Providing exceptional customer support is vital for driving customer satisfaction and loyalty - and for today's land and expand business models - growing revenues and NRR. The right tools can make all the difference, and one platform that has revolutionized communication and collaboration is Slack. Slack based customer support and communication are rapidly taking off as an alternative to Email. Whether you're a small startup or a large enterprise, Slack offers a range of features and integrations that can help you centralize your customer support and success operations and enhance team collaboration. In this step-by-step guide, we will explore how you can harness the power of Slack to elevate your customer support.
Why Are Organizations Using Slack for Customer Support & Engagement?
There are many reasons why conversational support is gaining ground - but most importantly - it provides a sense of community and a personal connection that traditional solutions like Ticketing, Email, and Phone don’t provide. Some advantages of chat rooms over traditional customer support channels include:
- Direct and fast communication with key personnel.
- Informal nature allows customers feel free to discuss all kinds of topics - and not just support queries.
- Ability to pull in multiple stakeholders as and when required.
- Ability to review all customer communication easily in one place.
- Easy search functionality and file sharing within channels.
- Effortless integration with business processes and applications.
- Built-in voice and video conferencing.
Challenges in Scaling Slack for Support
However, while there are many benefits, there are also many challenges in scaling Slack as the customer count increases:
- Hard to keep track of requests: There are too many conversations and it's easy to lose track of the open ones. Handling a lot of clients over chat can become overwhelming.
- Overlap of Slack with Customer Support platforms: confusion over the appropriate role of each and lack of great integration between the two.
- Managing Customer expectations: Customers on Slack may expect immediate responses - unlike with email or support tickets.
- High volume of queries: The ease of accessing Slack sometimes also means that customers submit many more queries than via other Support channels.
- Lack of Analytics: In the absence of metrics it becomes impossible to measure performance and plan capacity.
How are some companies able to handle hundreds of customers on Slack? At ClearFeed, we have been working with many companies to help them scale their chat-based customer support and engagement and have seen certain common patterns in these hyper-scalers. The first step is, of course, to use the cool features in Slack to manage communication and knowledge sharing better. We also find that Slack Connect can be difficult to understand - and users should spend some time understanding how to manage security, applications and the invitation process in Slack Connect channels. The best practices beyond that are summarized in the following sections.
1. Establish Ownership
- Appoint an owner: Every customer channel should have an owner - who is also often the first responder for the same. This is often the customer success manager responsible for the specific customer (or during onboarding - the Solutions Engineer primarily responsible for onboarding the customer).
- On-Call Support: As an alternative (or in addition to the above) - on-call support can be set up for responding to queries on customer Slack channels. This is useful because CSMs are often busy and multi-tasking multiple responsibilities - and thus having a small number of personnel dedicated to responding to customer requests on chat provides more reliable coverage.
- 24/7 coverage: If your customers & users are spread across geographies, it is best to setup shifts across various time zones so as to be able to resolve queries 24/7. This is easiest with an on-call support team, but can also be done by appointing multiple CSM owners in different time-zones in larger teams.
In case 24/7 coverage is not possible - it is important to set expectations on working hours with the customer. Pinning information to a Slack channel is a great way to share such information. For example - information on business hours, the first responder, the standard turn-around time, an escalation matrix, and protocols will offer both members and customers a better idea of how things work.
We strongly recommend adding solutions like ClearFeed to your customer chat rooms to provide a comprehensive solution to respond to customers in a timely manner and close requests out. Using ClearFeed for example, you can:
- Keep track of status of every customer request centrally, mark it resolved when completed - and lookup unresolved requests easily.
- Setup SLA alerts for new/unanswered customer queries - and route them appropriately.
- Define business hours and setup automated responses when no one is available to respond to requests.
We use our own software to manage 100+ customer Slack rooms and to make sure we respond to customers and prospects in a timely manner - and companies like testRigor, BigEye and many others are now doing the same on their customer channels.
