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More than the people you call when things go wrong

Most people think that if you have to interact with support, you must have an issue. And for most enterprise technology vendors, this is true; the de facto standard in IT is that a customer should only contact support if there’s a problem.

I have been in the enterprise software and hardware support business for a while, and I have seen many different support models. At Red Hat, I’ve had the opportunity to approach support differently, in part because our subscription model is so customer-centric. Instead of paying for traditional license fees, our customers pay for subscriptions which include support as a cornerstone.

There are three key reasons why Red Hat’s support model is much more than just the people you call when things go wrong:

Reason 1: Support is part of our DNA. I always joke that many companies align support with janitorial services. That’s not the case with Red Hat. Here, support is part of the Products and Technology organization. That means our technical support comes from the same organization that creates the products. Our support team is part of the company’s core business and aligned to make customers successful. We are organized like this because our business depends on customer renewal, and, unlike other companies, we do not treat support as a cost center. For Red Hat, support is a way to make customers successful and a means of encouraging them to stay with Red Hat.

Reason 2: We emphasize customer engagement. Our support organization is built on direct interaction with our customers. Unlike many support teams, which make it a point to avoid interactions with clients (the “deflection” model), we are constantly looking for different ways to engage with our clients to help make them more successful. We do this in a number of ways. For example, we frequently launch useful applications, called Red Hat Access Labs on our Customer Portal to make tasks easier and quicker. Again, this type of commitment goes back to fostering a better relationship with our clients – a relationship we hope to continue for many years.

Reason 3: Support engineers have full source code access, allowing for quicker troubleshooting. A key difference between Red Hat support and the services offered by other companies is the fact that our support engineers have full access to our source code, enabling them to quickly troubleshoot our customers’ problems. Support engineers can submit patches and fixes internally and also upstream. Many support engineers engage with the upstream open source communities as well. This gives the customer a support engineer with a deep and fundamentally different knowledge level of our products.

Now, let's dive into the details of how support cases are handled by Red Hat, a process which is also fundamentally different from the models used in the aforementioned “deflection” model.

At Red Hat, we employ the specialty based routing (SBR) support model approach, also known as “swarming.” This approach evolved out of the understanding that customers spend time and energy on their side before engaging our support. As a result, we believe that running customers through a generic triaging layer 1 - 3 support model makes no sense.

Instead, when a customer interacts with Red Hat support, a team specialized on a specific part of a technology is assigned to help them. These so called “swarms” have deep expertise about specific problems and are aligned with specific engineering groups. The result is not only a faster response, but also a better final resolution.

However, Red Hat support is not just a group of people you call when you need help. We embrace a knowledge-centered support methodology. For example, our Customer Portal contains articles and information designed to share insightful knowledge so customers can spend more time being proactive versus reactive. In addition, when security vulnerabilities happen, our Customer Portal, technical support team, and Product Security Team offer Red Hat customers ways to address those vulnerabilities and safeguard their systems. This was apparent through Red Hat's efforts surrounding the recent Shellshock and Heartbleed security bugs, with people trusting Red Hat support 84,000 times per day during the Shellshock vulnerability alone. Thanks to Red Hat support, Red Hat customers had the knowledge, patches, and applications needed to verify their exposure to these bugs, and experienced successful remediation of potential issues within hours of them being detected.

With more than 90 percent of the Fortune 500 as Red Hat customers, Red Hat support offers a peace of mind CIOs and IT managers deserve. We are committed to customer support, innovative customer engagement, and knowledge sharing – all in the name of helping our customers achieve success with our products. Even our president and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, has taken support calls.

At the end of the day – every day -- we are here if you need help, but we are also here to arm you with the tools and knowledge you need to stay ahead of the game.

About the author

Marco Bill-Peter is the senior vice president of Customer Experience and Engagement (CEE) at Red Hat. CEE is responsible for increasing the value customers and partners receive from their relationship with Red Hat. In addition to technical support delivery and strategic customer engagement, Bill-Peter's organization is responsible for the award-winning Red Hat Customer Portal, quality engineering, DevOps, product certifications, product security, product documentation, and translation services.

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