Ali Rayl is the VP of Customer Experience at Slack. She is responsible for the service teams that help make the Slack platform easy to use for its millions of users. In this interview, she shares some insights into how she views customer experience and how Slack delivers it. Customer experience is rising up the agenda in the boardroom, especially after the pandemic forced people to work remotely. Why is that the case?
“There are a couple of reasons here. One is a benefit, and the other one is cost. The benefit that we see is that customers who are happy with their vendors, or suppliers or businesses are the ones that are likely to stick around, they’re the ones that are likely to recommend. A customer who has a bad support experience with a businesses they work with, there’s a 50% chance they’re going to leave and go to the competition.”
Rayl then added: “One thing that we’re focused on at Slack is, not just managing customer pain, but really addressing it.”
She views that her team are not just solving the issue that the customer has but considering what caused it. Does the product need improving, and if so initiating that. It is also not just about the product, it may be billing is hard to understand, or a policy needs changing. Last year Slack redesigned its billing statements as a result of a service interaction.
She added: “We bring the customer into all different facets of our business. We’re basically the front door for the customer and to the entire company of Slack. What that means is we can leverage the entire company to make their experience better. “
Why do this? Rayl believes the cheapest and most effective way to win new customers is by word of mouth and customer advocacy. She noted: “Weaving customer experience throughout everything you do is the best way to get there.”
I also asked her why now? Why is it so important, post-pandemic? Rayl sees two reasons. The first is that more data is available now with better analytics. Better analytics means improved insights that help improve decision making. The second, she explained as:
“The other part is what the Internet has done for amplifying both good and bad experiences with businesses. Airlines are a perfect example. When somebody has a bad experience on a flight, and they blast it on Twitter, and it gets, 1000 retweets, suddenly, that airline is under a lot of pressure to figure out how to make it right. Airlines have a lot of competition. It is a constant balancing act for businesses to make sure that they’re showing up well, not just for the customers in the moment, but for the customers they’d like to have in the future.”
The Slack approach
What is the Slack approach to delivering customer experience?
“One of our fundamental tenets of supporting our customers at Slack is we meet them where they are. If somebody comes to us, and they’re angry, we get it. We did something that made them angry. Slack is not the centre of everybody’s universe, and that goes for every product. Everything that we buy is just something that we use to get through our days. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, especially right now.
“We meet our customers where they are, and we figure out what they need from us. The good experience in all those cases is not being treated as a support ticket, not being treated as a cost but just a person.
“This is so important to me because somebody is taking time out of their day to reach out to us. They could do anything else with that time. They could play with their dog, get some work done or be drinking coffee; instead, they’re contacting us. The very least that we can do is offer them the courtesy of our own time and meeting them with at least the same level of investment that they met us with.”
How do you measure the success of this approach?
“We use two primary measures to quantify how our customers are doing. One is the customer satisfaction score. People just give you a thumbs up and thumbs down. The way that we approach support, not only gives us a lot of thumbs up, we average about 98%. we also get comments saying like, ‘I had a good experience because you treated me like you answered my question you were considerate of my time.’
“We also use a metric called customer effort score. It’s a seven-point scale in which we say How easy was it for you to solve your problem today? It’s a really nice nuanced metric to introduce to your support organisation. Because not only can you see why you’re wasting your customers time, you can also find the inefficiencies in your organisation and start doing tactical interventions to boost those up.”
The COVID influence
How has CX evolved since the pandemic started in March?
“It’s different across different industries. For us and enterprise software, there was a lot of emotion, panic and fear at the beginning, in March and April, as people turned to us. Previously, people were interested in Slack, they thought it would be interesting to try it. That changed to people saying, ‘I have to figure out how to use your product in the next hour, so I can continue to run my business.’
“We realised that we had to meet that moment differently. We started scheduling 20-minute consultations with anybody who wanted to learn over the phone. Then we started putting out a lot more resources about how to use Slack for your remote workforce. Then we did some rapid iterations on the UI of the product itself, to make it more comprehensible and understandable for new users. That’s not just the support experience, that is the entire experience of somebody arriving at our doorstep, and in a heightened state of panic. Since then, things have gone back to normal.”
On improving CX
What’s the last change you made to operation to improve it since the pandemic started?
“I don’t make major changes to my department, ever. We are always in a constant motion of iterative improvement. Part of the reason that this happens is that I sleep. We have a 24/7 business. I’m not 24/7 available. If something emerges in Europe, that team can figure it out and take care of it. We have a great foundation on which to experiment, on which to pivot real-time to figure out what our customers need and how to address that.”
How do you experiment? Do you use AB testing?
“No, we don’t do AB testing. It’s more, here’s a way that we think that we can do this better, let’s try this for a week and see how it goes. We’ll wrap some sort of hypothesis and metric around that experiment. We’ll try things for, a day, a week, two weeks, whatever the experiment warrants until we think we can get good enough data on it.
“Sometimes we realise we’re on the right track, but that the tool is not quite where it needs to be. So we make some tweaks to the tool. That will be another, one to two-week experiment. We’re just constantly iterating until we kind of land in a good spot.”
Do you then pilot or do a full rollout?
“Within our support organisation, we do roll it out. For our product itself, there are tests. We will figure out, Is this working better for customers? Those are always bounded, and sometimes by cohorts?
“For example, I mentioned that we overhauled our UI in March to suit new customers better. We didn’t roll that out to every single new customer all at once. We rolled it out to half of the people creating new teams. Our research showed that new people could understand our product better.
“The data that we saw in our research bore out in practice. We cut that experiment short by two weeks and rolled the new UI out to everybody because we had overwhelming data that it was the right change to do for new people.”
What improvements are you currently making?
“Within my department, there are no huge changes coming. One of the things that we’re iterating is increasing the availability and the utility of our self-service offerings. This isn’t about reducing ticket volume; for me, this is about meeting customers where they are.
“About 70% of customers want to help themselves. We are working on enhancements to the search, the UI, and to different flows to help people get into that. This is a pretty big pivot, we have always assumed that people wanted to talk to us and that’s just wrong.”
What technology do you use for support?
“We use Zendesk, but we heavily use the Zendesk API’s and build a lot of our software on top of it. Zendesk is managing the back end, both our tickets and our support site. But if you look at our support site, we have completely redone the UI and the navigation.”
How CX makes a difference
Could you give me an example where your team has made a difference?
“There’s one that is top of mind for me right now, just because I saw it on Twitter, 10 minutes prior hopping on the call. Like I said, it’s really easy to contact us, that’s always been one of our core tenets. This means that people sometimes contact us in the heat of the moment. Somebody did that this morning, they whipped off an angry scream about something that they didn’t like about our product. The woman on our team picked that up, got back to them in 10 minutes. He (the customer) hopped on Twitter and said, Bianca, I’m really sorry, that was just the heat of the moment, you’re really nice. I didn’t mean it.”
“That is not a business change; that’s an emotional change within our customers. That person every time he talks about Slack will say ‘their support is really nice and really responsive, and just really gracious’. Those kinds of things make a difference in how people feel about your brand, and how people feel about your product. People have Slack open for an average of 10 hours a day. If we can provide a warm, caring and supportive halo around that experience, we absolutely should.”