Support Star: Narsi Subramanian of MapR

Narsi is the VP of Customer Success and Support at MapR Technologies, whose product portfolio brings together open-source Hadoop ecosystem components with IP that includes distributed filesystem, NO SQL database and streams all integrated to provide a converged data platform. His team consists of over 60 engineers in 6 countries supporting large customers worldwide. The support engineers function as consultants and domain experts on top of being great problem solvers.

Narsi started as an Engineer and has worked in many different areas including operations, analytics, sales training and R&D. I met him when he worked at Red Hat.

FT: One thing that’s interesting about MapR is how your team collaborates to get to customer success. How did you make it happen, and make it work well?

NS: Let’s discuss collaboration. To start with, we have support SLAs and to meet the targets, the frontline team collaborates with the escalation group (or others) to resolve issues. We believe in depth over breath, so collaboration is vital.

We also hold interlock meetings with Engineering where we present product defects. This has yielded good results for us since it helps engineers see the product from the perspective of customers.

Finally, we collaborate with customers. When key accounts have serious issues, we establish war rooms and assign an engineering sponsor. And we also hold design sessions where we invite customers and support engineers to discuss use cases so customers can build applications that optimize the underlying architecture.

FT: Apart from collaboration, what other innovative decision would you like to share with us? How is it working out for you?

NS: AI [artificial intelligence] and ML [machine learning]. We want to use AI and we are experimenting with it. For instance, running automatic log analysis to find out if certain patches apply.

This is just one step towards proactive monitoring and predictive analysis. Eventually, we want to move to a self-healing capability based on AI within the product.

FT: How do you measure success for support organizations?

NS: At the highest level, it is based on customer renewal and expansion. When we see 99% of the customers renewing and also purchasing more, we know it is success. We also use standard customer satisfaction surveys and NPS (our 2017 score was 78%).

At an individual level, we want happy employees. We look at both qualitative and quantitative aspects during performance evaluations. Qualitative measurements are feedbacks from peers and other groups and efforts they took in goinging the extra mile to make customers or their peers happy. Quantitative measurements at an individual level are straightforward that include CSAT scores, MTTR, how often they had SLA violations, first call response rate, and usage of KA for case closure etc etc.

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

NS: I generally don’t worry about things. If you build a strong team and empower them, you can switch off the light. Mistakes do happen and as long as we learn from that experience and build ourselves there is no need to worry.

[FT: it’s so interesting that many leaders are telling me that they don’t worry. Are worrywarts excluded from the ranks of the leaders, or are leaders particularly stoic? Narsi says it’s just a matter of building a strong team…]

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?

NS: There are many things we did in the past that don’t make sense any more. Offshore centers that take the initial call don’t make sense as they take away personalization and effective troubleshooting. Also, in the past the focus was on phone support but with the invent of webex, skype and chats, the primary interface has shifted and I’m glad it did.

And in the past, other than open source companies that relied on peer-to-peer setup for problem solving, the primary support came from the supplier of the software. Now, with Google and communities things have shifted drastically and the focus is on collaboration and customer success.

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

NS: The customer has to be the center of all decision making. More and more software is now delivered through cloud and is subscription based. With this, the customer has a choice that gives them more control on buying/deployment patterns and cost. This puts a huge pressure on suppliers to maintain a high recurring revenue, life time value and to keep customer churn to the minimum. Organizations have to look at the customer lifecycle very closely and make all decisions so that they create more and more value to the customer.

FT: Thank you very much, Narsi!


(You can find earlier Support Star interviews here.)

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