2. Reduce noise on Customer Slack channels
It is a good idea to establish a protocol for the appropriate usage of chat channels with customers. While the details of the protocol are obviously specific to each use case, we have listed down some commonsensical suggestions below:
- Establish ground rules on usage: Arrive at a common understanding with customers to reserve Slack for high priority communication. Examples can be issues around onboarding and integrations, or important product and service issues or requirements or coordination around important events like downtimes.
- File Tickets: If you have a dedicated support platform (like Zendesk, Salesforce, Freshdesk etc.) - direct your customers to first file support tickets wherever possible. Pin links to the Ticketing portal on the customer chat room.
- KBs and Documentation come first: Make it a habit for customers to first refer to knowledge bases and documentation before contacting the team on chat (or ticketing for that matter!). Pin links to Knowledge-Bases, and Documentation in the chat channel.
- Encourage internal forums in customer orgs: Recommend customers set up internal forums within their teams where issues can be discussed and resolved first.
- Encourage admins in customer team as gatekeepers: Encourage designated stakeholders in the customer organization to submit important problems and feature requests on behalf of their users - especially if the number of such users is large.
- Keep channel membership fluid, but limited: Limit the number of users from your customer organization who are permanent members of the Slack Connect channels. Large volume of support requests and queries from end-users will make it even harder to limit communication to important topics only.
In spite of the best efforts though - we have seen that sometimes users continue to create a high volume of conversations on chat rooms. For such scenariOS, we recommend adopting solutions like ClearFeed. Customer queries on chat rooms can be converted to support tickets with a single click where required. And ClearFeed has a built-in automated answering module that can be configured to intercept customer requests, look them up against existing Knowledge Bases and Documentation and suggest them - thereby reducing the load on customer facing teams.
3. Keep track of customer deliverables
It is easy to make a mental note of important deliverables coming through on chat rooms - only to forget them promptly! For this reason - one of the most important best practices is to note down important requests somewhere for the long term and come back and resolve them in due course.
The recently launched Later functionality built into Slack is a great way to note down a reminder on a specific message that needs asynchronous work and resolution. Individual bookmarks and reminders work very well when the number of responders is small and they can work independently. Unfortunately, these reminders cannot be shared across the team, and maintaining individual reminders quickly breaks down as the number of responders grows. While there are a number of third party Task Management tools for teams on the Slack Marketplace - their success is dependent on diligently creating tasks for tracking. They don't solve one of the fundamental problems with reminders - that it's very easy to forget to create reminders in the first place.
One of the ways chat monitoring solutions like ClearFeed help is they automatically detect customer requests and commitments to future deliverables in natural language conversations and remind users about the same. They can even understand the customer's tone and identify the priority automatically - so there's no need to set a reminder separately. Moreover - such AI generated reminders are made available to the whole team - allowing other team members to be able to follow-up on them as well.
While using reminders is a great start, it's not enough. It's frequently important to track customer deliverables in external tools - which other teams use. These deliverables can be sorted into at least three categories based on the nature of customer requests and the internal teams involved:
- Support Requests: These are typically performed by the Customer Support team or equivalent. Examples can be resetting a password, adding a new user, etc.
- Feature Requests & Bug Reports: These are typically performed by the Product and Engineering team. An example is a defect in the login system that prevents some subset of people from being able to log in.
- Tasks for CSM teams: These are typically tasks to be performed by the CSM team. An example may be a note to schedule an onboarding session with a team in the customer organization or a change in the billing plan.
People responding to customer requests should classify requests into one of the above categories as needed and track them in the corresponding internal system. The sections below cover the best ways to handle each category of such deliverables.
Connect Chat to Customer Support Platforms
A first-class integration allows you to:
- Convert a chat thread into a ticket
- Establish a bi-directional sync between the chat thread and the support ticket
- Bring key ticket updates back into the customer chat room.
