Interview: David Bryce – Part 2 of 3

Here is part 2 of the interview with David Bryce of Rackspace. This part of the interview talks about what Rackspace does differently from many other hosting companies as well as their hiring and trianing processes.

Question 5: What elements of Fanatical Support do customers seem to appreciate the most?
Answer: Honestly, I think it is the whole team concept. Customers really get to know their account manager really well. They get to know the techs on their team really well, and they get to develop a relationship. Then, when the customer calls in, they get to talk to someone they’ve talked to before, who is familiar with their configuration – they don’t have to start from scratch on every call.

It gets to the point where once you have that relationship, you can actually start to be pro-active and start to anticipate needs. You can call the customer before they call us and say, “Hey, I’m starting to see these alerts in the log, and I’m concerned about this happening. Have you guys thought about doing this and doing that?” I think they appreciate the relationship that the team structure kind of facilitates.

I think they also appreciate the immediate access – the fact that they can call that 800 number anytime day or night and a real person answers the phone immediately – there’s no auto-attendant, and within minutes, they can be talking to a very high level technician who can actually fix the problem for them right there and then.

In most companies, it is denial of support. It is expensive to have these technical people on the phone, and I think most companies have set it up so it is somewhat difficult to get to those people. You encourage people to go to the knowledge base, or the web site, and you have a bunch of different levels. At Rackspace, though, the customer can call in right away and immediately get a hold of somebody – in most cases someone they have talked to before and with a tremendous amount of technical expertise who can fix it now. It is expensive to have those people on the phone, but we found and believe that there is no better way to spend the money. When you take care of the customer, they stay and they actually grow with you as their business succeeds, and they start to grow their configuration – it pays off for us as well.

And also, I would say just the expertise we have been blessed with. We have a tremendous amount of talent assembled here, and the bigger we get, the easier it seems to be to find that talent. You get a phenomenal workforce, and they seem to know other people who are superstars in their particular fields and they talk to them about Rackspace. Next thing you know, those people want to come work here.

I guess it would be those three things – the relationship that the team structure facilitates, the immediate access to somebody who can actually solve their problem and usually someone they have talked to before, and then just the amount of technical expertise we’ve got across a variety of fields from security to hardware to software. It’s pretty neat.

Question 6: What does Rackspace do to recruit, hire, and train the people that provide Fanatical Support to its customers?
Answer: A huge portion of our new employees do come from employee referrals, which has been successful for us. I think rock stars refer other rock stars. We have a careers site (www.rackspacecareers.com) that a lot of candidates visit and as a result, submit their resumes to. We use some of the other services like Monster. We’ve done some advertising and some open houses here where we have invited people to come in.

Hiring – I talked a little bit about it earlier. We take those candidates and do some initial screening via the phone. We have them take some tests, depending on which position they are applying for. That does more screening and helps us gauge their technical expertise, or their approach to customer service. Then, we’ll bring them in for interviews. The process actually is pretty egregious. If the candidate does make it in for an in-person interview, they’ll end up going through four to six hours of in-person interviews. The candidate that makes it to the end is usually interviewed by members of the team they will be working on. A portion of each person’s compensation is based on the financial performance of their team. There is a very real incentive for the team to make sure that each person they are adding to the team is rock solid, is going to provide Fanatical Support to customers. In that interview process, those are the things they are looking for. Do I want this guy on my team, is this guy going to be just as fanatical as the other people on this team? It is a pretty rigorous hiring process.

As far as the training process of it, there is the new employee orientation. We have a pretty robust offering from what we call Rackspace University from technical classes to customer service classes to fun classes like planning for retirement and budgeting, or parenting — stuff that also helps them in their personal life. We have a whole group that we call Rackspace University that is probably approaching 20 people now that are devoted to all the training needs.

Question 7: What differences in the customer service experience would a customer notice between Rackspace and a regular dedicated server provider?
Answer: Some of the things I already talked about. In the past, we mystery shopped the competition just a little bit – everybody does that I believe. It has been a while since I have been involved in anything like that because I honestly don’t believe we should compare ourselves to the competition. We want to compare ourselves to the best service companies in the world, regardless of what industries they are in.

I think what they will find is you call an 800 number and you get an auto-attendant, and then you are basically talking to a pool of people who you have to start from square one with. You will get escalated up through the different tiers of support. We have people who work for us that used to work at some of the different competitors, and the things you hear just show that their priorities are off. Where people have time limits to their phone calls and after 12 minutes, they start getting penalized if a call is longer than that. Those are some of the things that are wrong.

I still think that a lot of the competition believes that it is about having sexy technology and flashy technology. The technology is a commodity. Anyone can get Cisco gear, and Dell gear, and HP gear. It’s about the service. It is complicated. It is about having the right people who really care working with the customer working with the customer to help them figure out how to make all of this stuff work for them in the best way possible. Much to our benefit, I just don’t think a lot of the other companies in the industry get that.

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

  1. Brian said:

    Oct 12, 06 at 1:05 pm

    “The technology is a commodity. Anyone can get Cisco gear, and Dell gear, and HP gear. It’s about the service.”

    While all the rest is good food for thought, that statement there is the most important of this interview so far. And it applies to any industry.

    I would like to hear more about how Bryce compares his firm and their service to Southwest etc. Is it more of a “here is how Southwest does things in general” or more of a “this is how Southwest dealt with it when a bag was lost and the client needed a new laptop immediately. This applies to how we should act when a client..” approach?

  2. Service Untitled » Rackspace Team Structure - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Mar 19, 07 at 10:47 am

    […] I was exploring the new-ish web site for Rackspace the other night. I noticed they had a page explaining their team structure. It reminded me of when I asked David Bryce about Rackspace’s team structure in his interview with Service Untitled (see here and here) and I thought the page would provide an additional explanation about a very interesting element of Rackspace. […]