Alessio Fattorini is a Support Specialist and Product Manager at Nethesis. He’s also NethServer’s Community Manager. When Alessio isn’t saving the day, he can usually be found tweeting customer service, Linux and productivity tips.
Nethesis designs innovative products and services in the field of systems and ICT solutions, cutting-edge applications to improve the way clients work. Nethesis is based in Pesaro, Italy.
We managed to catch up with Alessio and chat with him about life at Nethesis.
Your official title(s):
Support Specialist, Product manager and NethServer Community Manager (www.nethserver.org)
And how big is your support team?
7 people strong.
And how many products do you support?
At least 7 different products, especially NethService, NethSecurity and NethVoice, all based on NethServer.
How many channels do you offer support in?
4. The web portal. Email. Phone. Self service.
Give me a ballpark figure for the number of queries you get everyday.
45-50 emails and about 50-60 phone calls.
What tools do you guys use to support your customers?
Till a few months ago, we were using OTRS. We were with OTRS for about ten years or so but now, we’re with Freshdesk. We also Redmine for tracking bugs and Trello to organize on-site work for customers.
The Nethesis team
Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you end up in customer support?
I started immediately after the university. I was really enthusiastic about Linux and System Administration so my first job was administering the linux in-house server and answering customer calls about the same. I joined Nethesis in 2007 and since then, I have focused on our products’ support, particularly on the second level addressed to our resellers all over the country, while alternating with development of some new modules and analysis of in-house projects.
After 9 years on the helpdesk, all I can say is that I really enjoy it 🙂
So, what does a typical day look like in the life of Alessio Fattorini?
The day usually starts, in our relax-area with my colleagues, with an espresso, two cookies and some jokes. After catching up with everyone, I head to my desk to start looking through our helpdesk for tickets that arrived after business hours the day before. I answer customer requests, I check through our open tickets and try to understand which ones I can solve quickly and which problems I need to analyze more deeply to come up with a solution.
The support team, usually, works half-day shifts and alternates between answering the phone and email queries. So, when I have the phone shift, I head straight to the hotline to answer calls.
I also keep an eye on social media channels and mailing lists, especially Nethserver (the Open Source project at the base of all our products). I spend most of my time there, developing a community for users and contributors.
That’s a packed schedule. How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
I think of every support request as a challenge to my troubleshooting skills, my product knowledge and my interpretation skills.
This is an art in which you never stop learning; what does the customer mean with this request? What is he trying to achieve? What are they not telling me and I can only assume from? What are the right questions, the questions that’ll help me investigate the problem and get to the solution as quickly as possible?
I keep myself well informed about news or problems concerning our products and I try to learn a lot from my colleagues. I observe how they deal with certain issues and how they face some specific problems. With them, I try to find the best solution for my tickets.
In the last few months, however, we’ve been testing your (Freshdesk’s) gamification feature.
Everyone jokes that it’s just a game but no one wants to have the lowest scores on the leaderboard.
So our competitive spirit makes sure we’re always fully engaged. Someone is always trying to find a way to get more points.
There are about seven support reps and as many products to support. How do you manage taking time off from support?
I try to alternate the support with side projects on new products.
I also focus on the community in order to avoid the burnout that can arise focusing too much and only on support.
Besides support, we do some QA as well, of the issues collected by our bugtracker. Not to mention, we are all constantly experimenting with new solutions to improve our products and development processes. That makes sure, we’re constantly busy.
Tell us about your toughest day at Nethesis.
My toughest day at work was about a month back. Because of a known bug, that emerged on linux, and related security updates, there was a problem with some versions of our product. We received about 180 tickets in 2 days and about as many calls, more than we could handle.
It was not easy but our whole team pitched in and within a few hours, not only had we found solutions but we’d also managed to, simultaneously, document our progress to our customers.
We learnt a lot, yes, not just about the problem but also that we had no idea how to deal with such a situation. But the entire company acted together and we managed to pull through with no big problems.
