Red Hat’s Marco Bill-Peter presents a modern vision for customer support

“I’m not selling you anything you don’t already have. It’s all part of your Red Hat subscription”

Marco Bill-Peter, vice president, Customer Experience and Engagement, is a man on a mission to create awareness of what Red Hat customers already have access to: the full support of his team.

He also changed the name of his team from “support” to “experience and engagement” to better reflect his vision for interacting with customers. He shared a story of a ski trip gone wrong when his travel companions both had to put the holiday on hold to take calls from work to deal with IT issues. So where does engagement begin? Not at the other end of a phone call with an angry customer, according to Bill-Peter. He says it should begin way earlier.

Interrupted vacations. Reactive service. Problems unshared. That’s not modern customer service. Bill-Peter, in contrast, shares his personal mobile and desk phone numbers publicly so any customer can contact him directly. It’s not enough to be fast or provide a large knowledge base for customer to dig into.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time,” Bill-Peter said. “We think about this too 1-dimensionally. We only go in 1 direction for communications. Great support needs to be dynamic. Interactive. Consider your feedback. If you have a maintenance customer service model, you don’t innovate there. You’re just optimizing on cost.”

If you haven’t experienced proactive customer service that Bill-Peter describes, and want to know what it is and how it will affect you, read this report from The Economist Intelligence Unit called “The Rise of the Customer-led Economy.” The report found a few truths:

  • A large majority of companies are fundamentally rethinking their strategies for engaging individual customers.
  • Emerging technologies are the principal enablers of this new customer-centric thinking, as companies strive to follow their customers as they migrate across channels.
  • The benefit of connecting customers, employees, partners and products is ultimately customers who are more satisfied.

How did Red Hat build this kind of proactive, insightful customer support model? Bill-Peter’s organization is part of engineering, so it can affect change in code based on customer issues and feedback. He also avoided the “deflection” model of customer service that pushes responsibility back on customers. Instead, he broke down service to small “swarm” teams that puts the right people in touch with customers at the right time.

Bill-Peter also created a single customer portal from many disparate portals. And instead of asking IT to create it alone, he paired developers with the infrastructure team to create a more agile collaboration model, and, ultimately, a better customer portal experience. This DevOps approach worked. The Red Hat Customer Portal won the Association of Support Professionals (ASP) 10 Best Web Support Sites. (This is the 5th year in a row the Red Hat Customer Portal has been included in the “Open Division” of ASP’s annual list.)

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The team also made a few more improvements:

  • Shorter, simplified knowledge articles and content
  • Predictable support over lifecycles so you can be confident building a stack on top of it
  • Security assurance such that 97% of critical vulnerabilities had a customer fix the same or next day after they were public
  • Risk assessments like labs let customers know if they can rest assured, or need to act aggressively to prevent complications

Bill-Peter shared stories from several customers (CA Technologies, FICO, Cisco, Avianca, CBTS, American Product Distributors Incorporated) who are 2015 Red Hat Innovation Awards winners. Their comments (not verbatim) included:

  • Red Hat is a great brand name with great support.
  • We are counting on Red Hat to have security patches baked in.
  • The support we get gives me piece of mind. We logged tickets where we didn’t even know what we were asking about. Red Hat was gracious about leading us to a solution.
  • We have a shared goal, shared vision, shared outcome.

He announced a brand new service from Red Hat Customer Experience and Experience team: Red Hat Access Insights. Joe Fitzgerald, general manager for cloud management at Red Hat, was interviewed about the product.

“CIOs have to deliver increasing speed in a complex environment,” Fitzgerald said. “They need to get out of firefighting mode, and apply technology, not more bodies–that’s not going to work in the long run.”

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Red Hat access analyzes your system and determines if you need an upgrade or patch. It provides analytics based on Red Hat’s years of experience. It covers issues with operating systems and anything that causes outages. It’s not just software—it’s an incredible operational support. To top it off, beta users say it has a beautiful user interface to display insightful data.

Bill-Peter closed out his presentation by saying that good is no longer enough in customer engagement–you have to be great.