Delivering Fanatical Support via Social Media - An interview with Rob LaGesse from Rackspace

Rackspace delivers enterprise-level hosting services to businesses of all sizes and kinds around the world. Since their start in 1998, they have grown to serve more than 130,000 customers, including over 110,000 cloud computing customers. Their core products include Managed Hosting, Cloud Hosting and Email.

Rob Lagesse

Rob LaGesse, the Chief Disruption Officer at Rackspace heads up social media efforts there. His passion is taking care of customers and he goes to great lengths to do so. Though he was hired as the Director of Software Development for the Rackspace Cloud, he soon realized his heart was in who they were writing software for, and not the software. He was unhappy building software He wanted to build something he could get feedback on NOW like customer satisfaction.

Nithya : Hi Rob, I understand that you handle Social media for Rackspace. Are you also involved in Support?

Rob: I primarily run Social media. And there is a huge Support component to doing that because a lot of our customers reach out to us using Facebook , Twitter and sometimes even a blog post. Our goal is to take those public conversations and resolve them in an email or a phone call where we are not constrained by 140 characters.

Nithya : How big is the support team in Rackspace?

Rob: Many hundreds of people. We have hundreds of Rackers in dedicated Support roles.

Nithya : Let s say a customer has some problem with billing or something to do with payment. Are the support agents empowered to make decisions on it?

Rob: We are empowered to do what is right for the customer. That can sometimes mean a refund or sending Rackspace schwags like T-shirts depending on what the customer wants.

Nithya : I remember, once we were moving out of Rackspace because we had a better deal elsewhere. As an effort to retain us, we were immediately given a better bargain by Rackspace. The gesture was so nice and the deal so good that we took Rackspace s offer. I was wondering if such decisions come from the top or somebody right there handling support is empowered to make such an offer.

Rob: At Rackspace we work Support in teams. Every team has an account manager, a business development manager, a network security person and a database administrator. Each of the teams has a team lead. Ultimately it is the team lead making the decision depending on how big the deal is. If it is a few hundred dollars any racker can make that decision.

Nithya : So, you have support agents that understand business to take such decisions.

Rob: Yes.

Nithya : Did you hire the team for Social media side of customer interaction?

Rob: I haven t hired anybody externally for Social media. Right now I got two engineers and I am bringing in another one shortly. In my team I am looking to get people that know the products, the company and how the company works than them actually knowing how to solve customer issues.

Nithya : Are these engineers willing to interact with the customers?

Rob: Well I choose carefully. I choose the ones that are already engaged in social media.

Nithya : I was pretty apprehensive when I sent in a mail to twitter@rackspace I was definitely surprised when I got a reply within a few hours. I cant believe it is an engineer who replied to me!

Rob: Our entire social media is just based on two words Be helpful . We are just here to help. If it is helping one of our customers that s fine. If it is helping with the press inquiry with all these rumours about Dell s buying Rackspace or something we answer those too.

Nithya : I remember seeing a tweet from you which goes like this: Being responsible for customer care does not fit well into firing a customer. Makes it hard on people that love customers. What made you say this. When do you have to fire customers?

Rob: Lot of times. If databases of customers on the cloud infrastructure don t behave well, they affect other people on the same cluster. If they don t fix, we ask them to leave. Sometimes some customers are just trouble than they are worth. So if you are making 10 bucks in a month off a customer and they are putting in a hundred support requests a month you are losing a lot of money.

Nithya : These 100 support tickets are not because something is wrong with Rack space?

Rob: No, it is generally from customers who think they know what they are doing or they think they know more than we do. When customers are leasing a server from us, they are responsible for everything. Let s say they delete an important directory, they would want us to restore. We do certainly help them with such things but if they get demanding or they go on twitter saying we suck because we are not fixing their mistakes immediately, we have to make a decision on whether or not we want to keep them.

Nithya : How long have you been with Rackspace?

Rob: I have been a customer for 10 years and an employee for 3.

Nithya : What makes you so passionate about Rackspace. It is evident from the way you talk about the service and strive to keep your customers happy. What does it take to hire somebody like you?

Rob: I don t know but that s a really good question. I think hiring your customers always makes sense. I knew a lot about the company even before they hired me because I was an independent consultant with 22 of my clients hosting on RackSpace. I had learnt a lot about various Rackspace products even before they hired me that they didn t have to train me. Also, I brought in the perspective of what I liked or hated as a customer.

Nithya : Have processes in Rackspace changed because of the customer perspective you brought in?

Rob: We definitely have incorporated a lot of what I learnt as a customer and we still keep it in mind when we are considering any major changes to our product line.

Nithya : Before we end, is there anything interesting that you would like to share?

Rob:I will share one thing from my experience. And I ll share it both from the customer perspective and from the Customer Support perspective. If you are a customer never lie to Customer Support. And if you are in Customer Support never lie to your customer. If you can t give your customer something, tell them that you cannot answer that. But don t lie. And if you are a customer and you are lying to a Support rep, as soon as they find that out they are not going to trust anything you say after that. So honesty goes a long way from both sides.

Nithya Rajaram

Nithya Rajaram