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.
Hello! Welcome to Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Customer Support. My name is Shane Ossa.
I am on the customer support team here at Cloudflare, and this is our Cloudflare TV segment where we get to know members of the support team and we get to know what Cloudflare support is.
So real quick, if you do have questions, we love to answer them.
We'd love to talk about the things you're interested in hearing about.
Email the email that's below, somewhere down there, and our amazing helpers will send us those questions.
And the other thing I want to mention is congratulations to Portugal for the Euro victory today.
Anyone watching from our Lisbon office is probably pretty excited if you're into football.
But otherwise, I'm really honored today to have with me from our Austin office, Tobi Akanbi.
Hi, Tobi! Hi, Shane. How's it going? It's going really good. I'm excited to be able to chat with you today.
Likewise. And we don't get a lot of chances to chat because both of us are so busy in our normal operational roles that this is a kind of a little bit of a treat.
Yeah, I second that. But then, yeah, that's the good thing about having this channel to actually discuss some important things to our customers and getting to know each other as we do that as well.
So yeah, thank you for having me today.
Yeah, thanks for coming on. Thanks for being willing to do this.
It's pretty fun. We've had some great guests from the team over the last few weeks and months.
We do this about every other week. And it's just, I think it's good for people to get to know the people on our team that are answering customers' questions every day.
So for those of you that don't know us, I'm a manager on the team.
I look after training for the team. And Toby is one of our amazing tech support engineers who's actually solving customer problems every day, all the time.
Perhaps you're one of the customers that Toby's helped. Congratulations.
And yeah, but Toby, you've been here, what, about a year now, almost?
I think like 11 months, give or take. Yeah, time kind of really flies here.
So it's actually, it feels like I've been here for a little bit over two years. But I guess that is how it is.
It does feel like that. It feels like you've been here for ages because you've slotted right in and contributed.
And you're like a core team member now for the US time zone.
How did you find that coming up to speed on Cloudflare so quickly?
It's kind of an amazing achievement, I think. What was that experience like?
Well, it's been great. It's been great. And I could actually remember just a couple of days back, at least that is what it feels like now that we're having this conversation, that I had my interview.
And it was kind of interesting to see the old posture of Cloudflare itself, the kind of family orientation that is being brought to the table here.
So for me, I've always loved the challenges.
I mean, I get bored easily. I guess that is pretty much every other person.
I will only speak for myself here. But yeah, because I get bored easily, I need to challenge myself.
I need to be challenged. I need to always have something going.
And with a company like Cloudflare, I don't see anybody actually getting bored here.
Because the speed at which we're actually bringing up new products and services, it's just amazing.
There is a wealth of knowledge to learn. And so far, I think it has been the best career choice that I've made in my X amount of years now.
That's kind of sensitive, so I'm just going to say that. Yeah.
And we're so glad that you made the choice. And you've made some great contributions already.
And kudos to you for coming up to speed so quickly on a very complex set of products and features, including one that's pretty innovative and new, at least to Cloudflare, which is the Magic Transit product family, which focuses on layer three and layer four network routing so that customers can put their prefixes behind Cloudflare.
It's pretty cool. It's still relatively new, although we have been doing it now, it feels like, for at least a year, if not more.
But it was quite an interesting challenge for us as a team to go from layer seven, application layer, web application experts, to bringing on a whole new skill set down the stack into layer three and four.
And you're one of our experts in that area.
Do you want to talk about what that challenge was like at all or how you find it?
Well, that's actually a very good one. So I think a few months back, I was kind of introduced to the product.
And again, it's more networking related.
My background is more network security. And I mean, over the years, I've actually moved across pretty much the major parts of computer science.
I've done database application development, networking on different layers as well.
So when I got on board into Magic Transit, it was something more of like, it's something that I would have thought about maybe two years ago.
And I would have told you that this is not possible at that point in time.
So this is like a dream, like a dream in reality, actually.
