Interview: David Bryce – Part 1 of 3

Sorry about the late post!

I’ve been wanting to post this interview for a while, but I had some technical problems that prevented it from getting written out and posted correctly. Anyways, those are all fixed and I have a great interview to share. It is with David Bryce, who is now the Vice President of Customer Care — Intensive at Rackspace Managed Hosting. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he was in charge of the Managed division, but that doesn’t really change the content of the interview. Rackspace is a very large dedicated hosting company with a strong focus on customer service.

The interview talks about a lot of things and will be posted throughout this week. In the first part, David shares a store about how Rackspace first started to focus on customer service and what they did, what their system is based off of, and what they do to encourage employees. The first part is “after the jump.”
Question 1: What exactly is Fanatical Support?
Answer: Laugh. Good question. First and foremost, it is primarily a philosophy on our part. Most companies in our industry define their support by an SLA – things that are committing to do and saying they won’t do and a lot of times, the won’t do list is what you really have to pay attention to. For us, we feel like Fanatical Support™ is a commitment from us and a promise from a member of your customer care team to really be there for you, and take care of you, and do what needs to be done (whether it is covered in the SLA or not).

It is to our benefit for our customers to succeed. Beating them over the head with the contract or the SLA does us no good. In the end, if they aren’t happy, they are going to leave. And in the end, if their business isn’t working, or if what they are trying to do on the web for their business isn’t working, then they are going to leave and we are going to lose out.

It is really first and foremost a philosophy on our part – our commitment to do anything and everything we possibly can to help our customers.

Question 2: Is Fanatical Support modeled after anything in particular?
Answer: I will tell you how it originated. Back when I started here, I was employee #13 at Rackspace. Back in 1999, the bar in the industry was just so, so low. There was really only one other hosting company at the time, and they didn’t provide phone support – they only had email support (which they only responded to during normal business hours). When we first started, we were pretty much operating the same way – that was the way it was done.

I guess I was the first manager that was hired at the company. Upset customers would say, “Can I speak to the manager?” and I was the only one at the time, so I ended up spending my first few weeks talking to upset customers. It quickly became obvious that the customers wanted more than hardware – they wanted help. That means being there for them 24/7 and being able to talk to people (not just email).

Right away in those first few weeks, we started to pick a customer at random (at least one a week), and we’d go into one of the conference rooms, we would put the phone on speaker, and we would talk to the customer for an hour asking, “What would the ideal be like for you?”

I remember one conversation in particular with a web designer in Baton Rouge, LA (one of our early customers), and he had traded commodities for quite some time. One of the things he loved about the company he dealt with was that he always called Desk 13.

He said that there were three guys who manned Desk 13 and how he was always talking to one of those three guys and how they handled everything for him from research to executing the trade – anything and everything that he needed. Over the years, he said that he got to know them, and they got to know him – so that got us thinking about the structure of support.

Most technical support companies are organized around products. You call the 800 number, you get the automated attendant, and you have to try and figure out which number to pick, and you finally get a hold of someone and they end up routing you to another department.

Instead of organizing around products, we decided to organize around our customers and to take that Desk 13 idea – we created customer care teams. It’s the one stop shop for the customer – there are technical people on the team, there are account managers on the team, there are security people on the team, there are billing people on the team. The customer’s invoice is generated by somebody on their team – not in the central accounting office. Then, if the customer has a question about the invoice, they talk to the same person who they talked to two months ago who knows their business now and is the actual person creating their invoices.

It came out of a lot of conversations like that with customers. Our customers are the ones who basically told us this is what would be fanatical to me. That is really what we have tried to build.

Question 3: Customer service seems to be a big part of Rackspace’s culture. How did this come about and how do you ensure that customer service remains part of company culture?
Answer: That is the key question. It is absolutely a huge part of our culture – so much so that we think of ourselves as a service company, not as a hosting company or a high tech company. We believe that we are in the service business and that technology is just what allows us to deliver that Fanatical Support. We talk about it constantly and one of our core values is “Fanatical Support in all you do.” Our stated vision statement is to become one of the world’s greatest service companies with the likes of Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom. Most of the companies we compare ourselves to aren’t high-tech companies – they are just great service companies.

