How Fastly builds support, part 2: The customer experience

This blog post was originally posted on my personal blog. This is the second part of a multi-part series on how Fastly architects and builds our support process. Check out Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4 of the series.

What customers encounter when evaluating and onboarding with Fastly isn't arbitrary. It's an experience that we've intentionally crafted. This post will discuss what customers experience, and what we have in place to make sure it happens every time, for every customer.

The customer process

Before I go too deep into our support scaling process, let's take a quick look at what happens when a person or company signs up for Fastly. Inevitably, this shapes the support need and the service we provide, so it's important to keep this in mind.

Most customers come to us with a scaling or ops need. They may be looking for a new CDN vendor, they may have a difficult problem to solve such as scaling a service API, or they may just be growing exponentially. In any case, there's an obvious operational pain point that Fastly solves.

We intentionally provide a frictionless signup process so customers can begin configuring and testing without needing to talk to a human first. Our support team is ready to assist, and we make sure that new customers feel free to reach out.

This is a core value of Fastly's support: we give customers as much (or as little) assistance as they want, exactly when they determine.

Inevitably, customers do reach out with questions during the signup process — communication is to be expected and encouraged. Either over email or phone, we discuss fine-tuning the system for the customer's needs. We're intentionally flexible as a service; the customer knows their application and needs better than we ever will. But that doesn't mean that there aren't onboarding questions.

Some customers can configure their service on their own and move traffic over quickly and easily. We've put a great deal of work into our documentation and application design to enable self-service. But, there are always cases where our teams need to assist. In that case, we may spin up an IRC room for our team and the customer to coordinate the switch-over, or debug any set-up issues in real time. Sometimes chatting for 15 minutes can save days of frustrating email exchange. We'd rather get to the bottom of things right away.

At this point, some portion of a customer's traffic has been moved over. There may be a slow ramp over time. We may be serving a niche portion of a customer's traffic. We may get 100% of a customer's public traffic in one day. In any case, some traffic is now flowing through the customer's network.

In many cases, this is where interest and support might end. With Fastly, it's only the beginning.

Because we're a CDN, we need a connection to our customers' origin servers. This gives us the ability to see service issues or error spikes almost immediately. Our teams can proactively reach out in the event of a service disruption. We then work with the customer as needed to adjust their CDN or troubleshoot issues.

This ability to proactively assist is possibly the most impressive part of our support. If you're planning support at your company, I'd like you to have one takeaway from this article: find a problem your users have that you can predict, and proactively reach out when you see issues arise. A fast response to a customer's ticket is amazing, but if you can spot a problem before it starts, that's even better.

At some point, a customer may want to put more traffic on to Fastly, fine-tune their current traffic for a higher hit ratio, build in automated purging, or set up detailed logging from the edge. This is a more traditional, consultative support. We view ourselves as scalability partners for our customers, and this is an extremely rewarding part of the job. We push the limits of what can be offloaded, and it's fun to work with customers from an architectural standpoint to help hit their goals.

This has basically been the support process for every single Fastly customer from day one, with very few exceptions. This experience is what we work on scaling and improving. We've absolutely made some changes to how we prepare and carry this process out on our end, but there haven't been major changes to what we aim for when providing support. If you were to speak with an early Fastly customer and a recently ramped Fastly customer, regardless of size, the two customers should describe roughly the same experience. That's not by accident.

The support process

So what's happening under the hood during what I described above? What steps and processes do we have in place to make customer set-up and traffic ramping go smoothly?

Our process starts when the customer contacts Fastly to investigate the product, or shortly after the customer begins configuring a service after signing up. We then discuss their end goals over email, phone, IRC, or in person. More often than not, our documentation can help them get set up with most configurations. But, in the off chance that our documentation doesn't address what they're looking for, we work directly with the customer over the course of a few days or weeks to build up a configuration that does what they need.

This configuration is usually done in our web application, but occasionally we dig in and write some VCL (Varnish Configuration Language, the scripting language that powers our caching system) to get things done. We may help with setting up logging and analytics, but those are also easy to self-provision.

Now we're ready to start testing traffic with the customer. To prep for this, we work with our ops and network engineering teams to forecast traffic. At the time of publication, we're now serving a consistent 1.8 million requests per second worldwide, which means individual sites and customers don't cause the network delta they once did, but we still loop in everyone. When it's time for a customer to finally flip the switch, we have a group of folks standing by from ops, neteng, product engineering, and support.

Of course, this process doesn't always happen exactly as I describe here. The process is as unique as their own application, so we help iteratively as needed. Every few weeks, customers may come back and file a ticket or two, or bump us in IRC, but the bulk of the work is up-front.

The actual coordination of these processes is jointly run by the customer's account manager and our support team. Our account managers will typically get the relevant information regarding a turn-up, and plan with our support and engineering teams for a successful traffic switchover. The main takeaway is that the entire company contributes to customer success. It's the majority of what our support team does on a daily basis, but every team at Fastly is partially involved with and responsible for customer success.

Next time

The next post in this series will dive into the structure of Fastly's support team, and how the team interacts with the rest of the company. This has been the most requested topic so far, so I'm excited to publish it. All things equal, this team and cross-company interaction is possibly the most unique aspect of our support architecture.

Austin Spires
Sr. Director of Product Management

5 min read

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Austin Spires
Sr. Director of Product Management

Austin Spires is Sr. Director of Product Management at Fastly, where he focuses on user experience. He’s been working on developer tools and customer happiness for five years, and frequently speaks at conferences and meetups. Before Fastly, Austin worked in sales and support at GitHub, where he helped lead customer onboarding. Originally from Texas, Austin plays a mean bass and likes drinking cheap beer.

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