And I was very excited, one about the product and two about the many customers that we've now boarded using Magic Transit, because every customer that approaches Cloudflare, they approach us with a different use case.
And from this use case, we'd learn to either improve our services to accommodate their use cases.
And again, this means that Cloudflare is not a rigid company.
We listen to our customers, and we try to understand what your requests are and how we can actually fill it and assist with ensuring that you can get pretty much the best out of Cloudflare.
And yeah, so far, Magic Transit has been, I would say, a little bit challenging at times, because I do see myself every now and then, at least most days, I spend like an hour or two just onboarding or like anything, networking, network security.
If there are new edge routers out there, I want to know just a little bit about them, because we cannot assist our customers by just understanding our own end of the deal.
We need to understand what exactly is going on their hand as well.
So that is how we can all work together.
So yeah, it's a very interesting product. That's such a great point.
We try to anticipate all the use cases, but there's no way. There's an infinite combination of hardware and software and technology that our customers can be using that.
We see novel problems every day. People talk about there being sort of an 80-20 rule in general with support, which is that 80% of the stuff you're handling is stuff you've seen before.
And so you're trying to solve that by having really great content, usually customer-facing content, so that the customers can then find their own answers.
And then the 20% are novel problems that you have to figure out and troubleshoot and debug and problem-solve and use creative, critical thinking tool sets and skill sets to try to figure out.
But I think it's different for Cloudflare.
I think we're more like 50-50. And maybe that's because we've done a pretty decent job of automating a lot of the basic stuff.
Maybe we do have really great, I do think we do have really great content out there in general for customers to solve their problems.
Because most customers want to solve their own issue.
First of all, most customers don't want to have an issue.
But inevitably, there's issues because the Internet is complicated. And then they don't wake up going, gosh, I can't wait to contact customer support today.
They wake up going, I have a challenge and I want to try to solve it. And if the information is there, that's the best thing.
That's the fastest way for everyone.
But then they go, I can't figure this out. I've got a call. Maybe they do. If it's you, if it's Toby, maybe they do wake up and go, gosh, I can't wait to contact support if I get Toby.
So yeah, I don't know. I feel like it's more like 50 -50 with us, with novel problems versus ones we've seen.
So I feel we might actually want to move that a little bit higher, though.
Just because we get to see.
So one, I will say that for our staffs that actually work on ensuring that we have the best materials out there for our customers, I would just want to use this avenue to say a very big kudos to them.
Because before joining Cloudflare, just a wealth of knowledge alone that you can find on Cloudflare support docs.
We have the dev docs.
We have the APIs. And the most interesting part is you can actually go to the community and have a conversation with customers just like yourself.
And a lot of those customers, they've actually had the same problem or a similar problem as what you are currently facing.
So I mean, the new turn of the table now is that we are trying to encourage our customers to try as much as possible to get on that community.
Because then, if you write in a ticket, maybe we don't get to respond to that ticket immediately.
However, we try our best to ensure that we're serving everybody as much as we can.
But what about you reaching out to the community where you have people that have actually gone through the same use cases as you're seeing?
So I think this is a very good opportunity out there that we're also extending to our customers to make use of.
Yeah. I mean, we, as a team, we try to reproduce customer issues. Troubleshooting 101, reproduce a customer issue.
See if you can reproduce it yourself.
Customers come to us, to be honest, with some really interesting setups.
They're using a variety of different types of web servers for a million different use cases.
Their hosting is over here. They're doing some interesting networking, routing, custom stuff on their end.
And to be quite honest, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to reproduce their exact use case.
We try, and many times we can. But in other times, it's like, oof, this might take a while.
Or why don't you try to ask the community? And you'd be surprised. People will come in there, oh, yeah, you know what?
I tried that. And this is what you need to do with your SSL if you're going to do that, right?
So yeah, absolutely.
The community is a vibrant place. I want to give a big shout out to our community MVPs who are super busy in there helping out, answering Cloudflare customer questions, answering each other's questions.
