At Across, we believe that chat tools like Slack and Teams are the future of inter-company communication. As companies and customers alike tire of countless onboarding emails and drip campaigns, companies are switching to using chat with their customers to break through the noise.

Over the past three months, we've spoken with more than 100 tech companies using shared Slack channels with their customers to enable instant communication, tighten feedback loops, and provide an exceptional customer experience.

These companies ranged from pre-product startups using Slack to receive early feedback on prototypes, to publicly traded tech companies with dozens of sales engineering, customer success, and support reps communicating with hundreds of companies using Slack.

After these conversations, we're more convinced than ever that creating shared Slack channels with customers is a great way to retain and provide high-touch support to your most valuable customers.

However, communicating with customers using Slack doesn't scale unless you the have tools and processes in place to manage customer channels, ensure you don't miss messages, and integrate Slack seamlessly with other support and sales systems.

In this post, we go through the top five concerns we've heard from companies before they create shared channels with customers, and what we've learned about how to solve them.

Relevant XKCD - just simplify communication on Slack!

1. Using Slack sets the wrong expectations for our customers

The most common concern we hear is that as a real-time communication tool, Slack sets the wrong expectations for customers. Customer support leaders worry that customers expect an immediate response in Slack around the clock, which their teams simply cannot support.

It's important to set expectations with customers early on about the response times they can expect in Slack. We recommend setting up a bot that greets customers when they enter channels telling them how soon they can expect a response. You can also create Slack bots that automatically respond to customers during after-hours when channels are unmanned, informing them that your team will respond during working hours.

Lastly, giving customers a self-service way to create tickets directly in Slack is a great way for them to escalate urgent issues to your team. At Across, we've created forms in Slack for customers to submit issues, feature requests, and feedback to our team, so that even when we are not immediately available, they know that their issue has been logged.

2. We might miss an important customer message and provide a bad customer experience

Once you have dozens of customers with dedicated Slack channels sending messages to your team, it's difficult to ensure you don't miss a message unless you have the right tools and processes in place for monitoring the channels.

Slack channels are meant to be ephemeral. Once you click into a channel and dismiss unread message notifications, it's difficult to remember what customers you need to follow up with, especially if their issue takes hours, days, or even weeks to resolve.

We've seen teams solve this problem multiple ways with varying levels of effectiveness. Some teams tell their customers not to send important messages through Slack at all, but rather to email them to ensure their messages are read. Others have created internal schedules when specific reps are responsible for managing channels and creating tickets in other support systems.

At Across, we've created a "customer inbox" on top of Slack, where we centralize all messages across customer channels. The inbox prevents us from having to wade through Slack channels and drop action items. Instead we can create tasks to track, snooze messages, and acknowledge every customer message that comes in - all in Slack

Across customer inbox

3. Slack doesn't integrate with our existing support tools

Nobody wants to add another support channel to monitor. Your support reps are already answering emails and chats in Zendesk or Intercom, and your engineers are already handing issues in Jira or GitHub.

If you have existing support tools, we recommend integrating them with Slack so that your reps can create tickets within Slack and reply directly to customers from their support tools back into Slack.  It's important that your integration can sync multiple Slack threads with the same support ticket, and sync identities (emails, usernames, etc.) between Slack and your support system.

Unfortunately, most support systems' native integrations with Slack only allow you to create or edit tickets from Slack, or reply to tickets from Slack, and are therefore not suited for managing Slack interactions with customers. We've created our own integration with Zendesk, Jira, Help Scout and more so that we can manage all customer interactions in Slack from any of these support tools.

Across Zendesk integration

4. We don't want customers messaging our support reps and engineers directly

If your support reps start to engage with customers in Slack directly, your customers may start to direct message or at-mention them when they have an issue. This is an issue because it prevents issues from being visible across your team, and creates a single point of failure if that support rep isn't available to resolve the issue.

We recommend posting all  customer tickets into one central channel in Slack. At Across, we can discuss, update, and resolve tickets in this channel, giving visibility across the entire team. We can also respond to tickets directly from this channel, so they don't have to search for specific threads in customer channels to respond.

This central channel protects the team and ensures they can prioritize all issues across customers from one place, rather than handling specific issues within channels.

5. We can't track metrics about the quality of our support in Slack

Unlike ticketing systems, Slack does not have metrics out of the box to tell you how responsive you are with customers, how long your reps take to resolve tickets, and how effective your reps are. Without these metrics, it's impossible to resource your team appropriately to support customers in Slack.

At Across, we built out a reporting system to track our average response time, average time to resolve tickets, and ticket volumes across all our customer Slack channels. We also track our most active customers in each channel to identify champions and customers who may need additional training.

Customer metrics in Across

We're always interested in learning about how other companies support customers through Slack. Please schedule a call with us here, or send us an email at support@acrossapp.com.