Who puts Success in Customer Success?
At Slack Headquarters in San Francisco, the interior of the office was designed with inspiration from the Pacific Crest Trail. Upon entering the lobby, you are welcomed to Base Camp; it’s peppered with tent shaped seating and it’s here where most of us in San Francisco started our Slack journey. As you take the elevator up to the top floor, you zip past a desert, a forest, a glacier, a lake, and then arrive at the mountain summit — it’s bright and airy and also happens to be the home of Slack’s Customer Success organization.
I have been thinking a lot about my Slack journey this past year and trying to understand why I never felt like a new joiner. Maybe it’s because I just got back from a trip to Yosemite or because I am missing the office, but I’ve concluded that my onboarding was so rapid because I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking up at the summit from the valley. I just took the elevator.
In Slack, channels are the elevators that quickly bring anyone up to speed without having to wait, make stops, or gather information from others.
Everything you need is right there in-product.
Thinking back to my consulting days and the necessity to get to know the client and project details as quickly, I more often than not ended up waiting in a valley for a bit of time. This of course was despite my desire to get on trail as soon as possible. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have the right gear. New joiners to a project like myself, or even those starting a new job, start with an empty slate; inbox zero. We are completely dependent on colleagues forwarding relevant emails….and then maybe re-forwarding the emails because attachments were missing. Oftentimes, the emails would come with a caveat from the sender that the attachments or content were outdated….but person a, b, or c would have the latest and greatest. We’d have to await access to file sharing sites and/or client’s internal systems; permissions to be granted for files.
The waiting time would be filled by job-shadowing; connecting with person a, b, or c; and taking notes during client meetings without knowing what anything meant. We’d long for the moment (which we were assured would be any day now), that we’d finally be able to get on the trail and decipher the acronyms we’d been collecting in our notebooks. We just needed access and some context!
The time in the valley could be long but once I got access and context, I’d burn the midnight oil to make up lost time. Exhausted, I’d eventually reach the summit and maybe get some time to take in the views. The descent would come fast when a new project, new client, or initiative spins up and I’d be back waiting in the valley to get back on trail.
I basked in the achievement of reaching the summit and loved the work I was able to do once I got there, but just wished I could have gotten there sooner so that I could add value faster.
This is possible in Slack.
Ease of access to information, transparency of content, and ability to access historical context is not just a digital manifestation that’s possible in our product. It is also embedded in our culture. Withholding information is not part of our company’s DNA.
Within Slack’s Customer Success organization, this means that we are constantly learning from one another and sharing the past with one another in channel. We don’t just pass each other on the trail so to speak, we announce if there’s a closure ahead; the time it took to reach point a, b, c; and are available to one another to answer questions. These attributes benefit our customers, our product, and our own personal growth.
At the micro level, we’ve created Customer Success channels by industry (e.g. #industry-media, #industry-finance). Colleagues share and exchange use cases that resonate for customers in the specified industry. They also request help for very industry specific asks about our product. They can also easily request advocates from a peer’s customer to speak to an existing or potential customer regarding their experience with Slack.
At the macro level, we have a #help-customersuccess channel whereby anyone in Slack can ask Customer Success for support. As CSMs, we also use this channel to help one another. It could be a simple ask (e.g. would any of my fellow CSMs be willing to help lead a Q&A session next week with my customer) to more tactical asks like what are the best types of metrics to pull while building a story on a customer’s usage on mobile. The range of topics vary but there is absolutely no hesitation whatsoever to respond to a colleague’s question. We swarm the ask as a global team.
It may feel intimidating to some to go right into the “big big” channel (as I used to call it) to ask a question. Our Customer Success organization accounted for that too and created regional channels which are smaller (and a little less intimidating to a new joiner) to ask those questions. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a bit of shenanigans happens in them too but those playful moments bond us as a team and make us want to help each other even more because you never want to see a friend struggling.
We always, always, always search channels before asking. We have a 5 minute rule; if a colleague can’t find the answer after searching in Slack for 5 minutes, chances are their ask is unique and it’s time to ask for help. We know it’s unique because if the question had been asked before, the answer would most definitely be searchable in Slack due our inherent culture of transparency.
If they opted to ask in the regional channel and received affirmation from peers that their question was a doozy and could benefit the wider CS org (should they encounter this issue with their own customers), we’ll recommend that they share it in the #cs-awareness channel. It’s wonderful to see a new joiner’s first #cs-awareness post. Imagine starting the day wondering if the question is silly or insignificant and then learning that you uncovered a little piece of intel to share with your peers? These posts get the best kind of reacjis; the gold nugget, trophy, brain, clapping hands — to name a few. They also have the subtle effect of adding to a culture of transparency through positive reinforcement.
To build a successful Customer Success Organization, a culture of transparency coupled with an ease of access to information has to play a central role with any strategy.
By using Slack at Slack, we have the ability to find anything from anyone at any time for any customer within minutes. We don’t believe in silos and we’re a stronger and more cohesive team for it. Our customers attest to it too and it becomes apparent for them when we’re filling in for peers during vacation days. There is no need for a vacation handover checklist — everything the need to hit the ground running is all in channel (we use external Slack Connect channels with our customers too) but if our peers do get stuck, there’s always #help-customersuccess.