It's a really vibrant place. And I would recommend anyone watching, if you're a customer, if you're not a customer, if you're a Cloudflare employee, get in on the community forums.
Some really interesting threads in there.
There's some really interesting things that some of our customers are doing and sharing knowledge with each other.
Yeah, I mean, who hasn't been there, right?
When you're using a product, right? You're using your laptop, you're using your smartphone, you're using your smart TV or anything, your ISP, your mobile phone carrier, and you have a problem.
And you start looking on, I don't know, I'm thinking about everything, cars.
I'm trying to think about my old Volvo.
And I try to look for information online about how I can fix this part.
And guess what? It's almost always a community forum where I find the information.
So we're just now, we're still getting started, as we like to say, at Cloudflare.
It's already really good in there, but that's just one of the channels people can go.
People can also go to our support portal, support.Cloudflare.com, which is where we keep our traditional knowledge base articles.
But we have some cool stuff going in there as well.
We have a ticket submission form. I don't think anyone is super excited by web forums, except for maybe me and another couple of other people.
But the support team is pretty excited about it, because we're trying to, again, get customers the information that they need when we are in that 80-20, when we are in that 80 zone.
And part of the challenge is getting the information to the customer.
It's one thing to have the information. It's another thing to make it easy to find.
You'd be surprised at how hard that is. And the ticket submission form, we're trying to use some pretty cool machine learning to try to suggest, to do some keyword matching on what someone might have written, to try to suggest the right article.
I mean, this is pretty big in the support industry right now, is the use of AI, because we want the humans, like Toby, to be able to do the fun stuff, like troubleshooting and problem-solving novel issues.
And then we want the robots to do what the robots are good at.
That's right. And at least save us some time as well.
We had some customers who or they will actually call it, and they will ask us, like, how do you open a ticket?
It seems like a very long process. Why is it not intuitive?
Well, here I would say, we do apologize if it's not so intuitive. However, there is a reason for that, because it's just like any other form.
When you're submitting a form, you're expected to put in some information.
So we ask you some information.
What kind of problem are you having? Which of your domains on Cloudflare is currently being affected by this problem?
And all this helps Boulder AI to know how to route this ticket correctly.
And then it also helps support to actually get onto that ticket and have it routed to the right person in order for us to cut in the middleman timing, where we have to reach out to you and then ask you, what problems are you having?
How can we reproduce this problem? Because in the support world, I think the biggest ordeal is that if Shane, for instance, if you tell me that you're having a problem, what would be my reaction?
I'm definitely going to ask you another question. What kind of problem are you having?
And then we're going to keep doing this back and forth until we can actually reach a compromise as to now I understand what the problem is.
And then now I understand how I can help you.
So what we're asking from most of our customers is please try to be as elaborate as possible.
If there is a way for us to recreate the problem that you're facing, please enter all that information.
We want to see it.
We want to be able to help you by just responding one time and closing out that ticket.
Because for us, that is what we call good support. We don't want to keep going back and forth with you for like 20 requests and responses.
So I think that is something else that we need to throw out there.
We need more information. Help us so that we can help you.
You make so many good points. So many good points in what you just said.
If I go to, again, I bring up the car as an analogy. If I go to my mechanic and I say, I'm hearing the sound of the cars doing this thing.
And he goes, or they go, show me.
And it doesn't make the sound. I feel like that happens so much.
And you're like, I swear it was making this sound. I swear it was doing this thing.
It's the same for support. People go and they say, my customers are reporting errors.
We go, okay, well, what error? And how can I, from where? And what's the end point?
And what was the request? And can you give us the Ray ID? And can you send us a hard file?
And that's a back and forth. And the problem where one of the problems you're trying to solve, and this is like a good problem to have, like hashtag good problems, is that we have so many customers and we're adding so many more.
And the Cloudflare platform is so powerful. And it's so, I think, economical for so many people now to solve a broad range of problems that they would have on the Internet as a developer, as someone who's managing a website, right?