That is a question that we ask ourselves a lot. As we grow, we don’t want to lose that. It starts with hiring. Technical expertise really comes second. We pride ourselves on our expertise, and I’ve heard that we have more Red Hat Certified Engineers than anybody but the military, but we believe we can teach that stuff. We have our own in-house training program what we call Rackspace University where we can teach the technical expertise. A more important task is finding people who understand that service philosophy and who naturally have it in them.

I think there are at least two types of people in the world – there are people who want to serve and people who want to be served. We want the people who want to serve and actually get a thrill out of helping others. It starts by adjusting your hiring criteria and making sure we are bringing in people who do want to help and do get a rush out being a hero and saving the day for the customer. People who naturally are empathetic and when a customer’s site is down, they feel it just as if it’s their company, and their site that is down. It starts with the hiring, and then we talk about constantly, and like I said, part of our values, our stated vision, and we do have training classes around it. With new employees, we do a new employee orientation. Lanham speaks at “Rookie O,” Graham speaks at it, the founders speak at it – it is that important that we get new people at the highest level. Everyone participates in this week-long training with all new employees because we want them to understand this is what we are about from day one.

Question 4: What does Rackspace do to encourage employees to provide Fanatical Support?
Answer: There is lots of recognition – every day and constant reinforcement of it.

One of the things we did early on was related to our most prestigious award. I think I picked the word “fanatical” because I wanted to convey the thought that it’s not enough for the answer to be technically right. When it comes to the technology and there is a problem with the customer’s configuration, or specific device like a firewall, there are a million variables. There are lots of different ways to fix it. So fixing it absolutely is important. Also, how we handle things with the customer – our communication style with them, the level of communication with them, if they have to wait, are we giving them constant updates, asking them in the end when we are completed – double checking, “did this take care of it?” and “Are you happy with it?” I wanted us to be obsessed with just not technical accuracy, but be obsessed with keeping our customers happy and the satisfaction of our customers.

If you look up fanatical in the dictionary, the definition is “overly zealous or obsessed with,” and I liked that word. I wanted something to kind of reinforce that word, so we settled on kind of a straight jacket, which seems to fit our zany culture. We have the straight jacket that has “Customer Service Fanatic” silk-screened on there. When somebody goes above and beyond and does something for their customers, it is neat to see peers nominate members of their team for this award. Then, in front of the whole company, at a monthly meeting, the straight jacket is given to people who go above and beyond for their customers. Their picture is taken and it is hung on the “Wall of Fanatics” – that is the big one and the most prestigious award in the company.

There are a bunch of other things. We do a lot of little spot bonuses – we hang customer comments on the wall. We’ve done things in the past where whoever gets the most compliments gets dinner out at a nice restaurant with their family and those compliments are sent out to the whole company – the company email list, it’s amazing when the rest of the company responds to people congratulating them. It’s a dozen little things like that that go on all day, every day.

What’s neat is new people just get swept up in that and see just how important it is. It almost takes on a life of its own, and it’s pretty neat.

2 Responses to “Interview: David Bryce – Part 1 of 3”

  1. Service Untitled » Fire Your Customers! - Part 1 of 2 - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Dec 20, 06 at 11:57 am

    […] Web hosting giant Rackspace believes in it (see question #3 in Service Untitled’s interview with David Bryce of Rackspace), Mike Faith does (see question #8 – his company sells telephone headsets – pretty simple product), and so do other companies that have set themselves apart through customer service. […]

  2. Service Untitled » Lessons from Rackspace - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Nov 22, 07 at 12:54 am

    […] From what I can tell, Rackspace did a fairly good job at handling the outage and its related affects. I’m not a Rackspace customer, but am pretty familiar with the company (see my interview with an executive from the company here). During the outage, they follow the guidelines I suggested for “keeping customers in the loop” almost perfectly. […]