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How One of Tech’s Hottest Companies is Changing Support Forever

Great service means more than just picking up the phone. Learn how Atlassian has built a whole new service model.

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Atlassian

“The first thing you’ll notice about our IT support is that we don’t have telephones,” says Atlassian Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes. “You can’t call IT.”

I’m profiling Atlassian because I’m keenly interested in companies with a strong culture of service. What do they do differently? Why do my developer friends consider themselves not just Atlassian customers, but fans?

For answers, I turned to Cannon-Brookes. Surely the laid-back Aussie who famously turned $10,000 in credit-card debt into a multi-billion-dollar unicorn can teach us all a secret or two about building a culture of help and support — the kind that made Atlassian the best company to work for in Australia for two years running.  

Automate everything you can

With more than 60,000 customers, Atlassian thrives because they take a dramatically different approach to support and collaboration. Long ago, they abandoned phones and email in favor of a more scalable approach: using self-help and automation to deliver more effortless (and hence less “old-school enterprise”) service.

Case in point: They have no sales people. Want to buy Atlassian products such as JIRA, Confluence, or HipChat? You buy them online with your credit card — for five users or 5000.

“In 2002, it was nuclear winter for tech. It was either grow profitable or die,” Cannon-Brookes told Kara Swisher recently on an episode of Recode Decode.

They didn’t stop at eliminating the sales function. Atlassian Answers is an online self-help community where millions of Atlassian users don’t just ask questions, they help answer them — offloading tons of work from the in-house support team.

Self-help is everywhere, though. What makes Atlassian special is that they’re relentless about going a step further and making it even better. At Atlassian, Hercules is a bot that runs in the background every time a user asks a one-on-one support question. He reads the question, scans the user’s log files, parses the data, cross-references knowledge-based articles, and answers about 50% of questions without human intervention.

And when a customer invariably makes it to the “bottom of the support funnel,” as Cannon-Brookes calls it — where human intervention is required — they use their own JIRA Service Desk product to manage the queue, query the knowledge base, and help experts swarm on finding a fix, fast.

The result? Despite massive business growth, the company has achieved a 32% reduction in the percentage of customers who ask a question at any given time.

Treat your employees like customers

What about employee support? Since IT service desks aren’t historically known for user-friendly design and innovation, what does Atlassian do differently?

“We apply the same strategies we do with customers, beginning with prevention and self-help,” said Cannon-Brookes. “We don’t want people coming to our support team with basic questions, when 95% can solve their own problem by reading a knowledge base article.”

It’s not just about making the IT team’s lives easier, either. He knew that a bogged down IT org wouldn’t have the time they needed to build the infrastructure a hyper-growth company needed.

So what happens when serious incidents occur at Atlassian? That’s where swarming and ChatOps come in.

Let’s say the financial reporting system goes offline, and IT gets barraged with 75 requests in minutes. Requestors are automatically diverted to a HipChat room where IT posts updates, and users can ask questions in a one-to-many format.

“One of the things we do with large-scale incidents is turn tickets into rooms, so we can get swarming to happen quickly,” said Cannon-Brookes. With a single click of a button in JIRA Service Desk, they can launch a brand new chat room dedicated to an incident, gather the right people, and solve the problem in real time.

Change the way teams support one another

It’s easy to think of support as something IT does, but that’s just a fraction of the help employees need. To Cannon-Brookes, support isn’t a job function; it’s a culture you build. Every team should have a service desk, not just IT.  

Today, there are more than 50 internal service desks serving Atlassian employees, spanning everything from facilities to legal. Opening a ticket is how stuff gets done across the entire company.

“Legal requests have doubled this year, but we’ve seen an overall 60% reduction in the number of items requiring legal review,” said Cannon-Brookes. That’s because the legal team is using the same ticketing, self-help, and automated approval workflows as the Customer Support or IT team.

Atlassian’s ultimate mission? “To unleash the potential in every team,” said Cannon-Brookes. “We’ve already unleashed the potential in our service teams. Now, with our products, we’re helping our customers do the same.”

To that end, take the first step toward the future of ITSM software. Learn more here.

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