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Approaching Customer Support with Thought and Wit – our Customer Support Lead; Mike Hall

· 7 min read

Where are you originally from?

I am a Kiwi, but I was born in Cairns, Australia. I only spent six weeks there, don't judge me for that! Then growing up, I lived all over New Zealand. I have mostly lived in Christchurch, but I've also lived in Oamaru, Wanaka and spent my twenties in Wellington. On the brink of New Zealand's first Covid lockdown in 2020, I returned to Oamaru to look after my Mum during the lockdown. That brought me back to the South Island, and then I was naturally drawn into the nearest city, Christchurch, and also I have a lot of friends still here from when I lived here before.

How long have you been working at Comet Backup?

Nearly two years. I joined an excellent support team, now I lead a very different - still excellent - support team.

What attracted you to Comet and the Customer Support role?

I was shoulder tapped for the position by someone in the leadership team here at Comet Backup. I was looking for work after moving to Christchurch. I had the right IT experience and qualifications. And I'm also a "grammar pedant" and British comedy fan, so I fit within the culture!

What is the scope of the Customer Support role at Comet?

I'm the Customer Support Lead here at Comet Backup. The primary role is answering support tickets and taking support calls with customers.

I also provide technical support for onboarding customers. Sometimes onboarding is an extended enquiry, sometimes it is essentially a support call, i.e., "I'm trying to set up my server in a specific configuration". I also look after Tier One Support based in Europe. I'm essentially 2.5-level support; I end up with escalated tickets. I also report on support tickets in general, volume and any trends of note to management.

The role does have the freedom to expand into other areas; for example, sometimes, I also work on special projects like testing specific use cases with Comet, and recently did some work on the IAM side.

What was it that appealed to you about Comet's culture?

I figured that since I knew someone who worked here, and I knew that that person would not put up with a bad environment – then it must be a good place to work. So, I had that indirect recommendation/validation.

How have you found your manager's style of managing you?

I really like how my manager manages me. He is really hands-off, he doesn't micromanage me, but he does watch from afar. He's very proactive at flagging possible issues I might want to consider. He also listens to my views and opinion on important matters.

What advice would you have for someone following in your footsteps in the customer support area?

Do what interests you, but also try to do a bit of everything. It's great to specialize, but it's also helpful to have a wide array of systems you have experience with; you don't know what you're going to encounter. For example, I was the only person in my course, possibly even in the history of my network engineering course, that opted for the Linux server admin (RHCSA) course instead of the Windows server admin (MCSA) course. I did that because I already had a job where I was administering Windows servers, so I thought it was a good opportunity to learn more about Linux.

If you want to learn a new skill and you don't know how to use Linux, I would recommend installing command line only Debian Linux on your personal computer's primary operating system and seeing how far you can get. If you get stuck, just Google it… from the Lynx browser. That's how I learned!

What makes for a great day at Comet?

When there is an opportunity to work on interesting customer problems in the tickets. Friendly customers with stories, for example, when they were a video games developer in the 90s. Yeah, so interesting problems and interesting people make for a great day at Comet for me.

Do you have any advice for MSPs?

Don't be afraid of Linux. Certainly, if you don't know how to use Linux, don't put everything on it in production because it's cheap. That is how you lose everything. Definitely use the system you're most comfortable with diagnosing in an emergency. Linux can be a great option as it's much more cost-effective than some other options in the marketplace.

It seems that you perform a very important function at Comet Backup of feeding back to the Development team on the user experience. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Yes, that comes from my team always showing customers how to do something. Through the process of talking customers through the steps, we see how the interface performs first hand, which the Developers don't get as much exposure to. So, I am often giving feedback on UX/UI, how Comet could work best from the customer's point of view.

It also works with information going back the other way. I can translate how the feature works, and I think customers appreciate a more specific and candid response rather than a corporate, sanitized one.

If you could have any tech superpower, what would it be?

My superpower would be taking any feature or piece of software from a product and making it work seamlessly on another.

I'd replace the Windows 11 interface with KDE. I would take Nvidia features and put them on my AMD card. I would take nothing from macOS (laughs).

I'm a big fan of the Looking Glass project, which is kind of like a superpower. It takes a lot of configuring to work, but gaming in a Windows VM on Linux is very cool tech.

Comet is headquartered in Christchurch; what do you enjoy about living here?

Christchurch has great weather. Post-earthquake, there are fantastic restaurants in the city centre. If you're in the city, it is quite walkable and has a lot of cycleways, and I am avidly "anti-car” and I’m committed to never owning a car. I have driven a car twice in my life and I don't have a driver's license. I miss my friends in Wellington, but not the weather.

Why do you dislike cars? Is it just because you are an environmentalist?

I put off getting my driver's license for so long that I never acclimatized to the convenience of having one, which I think I a lot of people do. I think cars are inefficient as a transport method and they shouldn’t be required to get around. I have a reputation around the office for being the "anti-car" guy. I do wear it as a badge in a "Tyrion Lannister" sort of way; I laugh with the jokes and it can lead to great office debates.

Which restaurants in Christchurch would you recommend?

One of my favorites from pre-quake times is known as "AFG" or “the Afghan Restaurant" on Lincoln Road. There is a sign with the hours of opening that hasn't been put out in years because the owner just opens when he wants to. The only way to really know when they are open is to join the unofficial Facebook group called “Is AFG Open?” It's not vegetarian-friendly, there is one item on the menu, and when you walk in, he asks you, "How many?" As in how many servings are you ordering? (Laughs) It's spiced butter rice with two generous sized lamb and chicken kababs, a pot of tandoori chicken curry, and a salad. All for the grand sum of $20NZD. I make more than one meal out of it.

Like many foodies, you are also an avid home cook. What is your favorite dish at the moment?

That’s an exaggeration! I’m quite lazy with food but I can also get carried away when I find an elaborate recipe. I bought a pressure cooker a while ago. One of my favorites to cook at home at the moment is Dakbokkeumtang, which is a spicy chicken stew.

I also make a lot of chili con carne. One of the developers grows chili plants at home and gave some of us some seedlings.