Support Star Interview: Anitha Aravind of Ooyala

This  month, I welcome Anitha Aravind of Ooyala to the Support Star series (you can find other interviews here, here, and here).

Anitha’s entire career has been in Support and Customer Success, starting out as a support engineer and working her way (quickly!) to executive positions. Like me, she believes that service needs to be the differentiator and driver for customer loyalty.

The Ooyala support team is a highly technical team, with many support engineers having an engineering background. It is a global organization with teams in Mexico, UK, Sweden, Japan, Singapore, and India.

FT: One thing that’s very interesting about your organization is that you have a large team based in Mexico, supporting North America. How did you make the decision to locate there and what did you do to make it successful?

Anitha Aravind: The decision to start the original team there was easy. Aside from a couple of the co-founders of Ooyala being of Mexican-American descent, we already had a solid team of product managers and engineers there, providing a good technical ecosystem and growth path for my team members. More importantly, employee satisfaction and retention are very high, and that is unusual for any support organization.

The formula is simple, take care of your people, and they will take care of your business. We have a solid hiring process that carefully screens candidates for three themes: culture, technical skills, and customer service skills. Interviews include code challenges and mock troubleshooting sessions to gauge competencies in each of these areas.

{Anitha discussed her team success at length here.]

FT: Apart from the decision to locate in Guadalajara, what other innovative decision would you like to share with us?

AA: Aligning support/success organizations closer to product and engineering results in win-win situations for not just your customers but your internal teams. These are two schools of thought, two types of mind-sets, two different sets of skills and people who are hard-wired to think and act differently. Putting them together to collaborate and achieve a larger impact is just fascinating to me.

For example, here at Ooyala and in my previous life I have created synergies between CS and R&D teams through subject matter experts. They are the voice of the customer, who sit in engineering team meetings, scrum prioritization, feature go to market meetings and present insights from customers to influence decisions.

The second example is more from the customer success world. I have always advocated segmenting customers and developing services for each of those segments. But sometimes you need to be flexible with those boundaries. For example, within the global customer success segment you could have a subset that will be your “medium touch.” If your goal is to retain and grow those accounts, then why not invest time in those that have a potential than providing run-of-the-mill services.

FT:  How do you measure success for support organizations?

AA: This is one of my favorite discussion points. To me, it starts with the right set of KPIs/success metrics. Among the lagging indicators, CSAT (customer satisfaction) is a good metric to trend and report on the overall service and quality of support. Unlike a Customer Success organization, support is transactional, so a good set of healthy operational metrics are key for a world-class support organization.

For example,

  • number of escalations to your product and engineering organization: this highlights gaps in knowledge in your team as well as dependencies with engineering,
  • ticket aging: key indicator for product deficiencies and knowledge/tool gaps.

With this data, we can make decisions around product feature prioritization, service quality improvements and investments in other Opex improvements.

FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

AA: The answer is simple, something that every leader should lose sleep over, customer and employee retention. The support organization has an excellent rapport with customers and internal teams alike. How do we sustain this trend and continue to build on it is something always in mind?

FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?

AA: I wish many companies looked at creative new ways of engaging with customers and learn from those engagements. Get out of the old-school service models and disrupt the experience we look at supporting customers. Get out of the on-premise, remote, SaaS, enterprise silos and see customers as people. As Mark Hurd, CEO of Oracle said, “The future is going to be all about people—your employees and your customers”.

FT: Thank you very much, Anitha!

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