How we use Slack to make our clients part of the team

Last year we switched our internal team communication from a not so hip chat to Slack. After using it for a couple of days, we noticed that Slack is much more than just a means of exchanging messages.

It became our companies digital heartbeat: we post GitHub, Circle CI and Heroku messages to our project channels, job offers via IFTTT to the opportunities channel. Our sales team forwards important emails with clients, so the whole crew is up to speed. Intercom integration alerts us whenever a customer is in need of support and the urgent channel rings loudly whenever New Relic feels like it. We direct our office music with a bot in the music channel (available here), and the gif soup channel is our digital equivalent to the water cooler chat (and also keeps the general channel clean from exploding cat gifs).

Making the customer part of the team

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we decided to take the whole thing a step further.

Instead of using the project channels only internally, we invited our customers to join us.

We also decided to go full disclosure. Whatever we saw in a project channel in the past, the customer should see as well.

This decision was not without controversy, however. There were two major points of concern: it really makes our process completely transparent so it might require us to explain certain actions to a not so tech-savvy customer.

Also, the channels make us personally available to the client at all times. Fears of micromanagement and the client’s expectation of instant availability on our part arose.

What have we learned?

To counter unrealistic availability expectations, we laid out a couple of ground rules together with our clients, such as nobody needs to always answer right away. Although more direct than email, everybody should see Slack as an asynchronous means of communication. We agreed that both parties should keep it that way, if project progress was to be made.

So far, with the ground rules in place, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

When we started using Slack, internal company email basically dropped to zero. Now we see the same thing happen with customer emails. Project information and files are quickly exchanged in the channels, the search makes it easy to retrieve all of that later.

Integrations provide the client with a feeling that there is something going on in her project, even if most of them don’t fully understand the contents of technical messages. Our commit messages reflect what was discussed earlier, so the clients can relate even if they aren’t programmers.

Another big benefit is that there is no hiding anymore. If a project is unavailable, New Relic will tell. Us and the client. We think this leads to a better understanding of the obstacles that we as a studio have to overcome in order to deliver a great product and thus strengthens the bounds between our clients and us.

After only a couple of weeks with this new process, we can’t believe how we were able to function without it in the past. The dark ages of missing emails and stale project management seem over.

A huge thank you for this goes to the Slack team for making such a magnificent tool. For us it has the same value as GitHub or Heroku and there is no way back.

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