That we have so many customers and as a support team, we only have so many Tobys, right?
And as good as he is, he can only help so many people. So what's not a great use of Toby's time is saying, hey, can you give me more information, right?
I mean, at times it is, because he's digging in and asking the right questions.
But at other times, it's some of the basic stuff, right?
How do you reproduce? Where's the problem coming from?
What's the request? What's your domain? I know it seems obvious, but send us a hard file, all those things.
And we have a great KB article on what information we want when you contact us.
And this will just reduce one of those touches because we are handling so many requests, just full transparency.
We do triage them. We do prioritize them. So people who have emergencies are going to get helped first before people who just have general questions.
And that's reasonable, right? I don't think anyone's going to be like, oh my God, that's a normal thing to do.
But that brings up another point, which is if you are a customer, if you are someone, tell us what the urgency is of your issue.
That helps us, right?
You could say something like, hey, I've got an SSL issue.
And we're like, okay, an SSL issue. This person over here is saying my website's down.
I'm just going to help them first. I'll be right back. But if the SSL issue could be a website down, right?
So you want to be very explicit with this is affecting production traffic.
Our users can't get to our site. This is extremely urgent for us right now.
Tell us, honestly, literally tell us how big of a problem this is for you so we can manage that internally.
This seems straightforward, but we just want to make sure everyone's aware that that's super important.
Yeah, that's pretty good. I don't mean to hijack this whole conversation.
No, no, no. Just discussing about support. So let's change the dial a little bit.
Let's try to discuss something slightly different in this case. Yeah, yeah.
So I have it in my notes here to ask you, and you mentioned this before, that getting into layer three and layer four debugging network security, magic transit, was sort of like a dream that kind of manifested.
And I have it in my notes here to specifically ask you about dreams.
Is there a significance for you with dreams in general?
Is that something you can talk about? Oh, yeah, yeah. So just like a quick FYI here, I normally sleep and don't dream.
But that's a different story. But in reality, we all have dreams and dreams in forms of goals, like we have projections, what I want to accomplish over time.
And as big as some of those dreams may seem to be, I always have this feeling that if you work hard enough towards those dreams, you will definitely achieve them.
However, there's always like a segue, you know, alongside whereby you feel like, yeah, I always want to be this.
But maybe I'm just going to settle for something different, because now I know, you know what this is.
And for me, that was pretty much what it was when I started working at Cloudflare.
So going to school, at first, I told myself, I would like to actually become a lecturer, you know, I want to become a professor, I want to impact knowledge, you know, I want to actually help students, you know, achieve their dream, you know, and by helping people achieve their dream, you're also achieving your dream alongside, because you're making other people happy, you know, but after, you know, after teaching a couple of courses in school, after, yeah, four years of doing that, I think I kind of had like, yeah, like a second opinion that I think, I'm not saying there's anything bad becoming a lecturer, I'm just saying that you need to have enough knowledge to impact on other people.
So working in the industry is my new dream, which is what I'm doing right now, and learning a lot of viable information, a lot of ways to help people, you know, we can all be a mechanic, right, you know, we can all be medical doctors, you know, we can all be professors, you know, so you just have to be what you're supposed to be, but always remember to assist people as you go.
And I think that is the joy I actually get from waking up every morning, and knowing that, yeah, today is going to be a new day, let's see what problems can we solve, you know.
That's so great.
That's so great to hear. I mean, so I'm the training manager on the team, as you know, but those people watching may not know.
And so my job is to make sure everyone gets the training they need to do their job.
So this involves, you know, teaching and managing a training program and stuff like that.
So when you started talking about your interest in, you know, being a teacher, I started getting really excited, because I was like, Oh, Toby can join the training team, this is going to be great.
And then you crushed my dreams. And you said, I'm sorry, Shane.
And then you did lecturing and you don't want to do it. It's not like I don't want to.
