This article was originally published on the ICMI blog on January 24, 2019. Click here to read the original post.
When I was a customer service manager some of our team members employed a practice I affectionately referred to as “fishing,” or perhaps it’s spelled “phishing.” This, of course, could refer to anything from catching a salmon to illegally catching someone’s credit card information. But in my context, it was contact center agents casting a wide net by instant messaging multiple supervisors and managers on duty for help with an issue.
When agents have an impatient customer on the other end of the line and don’t know the answer, can you blame them for doing whatever they can to take care of the customer? Still, it was annoying when I’d respond with an answer that took a significant amount of my time to gather and they’d write back saying, “Oh sorry, what’s her name already responded to me.” [Insert eye roll]
While I’d argue that even with the existence of this fishing (or phishing) practice, instant messenger was and still is an invaluable tool for support teams, Slack has burst onto the scene in recent years to take contact center communication to the next level. The beauty of Slack is that it has merged features like instant messenger, group chats, and tons of apps and integrations with other tools to tailor a communication platform to the specific needs of your organization and contact center.
Using Slack Effectively
Even with the best of tools, it’s all about how you use it, and Slack is no exception. A little over a year ago I surveyed my colleagues here at FCR to understand how they use Slack. Since then I’ve had more time to think about and observe Slack in our contact centers and think I can boil my findings down into four recommendations.
1. Use channels with a purpose
While there’s a time and a place for one to one instant messaging, the purpose of this communication should be clear. In a busy contact center environment, chit chat, whether it’s standing around the water cooler or chatting with others, can be a huge time suck that we can ill afford.
The most common use for Slack in contact centers is as an escalation channel for frontline agents. The typical flow is that they face a question from a customer that they can’t answer and take to Slack for help. Rather than directly messaging (unless there actually is only one person who can answer), I recommend posting the question to a channel — and it doesn’t have to be the main channel.
Perhaps you set up channels specific to certain issue types. The beauty of channels is that multiple people can monitor them, eliminating single points of failure. As your operation scales, create a schedule of who’s monitoring channels and at what times. That way everyone doesn’t have to spend all day every day monitoring Slack.
Another tip is to keep the conversation about one issue from dominating the feed by using the threads function within Slack. This keeps all of the conversations about a particular issue organized and prevents multiple people from answering the same questions.
2. Leverage self-help
We talk so much about self-help for our customers but let’s not forget the importance of self-help for your agents. Slack can help with this. As I spoke with our leaders at FCR, I found that many of them were focused on never requiring agents to ask the same question more than once.
Here’s a totally free hack that many of our teams employ to turn Slack into a robust self-help tool. Any time an agent asks a question, they edit the post with the question to also include the answer to that question. The searchability in Slack is quite robust so they instruct their agents, before asking a question, to see if that question has already been answered.
When I mentioned eliminating the kind of chit chat that can kill productivity, the last thing I want to do is to squash the spirit of collaboration. Slack can help foster this. Here are a few types of collaboration that are made better in Slack:
- Surface trends- As teams scale, it’s challenging to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the front lines. Perhaps your engineers released code with a critical bug, or there was a piece of news that went viral about your company or a variety of other issues that can cause a spike in call volume. You want to know about these things as quickly as possible and it will take a bit of time for individual agents to recognize a trend. But if one agent says, “Hey did anyone else experience this issue?” and other agents confirm they have, you can determine if there’s a trend that needs to be addressed.
- Bridge multiple locations- Whether you have multiple locations, remote agents, or a team at an outsourcer, Slack can foster collaboration between these groups. Yes, there’s sometimes no substitute for face to face, in-person communication. But let’s face it, even when you’re all together, you’re adding to the average handle time of your agents if you ask them to put the customer on hold and walk across the office to ask a question.
- Distribute information quickly and get feedback- Things are constantly changing in contact centers and email can be an inefficient means of sharing these updates. Slack does this better, provided that agents are checking for updates regularly. To increase the visibility of critical updates and get prompt feedback, try pinning posts and also reading email updates each day to make sure nothing is missed.
4. Gain efficiencies with integrations
In my last article for ICMI, I spoke about some technology upgrades for contact centers and my first recommendation was tighter integration between Slack and other support tools. How many windows and applications do your agents need to have open in order to do their job? 5? 10? 15? This can pose a huge challenge for serving customers effectively and efficiently.
One of the brilliant things about Slack is that they have all sorts of applications and integrations for tailoring the platform to your needs. Besides the Giphy app (does your contact center like animated GIFs as much as mine does), here are a few types that have helped our teams be successful:
- Integrate your knowledge base so agents can not only search for answers but they can also update and add content to improve your customer-facing knowledge content.
- Integrate your ticketing system so agents can automatically escalate tickets to Slack. This also allows others within your organization to add notes to tickets without logging into the ticketing system.
- Stream customer satisfaction survey results to a Slack channel for a more consistent celebration of the wins and more effective action in closing the loop on the negatives.
I know there are a ton more integrations out there and it’s probably worthwhile to do a work study to see how often agents are navigating between applications to see if there are efficiencies to be gained.
Bonus Tip: Join a Slack community
Finally, I have one bonus tip for you. If you’re looking to beef up your contact center knowledge and network with other like-minded professionals, Slack is proving to be an excellent platform for this. One community I gain a ton of value from is CX Accelerator, first of all, because it’s free, and secondly because it brings together hundreds of professionals from a variety of industries and countries who are passionate about customer experience. I know it’s been a rich source of learning and growth for me.
Being someone who cut his teeth in the contact center on instant messaging, I’m still learning about this whole Slack thing — and so far, I like what I see. If you have best practices that you employ in your contact center, please leave a comment or just Slack me. I’d love to chat more.