It’s my great pleasure to kick off a new series of posts, the Support Star Interviews, starring colleagues and friends who have had an interesting career in support and customer success.
For this first installment, I am interviewing Deepak Chawla, who is the VP of Worldwide Support at Nutanix. In his 25-year career in support, Deepak has worked in both startups and enterprise organizations including VMware and Cisco Data Center. For the past four years, he has worked at Nutanix, which provides data center infrastructure for enterprises to build their cloud platforms, and has grown the support organization from scratch to close to 350 heads, most of them support engineers. The organization also includes a Critical Accounts team, a Support Readiness team, Technical Relationship Managers, and a Business Operations function. Nutanix has 7 Centers of Excellence and uses a Follow-the-Sun approach to support.
FT: How did you manage growing the organization from startup to the current state?
DC: Great question! I have a great management team and great recruiters – and a few differentiators that have helped with our success:
- Automation. I believe that the majority of lower-complexity cases can be eliminated through good tools, a robust support portal and search capability where customers can find solutions to their own problems and do not have to call support – and we have invested heavily in each.
- Customer experience: When customers cannot solve their own issues, we want to give them a great experience with:
People: Our engineers are very technical, good troubleshooters and very empathetic to customers. They will not rest until the issue is resolved, whether it comes from Nutanix software, hardware, or another component in the stack. We hire the best folks we can from industry and new college graduates, and invest in training (technical and soft skills), 3 times of what our peers do. [FT: TSIA surveys show an industry average of 1 week of training per head per year.]
Process: We make it easy for customers. Our engineers take calls directly from customers (we do not have a front-end customer service layer). There is a big “escalate” button on the portal that customers can click at any time to get management engaged. Our engineers escalate to partners in the solution stack (e.g. Microsoft, VMware, Citrix) without putting the customer in the middle of every multi-vendor escalation discussion.
And we do not believe in tiering support – our engineers can solve Level 3 issues. The goal is to have a 100% “touch and hold” resolution model.
Infrastructure: We rely on data and data-driven decisions. We have invested in data scientists and a data mart so we can run reports to drive decisions: flagging customers who are likely to get escalated, determining the most important bugs to fix, driving customers towards the highest-quality releases based on patterns of cases and bugs reported – these are just some of the data driven decisions we take.
FT: How do you measure success?
DC: We decided early on that our one metric was going to be our Net Promoter Score, which is a proxy for customer loyalty. Nutanix has had an NPS of 90 over the past four years, and we want to continue!
Internally, I work to keep customers and employees happy. Our renewal rates are high so we don’t have to reduce costs in artificial ways. Our attrition rates are the lowest I have seen during my tenure in the industry because of all the investments we make in the engineers, and the opportunities we provide for job enlargement.
FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?
DC: Life is full of learnings. I used to think that the best technical folks made the best support engineers – and I have learned over time that empathy and passion are very important, and much harder to teach than technical skills. We have data on every support engineer in the organization (school/major, past employers, tenure, etc.) and the correlation between technical skills and productivity, CSAT and teamwork is not as high as I thought it might be.
FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?
DC: How we continue to scale! We have been growing at an average of 65% YOY as a company, with no end in sight. How do we build more automation into the product, how do we train partners and OEMs to provide the same quality of support that we take pride in, how do we hire over 200 engineers a year and bring them up to the same level as the first 300 in a programmatic fashion, and faster than the previous batch? Growth is a good problem to have but it is a problem.
FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?
DC: In the recent past, some of our competitors and peers have focused on short-term gains instead of building long-term brand loyalty. To focus on customers and data to drive decisions, to collaborate on behalf of the customers regardless what the business relationships may be between the companies you are “collaborating” with seems very straightforward, and common sense – but common sense is not so common anymore!
FT: Thank you very much, Deepak, and congratulations on what you are building!