I'm just kidding. Yeah, yeah, it's more to we need to learn, you know, just like kids, you learn to walk, before you learn to walk, you learn to crawl, before you actually learn to work.
So I think gaining all that needed knowledge can actually tool you up to act to imbibe on other people, you know, so yes, I can still take you up on that Shane.
Okay, good. No, you're bringing up so many good points.
I mean, we have to teach each other. I learn every day, like you said, at the beginning, you know, you get bored easily, you'll never be bored at Cloudflare.
There are so many things to learn. And we have to help each other. Nobody can be an expert at everything here.
And even beyond that, people come to the team with skills and experiences and knowledge that we can all benefit from.
And I think if we all spend, you know, a certain percentage of our time, trying to help the people around us get better, not just from the training team, right?
That's like our mission, our stated mission.
But you're, you know, generally, the tech support engineer stated mission is to solve customers' problems as they come in.
And some tech support engineers have been wonderful partners with the training team.
Most of them are, to be honest, in teaching other tech support engineers what they've learned, right?
We, not everything routes to the training team. In fact, most things don't, right?
And there's just so much knowledge sharing going on at any given time.
And part of our approach is to just try to facilitate that and sort of get out of the way and let our wonderful, talented people like yourself and the others on our team, you know, just really facilitate the sharing of knowledge and how can we do that?
So I really love that sort of topic of not only like how it's practical for us to tap into each other's knowledge, but how it feels good to do it, right?
When you help other people get better, you know, there's a sense of satisfaction there.
When you start to see them go and succeed at that thing, then you feel good, right?
And it's a good thing to do for the team. So it's definitely something that, you know, we're working on and constantly trying to foster here, you know, sort of a culture of sharing of knowledge, you know.
Right. And I also believe you, I mean, if you feel you know something, you can only enforce that knowledge by teaching, you know, you can enforce that knowledge, you know, by explaining to other people what you know, you know, and that's the easiest way to learn.
In fact, for me in school, that was part of the ways I was able to survive, you know, because once I learned something, I'm about to teach every other person, you know, because once I can teach you, then I know that I will never forget, you know, and it's the same culture that we have here at Cloudflare, you know.
So I know we don't have a lot of time here, but again, I would just want to scream out there that if you feel that Cloudflare is the right place for you, please don't hesitate.
And even if you're not sure, you know, a lot of times we're not sure of a lot of things until we actually try them, you know.
We're always hiring. Please don't be a stranger.
Reach out to us. And you never know, you might be the next person sitting here and having this conversation with Shane.
So. Yeah, exactly.
I love that, you know, leading forward to the next one. But yeah, you make such a good point.
It's not until I go to try to explain something to someone else that I realize my level of understanding this.
In my head, I say, I get it.
I get this thing. And then I sit down with my teammate or, you know, my friend or something.
Let me explain. We try to explain this to you. And then I like realizing I have all these gaps.
Oh, my gosh. It was one of the powerful things I learned when I was studying to become a trainer, right?
I was taking training trainings, how to be a good trainer, because it's a meta skill within itself.
And one of the kind of big revelations was, I mean, seems obvious, but is that you're not going to know everything.
And you can openly admit that and say, you know, please ask your questions along the way, I'm going to write down every single one.
And follow up later on, you know, I'm learning as we go here, as we go to so I'm so glad you mentioned that.
And we're pretty much out of time. It's gone by so fast.
I know. I think we should actually make this like an hour. I was just kidding.
Yeah, that progress. But you know, this is actually very cool. I've been this conversation with you here today.
And well, a big thank you to every other person out there that is listening to us as well.
And thank you, Shane, for allowing us this opportunity to have this conversation.
And I will be more than happy to be on the show again.
It sounds pretty good. I'd be honored. This is just the beginning.
Part two is forthcoming. Thanks for your time, Toby. Yeah, it's really great to chat with you.
And we can talk again later today after this is over. Sounds good.
Thanks for watching everyone out there. Thanks for watching Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare support.
Watch us again in two weeks. Bye. Bye.