ClearFeed provides a comprehensive integration between chat and Support platforms like Zendesk, SalesForce and FreshDesk. You can use emoji reactions to let your customers know that their problem has been turned into a ticket and that you are taking the steps needed to resolve the same. Customers can see all ticket updates from within Slack and even close, re-open, or escalate support tickets from within Slack itself. We also support converting conversations to support tickets in private.
Connect Chat rooms to Issue tracking systems
One of the challenges is that these integrations are often optimized for internal chat rooms and their behavior is not tuned for customer chat channels. For example, they report the created issue on the chat room - but CSM teams may not want to disclose internal issue tracking ids and links to customers. Similarly - it is not easy to subscribe to changes in the filed issues and update the requesting chat rooms back easily.
At ClearFeed, we have built integrations for leading Engineering issue management tools like Atlassian Jira, and GitHub that take into account the particular needs of customer chat rooms and customer success/support professionals. These integrations can summarize long threads into Engineering and Product task items and set up various ways of updating chat rooms with updates on these issues taking into account the privacy needs of customer-facing teams.
Connect Chat Rooms to Customer Success systems
While Slack predominantly functions as a customer support channel, it is also extensively used by CSMs to manage and connect with their customers. CSMs frequently switch between chat and a customer success platform for the relevant customer information.
If you are using customer success tools such as Gainsight, Totango, Churnzero, etc., you can easily install their native bots within the chat room to get insights about your customers. These bots help with the following actions:
- Be it the renewal date, contract value, or details of the CSM, these bots are a great way to pull customer records.
- You can see who is handling which customer and what is the current status of that customer in the sales cycle.
- You can even post activities such as meetings and customer summaries to the timeline.
But there is a tiny hiccup: you cannot update your customer data using these bots. ClearFeed can help you overcome this by offering a bi-directional sync between your customer success platforms and Slack.
4. Prioritize Premium Customers
Using systems like ClearFeed to manage your customer Slack rooms - you can extend chat rooms to all customers while ensuring that premium customers get a higher priority. For instance you can:
- Group customer channels into collections based on priority, deal stage or geography.
- Route requests from different collections into different queues (aka Triage channels in ClearFeed)
- Set SLA reminders, business hours, Out-of-Office messages differently for different collections, and auto responses.
At ClearFeed, our goal is to build a solution that can help scale chat-based support to a much larger set of customers. So, even if you want to open up a Slack channel for every one of your customers and users, we've got your back!
5. Keep channel membership fluid
In talking to organizations who love chat-based customer engagement - we heard something along the below lines frequently:
I can pull in engineers, designers & PMs whenever required
One of the challenges of directly collaborating with internal staff on customer channels is that it is not easy to have private discussions. Employees end up messaging team members via private messages - but these messages are then not visible to other participating members from the vendor. Triage channels from vendors like ClearFeed help solve this problem by offering a private view of threads on customer channels where private comments are made possible easily. Moreover - employees do not have to keep joining and leaving an ever growing list of customer channels - and can just work from a few triage channels.
6. Measure What Matters
The way customers feel about customer service is a very important metric to track since it is a key reason why customers renew. With ClearFeed, you can help your team manage the slew of requests that come in while keeping track of service metrics to gather insights on your support and customer issues.
7. Proactive communication
Unfortunately, Slack does not come with in-built tools for making bulk announcements. This is where solutions like ClearFeed shine - providing the ability to make announcements in bulk across many customers at once and collating the responses in one place for review. ClearFeed can also help you schedule the announcements based on your customers' time zones.
Slack Connect makes customer collaboration effortless, allowing vendors to offer their best-in-class support and service. They are rapidly emerging as an alternative to traditional web based live chat software and email. Managing the ever-growing list of customers can be challenging though - so following the above tips is a good starting point for scaling your customer chat rooms.
If you are looking for a professional partner in helping you manage and scale customer success and support on Slack - do write to us at email@example.com. We have worked with many customers to help them scale theirs - and from AI-generated reminders to customer request tracking, to ticketing and other integrations and service metrics - our solution comprehensively addresses the needs of professionals in this domain.