How GearHost Keeps the Gears Moving with SmarterTrack

GearHost - a Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud built for .NET, PHP and Node.js developers

Ryan Kekos, CEO of GearHost Ryan Kekos is the CEO and Lead Visionary of product services at GearHost, a Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud built for .NET, PHP and Node.js developers who need to launch and scale applications quickly. We caught up with Ryan to chat about GearhHost's experience using SmarterTrack for customer service and support.

What is GearHost and how did it get started?

In short, GearHost is a cloud host that specializes in .NET, PHP and Node.js developers. We started around 2000 and focused on traditional web hosting in the Windows market. Then, in 2008, we moved to the cloud and started developing applications that we would serve to customers in the cloud. This came through about four iterations of our services. We finally landed on Octane, what is now the GearHost platform, something that we've been developing for the last two years and was launched about six months ago.

How many members are on your team?

There are 9 main employees at GearHost that manage most of the architecture that we have. We do have some additional employees fully staffed on the development side and design side, and we're currently ramping up some additional support members.

But the main chunk of people that aren't listed are the thousands of customers we have. We view them as part of our team because of the feedback they provide and all the information they're able to give to us to build a better platform. They're not listed there obviously, but they're definitely part of that team.

On the subject of customers, how many end users would you say your team supports?

Right now we're around 12,000 users, if we include the four different service stacks that we offer.

So, let's talk help desks. When did you first get started with SmarterTrack as your help desk software?

I think it was around the 2005-2006 era. It was about a year after we got started using the SmarterMail product.

You've been with us a long time! SmarterTrack offers a number of methods for communication with users. What would you say your team uses the most to support your customers?

We primarily use the ticketing system. We've used all the methods that SmarterTrack has provided over the years before we did our Zendesk migration, and even when we came back to you guys, we continued exploring it. While the other features are good for supporting customers, we feel that SmarterTrack's emphasis is primarily at the support ticketing level, so we've restricted that product to just that.

Tell me more about that Zendesk migration. From my understanding, about two years ago, you switched over to Zendesk for a bit and tried that out. What inspired that transition?

So we were looking for a Software as a Service (SaaS) based solution that has tight integration to other products and services that exist on the market today. And I guess I want to say that was just an idea; that wasn't a business requirement. We thought Zendesk would be the solution to better integration with other products and services, even though we didn't need it, and we had no idea what we would integrate with. We were kind of just looking at the grass on the other side of the fence. We saw all of these solutions being brought together. Plus it had other things - just a prettier interface for customers. You have to remember we were using the static platform that SmarterTrack provided. At that time, the Zendesk portal had a much stronger interface for supporting our customers. It also had an iOS and Android app so you can do support tickets on your iPad, iPhone, your Android app, without going specifically to a website. It's an actual application with push notifications and all that.

During your time with Zendesk, did you feel like anything was missing that you had in SmarterTrack?

We didn't have the ability to fully control our data, even if it was things like ticket deletions that may be needed… You have no ability for some of these permission controls. You have to abide by their business rules. Follow ups is another one. Zendesk doesn't have any type of follow-up with customers. There's also the reporting. As a hosting company, you want really simple but good, detailed reports. At Zendesk, you have to pay a lot of money to get the good, detailed reporting, and when you do pay the money, it's extremely hard to use. Whereas I can go into SmarterTrack's platform and select an executive report or a report for specific employees very easily as compared to the Zendesk platform.

Well, we're definitely glad to have you back, Ryan! What made the decision to move back over to SmarterTrack?

The primary reason is we wanted tighter integration with our solutions here at GearHost. When making Octane and providing this new product, we needed a solution that had very tight integration with our services platform. We did not want to have multiple logins through different providers. We didn't want to have this whole issue of different portals that customers have to navigate through, and we honestly didn't want to have to use anyone's pre-template based solution for providing support to GearHost customers - meaning we didn't want the look and feel of any integrated KB article system from Zendesk or SmarterTrack. And the reason we chose SmarterTrack is because it provides a very strong API that we're able to use to manipulate the software to build our own support platform how we want it to feel and look and how we want it to operate. It's our interface. It's our look and feel. It's our design. But it's fully working on the SmarterTrack backend - all based on your API. That was the strong reason for coming back.
The highlight of GearHost is simple cloud hosting, and when you log into our control panel, you'll see that the hosting architecture that GearHost provides is a very complicated set of technologies, but we make it very, very simple in the control panel for you to do what you need to. And that's what we needed: a simple ticketing system from a customer facing standpoint that we could drive via an API, so we chose SmarterTrack.

Tell me about your overall experience with SmarterTrack. When answering, think not just about the software but of your overall experience with SmarterTools as well. Features, ease of implementation, pricing, customer service - these all work together to make a difference.

The experience with SmarterTrack and SmarterTools is a really good experience for GearHost. We've been a customer nonstop for over 10 years, and we enjoy that relationship, especially as you guys have grown over the years into what you are now. The SmarterMail platform is great. The SmarterTrack platform has always been great.
Dealing with a company that's highly focused on these items for a hosting company is a real key. Zendesk is a great platform, but it's not designed for hosting companies. While SmarterTools is not designed specifically for hosting companies either, that's where you got your start, and you can see a lot of that in your software.
Working with your management team over the years over issues has been great. From a support standpoint, we've had nothing but great experiences for the most part. Overall we just really enjoy working with the people at SmarterTools, so coming back to them for this product was a real native thing for us.

Are there any areas of improvement you'd suggest?

I have no recommendations for changes on a company level. I think what you're doing is great. The pricing is extremely competitive and fair. You guys are committed to those frequent development cycles and improving the product. The fact that SmarterTools allows Partners to give software bundles to other customers is a huge plus. Hopefully it's a win for SmarterTools as well, but that's a huge win for customers that are able to engage in that platform, so we obviously appreciate that.
In terms of suggestions for SmarterTrack, overall the only main areas I'd hit on are:
  • Integrations with other products, like Dropbox or GitHub or anything that makes it a more centralized focus for the team would be really good. That was a key highlight for Zendesk on the administrator side - that we can hook into third party vendors or analytics systems or whatever we wanted to do that could feed data from Zendesk into their own platform.
  • A mobile app with push notifications that gives very strong integration natively, rather than in a website.
  • Better ability to know when a support engineer is working on, or even looking at, a case. Right now, you take a ticket and own a ticket. But at GearHost, we like to see everyone's tickets so we know what everyone is working on. Something for more of a collaborative effort on the queue as a whole would be extremely helpful.
But like I said, we're really happy with the product and this fits our business needs perfectly from the API standpoint. The API is so good; we really enjoy working with it.

Thanks for using SmarterTrack and supporting us through the years, GearHost! Check out their latest and greatest platform, Octane, at www.gearhost.com

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