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The Ultimate Playbook to get Customer Engagement right on Slack & Teams

ClearFeed Team

Slack & Teams based customer communication are rapidly taking off as an alternative to Email. Usage of chat-based communication tools is now at an all-time high, with more than a million organizations using these platforms. Many companies, from startups to 80% of Fortune 100 companies now use these platforms to connect with their customers as well.  

Why are organizations using Slack & Teams for communicating with their customers, partners, and vendors?

There are many reasons - 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 over traditional customer service channels include:

  • Direct and fast communication with key personnel
  • 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

While there are many benefits, there are also drawbacks. Handling a lot of clients over chat can become overwhelming. There are too many conversations and an inability to keep track of important conversations. There’s overlap with ticketing systems and confusion over the appropriate role of each.

How are some companies able to handle hundreds of customers on Slack and Teams? 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. In this post, we have summarized these patterns into a playbook to help you keep your customer engagement on Slack &Teams running like a well-oiled machine.

1. Ensure Timely Responses

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One of the primary problems that most companies face when using these platforms is the expectation of instant gratification. Customers expect immediate responses and resolutions to their problems or questions. And there is no clear direction on the channel response time and SLAs. Not only do lack of timely responses lead to unhappy customers - they also lead to customers sending direct messages to their contacts - which further results in lost information and overworked responders.

To ensure timely responses - one of the primary best practices is to have clear ownership of issues reported in any customer chat room. Here are some best practices we suggest:

  • 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 also recommend adding ClearFeed to your customer chat rooms to detect new/unanswered customer queries - and route them appropriately. ClearFeed can support a variety of team and preferred working configurations to make sure all customer requests are responded to and resolved in a timely manner. We are (of course) big fans of our own software and use our own software to make sure we respond to customers in a timely manner.

2. Reduce noise on customer chat rooms

Protocols around appropriate usage of Slack and Teams for customer support are still emerging - and many customers may not be as familiar with them. It is pretty easy to bombard these channels with trivia, resulting in frequent interruptions and continuous distractions. Over the long run, giving priority to non-urgent issues is simply not scalable. 

How do we reserve Slack/Teams for important communication only ?
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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/Teams 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 ticketing system (like Zendesk, Salesforce, Freshdesk etc.) - direct your customers to first file 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 Slack/Team channels. Large volume of requests 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 workload on chat-based support. For such scenarios, we recommend adopting an automated answering system to deflect common questions and reduce the load on your teams. ClearFeed has a built-in question-answering module that can be configured to intercept customer requests, look them up against existing Knowledge Bases and Documentation and suggest them to end-users or responders.

3. Keep track of customer deliverables

It is easy to make a mental note of important deliverables coming through on chat rooms - but forget about them! 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.

Built-in Reminders

Reminders built into Slack and Teams are one of the common tools used to note down deliverables. In the context of a customer chat, setting a reminder on a specific message that needs asynchronous work and resolution works very well. 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. 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 followup on them as well.

Integrations

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 tools 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 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.

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 Ticketing Systems

As discussed above - not all customer requests can be resolved immediately - and one of the primary categories of long-term actionable items can be thought of as Support requests. Support requests are often handled on systems like Zendesk, Salesforce (Service Cloud), Freshdesk and ServiceNow. If an issue has already been reported and discussed on chat, it is painful to report the details again on the Support platform. 

In order to track support requests - organizations should connect customer chat rooms with their ticketing software. The native integrations offered by ticketing vendors are often less than optimal, though - and we strongly recommend using Slack/Teams native ticketing systems like Clearfeed to enable real-time sync between your customer chat rooms and the ticketing system.

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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 Ticketing systems 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/Teams and even close, re-open, or escalate support tickets from within Slack itself. We also support converting conversations to tickets in private.

Connect Chat rooms to Issue tracking systems

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It is very common for customers to raise feature requests and report bugs on chat. These need to get logged into the tracking systems used by Engineering and Product and updates provided back to the customer when the requested items are complete and shipped. Atlassian Jira, Github, Gitlab, Linear, and ClickUp are some examples of systems used to track engineering issues. Product teams often also use tools like ProductBoard, Canny, and Trello to track feature requests. All these tools come with some built-in Slack/Teams integrations and the first step is to try and adopt them to convert customer requests on chat to Issues and Feature requests.

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/Teams predominantly function 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/Teams.

4. Prioritize Premium Customers

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While all customers love to receive support over chat - in reality, the vendor may not be able to provide the expected level of service to every customer. It is best to open up chat rooms for premium customers. In fact, many vendors offer Slack/Teams-based support as part of their premium customer support. This offering has two advantages where the vendor enjoys an additional source of revenue and the customer enjoys a premium customer support experience.

We have also seen companies limit Slack/Teams-based collaboration to specific phases like onboarding. Companies that want to make themselves accessible to all users over Slack should consider having multiple Slack channels for each customer - one for key stakeholders and separate ones for users.

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

Breaking down silos between customers and vendor teams is one of the most important benefits of engaging customers on Slack and Teams. So one of our recommendations is to keep the chat room membership fluid. Unlike many enterprise software - there are no extra monthly fees to be paid for enabling more people to collaborate with customers! Customers love hearing directly from developers and product managers as well. In fact, encourage your customers to do the same with their Slack channels, especially for complex integration use cases.

But like with all good things - moderation is essential. It is also a good idea to remove guests from the conversation once their part is complete. It is unrealistic to create the expectation that customers can chat with engineers whenever they want to. And keeping the number of people limited will make it easier to reduce noise and distractions for the members.

Fluid Channel memberships

6. Measure what Matters

Measure service metrics

Slack and Teams are a black box. It is not possible to measure the volume of requests that flow through channels, it is difficult to understand what requests are still open and to measure the performance of individual support team members. The notion of customers, a customer request, and its expected response time are all concepts beyond the scope of Slack and Teams. While the chat platforms do offer some insights that can help understand overall engagement, they are not enough to measure the quality and quantity of customer support provided over them.

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

As Emails increasingly go unread and in-product announcements are only seen by users who regularly log in to the product - chat rooms are a great alternative way of communicating important updates to key stakeholders. Due to the interactive nature of chat - it’s also common for customers to provide feedback and ask clarifying questions immediately in response to announcements on Slack.Chat rooms can be a great way to push important information, such as:

  • Release notifications communicating new features and bug fixes
  • Maintenance notifications
  • Invitations to company and industry events, and so on. 
Proactive communication

Unfortunately, Slack and Teams do not come with in-built tools for making bulk announcements. This is where commercial 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. 

Conclusion

Slack Connect and Teams make 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 & Teams -  do write to us at hello@clearfeed.ai. 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.