there's an issue with this feature, we might not know how bad it is for you.
So tell us how bad it is and give us as much information as possible.
Give us, you know, steps to reproduce the issue ourselves that, you know, logs, if it's appropriate to send logs, a HAR file, if it's appropriate to send a HAR file, H-A -R, you can Google how to create a HAR file from your browser that helps us diagnose.
Otherwise, our first response is going to be asking you for that information.
So I'm making a plea, I'm pleading with you to give us as much information up front and so we can resolve your issue as quickly as possible.
And me and Man will, you know, kind of how important that is.
But well, wow, we're almost out of time.
I can't believe it's gone by so fast. I'm looking at the clock here.
We only have a minute left. Is there anything else you'd like to sort of say to the world while we got you here?
First of all, thanks Shane to lay out the, you know, the important information we need.
So I find, yeah, that's many of our time we spend on getting enough information for us to move on to troubleshoot.
So if you can provide us enough information on the spot and a stated urgency and impact of this issue to you or to your customer, that would be great and save us a lot of time.
Second of all, if you are interested in Cloudflare and wants to join to Cloudflare support, then we always welcome to all the talent and, you know, welcome people from different backgrounds like me, where you can still, yeah, know and learn each every day and help people.
So, yeah, submit your CVs. Thank you. And yeah. Perfect.
So thank you so much for your time and for coming on this fun, silly show.
It was great to get to know you and come on again. Thank you for having me here.
I like this idea where, you know, before they can see us in a little small icon, now they know me as a person.
That's right. We're real people working hard to help customers.
Yeah, that was great. Thanks, Mianmian. This was Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Support.
Enjoy watching the next Cloudflare TV segment on right about now.
No. Almost. All right. Thanks, everyone. Thanks for watching. Bye. Thank you.
Bye. Have a good day ahead.