Let’s talk numbers. According to you, what’s the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?
Our main objectives are: to keep the first response time as low as possible and to solve the ticket before an SLA, which depends on the priority associated with the ticket.
Over here at Nethesis, we believe that no request should remain too long without an answer. Even if we have no solution and the only response we can send is a simple “We’re working on it.”
In my opinion, resolution time is not a really big indicator of your support’s performance because it depends on a lot of variables but we do our best to make sure that tickets are solved as soon as possible.
Another metric we keep an eye on is the relation between the number of tickets received and the number of solved tickets, in order to understand how our support is aligned to the requests received and when it’s in trouble.
But how do you measure customer happiness then?
Well, we’re trying out satisfaction surveys now. We send them out when we resolve a ticket. It’s only been a few days but the results look encouraging.
Before that, we’d just glance over a ticket for a good idea of how the customer’s feeling before closing the ticket.
Plus, when our sales people meet our customers face to face, they always ask them questions about how they like our support, and if they’re satisfied with it.
It isn’t an exact metric, yeah, but it’s sincere and it works.
Nethesis’ 7 member strong support team supports 7 products.
We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell me how you usually handle them at Nethesis.
a) A customer writes to you, requesting a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you can’t give them an ETA. How do you handle it?
Generally, we never deny feature requests outright. If it looks like it might take a while, we suggest a workaround.
Once we’ve given them a temporary fix, we put it down on our Trello board.
We discuss the feature requests in our Trello board during our weekly team meetings.
If the feature looks like it might bring added value to our product, we’ll decide how and when to implement it. Else it’s shelved for later perusal.
We try to push things out as fast as possible but if it might take a while, we make it a point to sincerely apologize to the customer for the delay and explain the reasons for said delay.
b) A customer writes to you, demanding a refund. Do you just issue the refund or do you rope in sales personnel somewhere down the line to try to woo them back one last time?
We immediately get in touch with the client to find out what happened, how and where we went wrong and do our best to regain his trust. If the client wants to switch even then, we’ll issue the refund and find ways to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
c) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake (like an outdated workaround) but the customer involved gets really mad. And he just seems to be getting more and more frustrated with time, as the rep tries to handle it. What do you do? Do you step in and try to fix it yourself or do you let the rep handle it?
We usually apologize first, for the inconvenience suffered. Then, we explore the issue and try to understand where we went wrong and how we can fix the issue that rose due to our negligence.
In this case, we’d try to determine if the rep underestimated the problem, whether he didn’t understand the problem or if the problem rose due to causes over which we have no control.
We do our best to be really open with the customer and make sure that he understands that we’re doing our best to rectify the problem.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on the plan she’s subscribed to but she’s willing to pay extra. Do you tweak the plan for her?
Our product is pretty “open” so, we’re usually happy to tailor it to the customer’s specific needs. But it comes hand in hand with a commercial agreement. And we’ll get started only after our product manager analyzes the situation and okays it.
Whose customer service do you admire the most?
Buffer. I’ve experienced their support more than once and their staff is exceptional. Especially their response time! It’s hard to believe that humans are behind it!
I also love their company culture. And their customer service reports. I even received a handwritten postcard from them once!
I’m also a big fan of the Help Scout blog; I read practically everything they write.
Also, a round of applause to you guys. Support’s always very kind and efficient.
Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to hear from on this series.
Other than Carolyn, from Buffer?
I love the support I’ve received from Anna, Freshdesk. She’s always very friendly and focused on the customer’s needs. I understand that she’s won a lot of awards – well deserved!
I also follow all of Brian Cervino and Joel Spolsky’s work on Trello (I’m a huge Trello fan!), and Chase Clemons’s suggestions (Basecamp and Support.io).
One more thing, Alessio. If you could travel back in time to a certain era or event, when and why?
Working in Silicon Valley in the late 90s and early 2000s must have been really fun!
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.