Customer Support

Managing change with Slack’s Customer Success team

How we help large companies roll out Slack

rolling out rug
Image Credit: Samantha Mash

Getting started on Slack with a small team is fairly quick and easy. But what if you worked somewhere with 25,000 employees, and starting tomorrow, everyone was required to use Slack instead of email for all communication? What if you’ve never even heard of the product before?

Without some forethought, a substantial change like this — asking thousands of people all at once to do their work differently — could fall short of the reasons for adopting a new platform like Slack in the first place. In fact, according to estimates from Nitin Nohria and Michael Beer, both faculty at the Harvard Business School, making big operational changes inside of large organizations fails up to 70% of the time.

In business lingo, people who help organizations with big transitions are called change management experts. At Slack, they are known as the Customer Success team. Located in offices across North America, Europe, and Australia, team members come from backgrounds well-steeped in change management, management consulting, and enterprise software.

customer success team

Other members of the team come from decidedly different backgrounds. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Customer Success manager Chrissie Arnold partners with customers to understand a company’s needs and works with key members of their staff — often, project managers and corporate trainers — to implement Slack successfully. She comes to Slack after five years in the nonprofit sector, working in partnership with children and families impacted by serious illnesses, marginalized women, and survivors of war.

In all that work, Arnold identified needs of vulnerable populations and worked to offer them precisely the support they required — combining empathy and management experience that adapts well to navigating the business world.

“I see myself as a translator that brings together technology and our customers’ experiences of that technology,” says Arnold. “I help them to see how Slack can really integrate into their working lives, rather than something that simply exists.”

Slack’s rollout playbook

The Customer Success team tackles the rollout process by breaking it down into phases. The goal is always the same: keep deployments as straightforward and as easy as possible for customers, through methods that are scalable and repeatable across different types of companies and industries.

First comes stakeholder analysis, where Arnold gathers information and identifies people in key positions, gauges their readiness to change, and figures out how best to plot the transition. Then they build a launch team on the customer’s side including trainers within the organization and internal Slack experts, along with top executives.

“I see myself as a translator that brings together technology and our customers’ experiences of that technology,” says Arnold. “I help them to see how Slack can really integrate into their working lives, rather than something that simply exists.”<br />

– Chrissie Arnold, Slack Customer Success manager
Chrissie Arnold, Slack Customer Success manager

It’s worth noting — for enterprise companies with tens of thousands of employees, having people at the leadership level actively engaged in the process is often vital to success so that uptake comes from both bottom-up and top-down.

Next comes a series of user interviews. The subjects walk through their tasks and responsibilities, and describe how they communicate today. Arnold asks them for precise detail of entire workflows to understand exactly how everyone interacts and completes their projects. Once she has a good picture of how people operate at various levels of the organization, Arnold takes all that research and synthesizes it into a training plan just for them, with the goal of converting workflows into Slack in a more productive way.

Much of this work is up front, to assess the situation before moving forward with a launch.

“We have a saying on our team, that companies need to ‘go slow to go fast,’” Arnold says. “The most successful teams establish a strong foundation — and only then — increase their velocity, rather than trying to make it work the other way around.”

Arnold and the launch team set a launch date and plan internal announcements with easy access to resources — with the ultimate goal of handing the keys over to the new customer.

For Arnold, the entire process of rolling out Slack to a new organization is a bit like being a workplace anthropologist. She drops into companies in different industries — she could be at a tech giant one day and an agricultural conglomerate the next — quickly figures out the lay of the land, identifies the key people that can make or break the transition, and gets them the training they need.

“We have a saying on our team, that companies need to ‘go slow to go fast,’” Arnold says. “The most successful teams establish a strong foundation — and only then — increase their velocity, rather than trying to make it work the other way around.”

Post-transition

After the rollout, customer success managers like Arnold do regular check-ins to measure progress and offer help to further their development. Many teams find it helpful to create a #help-slack channel where experts within the company can field requests from those still getting acquainted, and sometimes Slack’s own customer success managers are invited to pop in as well. Arnold says this is another good way to gauge success, as she gets to watch teams get continually better at using Slack as we work with them.

Successful deployments are often seen as a series of “small wins.” This can be something like a “no internal email day” that helps teams get a feel for what it’s like to work in Slack, or having a good channel-naming convention in place early so a team can scale more effectively. Later, it can be things like deploying custom bots that report performance statistics into channels on a regular basis.

The more you know

Slack’s Customer Success team will grow rapidly in 2017. Based in offices around the world, they’re most likely found working in the trenches alongside customers, and more than anything, their job is to get to know a new Slack team not as a company but as an organism made up of real working humans.

“Our biggest challenge as a company is people think Slack is really easy, and it is, which is why we are successful,” says Arnold. “Slack may be easy, but any kind of change for most people is really hard.”


Matt Haughey learns something new about his colleagues every time he interviews them

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.