Mettle, the bank NatWest’s digital business account for freelancers, side-hustlers and small businesses aims to make customers’ lives easier. From no fees and in-app invoicing to near-instant responses to queries, everything the company does is designed to take the pain out of business banking. Providing that seamless experience requires its internal and external communications to be on point – and that’s where Slack comes in.
Initially, Mettle used Slack for collaboration across teams, but as the business has grown, it has integrated the majority of its business-critical apps into Slack and created hundreds of custom apps of its own. Without leaving Slack, teams can monitor customer satisfaction, quickly resolve incidents and manage the software production cycle. Here’s a look at how Slack has become Mettle’s springboard to productivity.
‘We had a list of the top five things that you need to set up a business, and Slack was on it.’
A customer support team that gives faster, better responses, thanks to Slack
Mettle’s customer base runs the gamut from sole traders and people running side businesses on Etsy or eBay right through to small business startups. There are five million self-employed people in the UK, and many of them feel underserved by traditional banking products; Mettle strives to meet them where they are.
‘We really care about their needs, how they’re feeling and what they want from their financial products,’ says Jack Collier, Mettle’s chief marketing officer. ‘We operate differently, and we communicate differently.’
Mettle has created hundreds of custom apps for Slack that cater to its unique requirements. To keep a finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction, it built an app that shares online customer feedback directly into a dedicated Slack channel, a single place for a team to share messages, tools and files. Social media posts and reviews from Google Play, the Apple Store and Trustpilot are added automatically, and a support team monitors the channel 24/7.
‘It’s almost a hygiene factor these days for tech companies: If people don’t get a prompt response from the support team, then you’ve lost them. With Slack, we can surface and respond to issues straight away.’
Since integrating its customer feedback channels into Slack, Mettle is having more informed conversations with its customers and delivering faster, more personalised resolutions. Customer insights are no longer siloed; everyone can see them, which encourages transparency. This up-to-the-minute feedback also helps the company keep current with the evolving needs and concerns of its clients.
‘Our customers’ comments help us to continuously improve our offering, because we can see what is top of mind for them in real time via Slack,’ says Rachel Booth, Mettle’s co-founder and senior product manager. ‘We then gather all that information, analyse it and use it in our product development cycle.’
A master class in quick, collaborative incident management
In any financial-tech business, incidents must be identified and dealt with quickly. That’s especially vital for Mettle, whose small-business customers need always-on, reliable service. The incidents the company deals with range from payment provider outages to software bugs, fraud, security and payment issues. It uses Slack to manage them from first alert through to resolution.
Mettle has created a workflow that allows anyone in the company to raise an incident in Slack with a simple slash command. The details from the workflow form are posted to the #incidents channel, which triggers the PagerDuty integration in Slack to alert the on-call incident managers. The managers then spin up a new channel for that incident, assemble a team there and come up with a plan to get the issue fixed as soon as possible.
Duncan Boa is one of Mettle’s solution architects. He specialises in security and analytics, which requires configuring and overseeing a lot of moving parts. ‘All security incidents are routed through Slack,’ he says, ‘and the development team discusses possible solutions in channels. We’re a regulated entity in the financial services space, so it’s vital that we can show our work with a log of our decisions and the reasoning behind them. With Slack, that’s created automatically – we just have to look back at the chat history.’
As with any platform that is deployed in the cloud, there is no one physical machine that Mettle can monitor to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Instead, the company relies on Slack integrations to oversee the performance of the apps that support its platform.
To keep a close eye on issues such as platform availability, uptime and response times, the development team has set up hundreds of channels for each element of the Mettle system. Reports and alerts are automatically sent to the appropriate channels, so engineers can resolve issues faster and minimise any impact on customers. For instance, if Mettle’s payment provider experiences an outage, engineers don’t have to wait for a phone call or an email; they will have already received a notification in Slack.
‘Customers get very upset if they can’t make a payment when they need to make a payment,’ Boa says. ‘With Slack, we have forewarning. For example, if we see the latency of our requests increasing, it might indicate that something bad is about to happen. Can we step in? Can we take some remedial action?’
‘We started with one or two custom Slack apps, but we kept adding more. Now we manage and resolve the majority of our security incidents through Slack.’
A continuous feedback loop that enriches software development
Approximately half of Mettle’s employees work on the technology side of the business, but they are dispersed across different teams and locations. The company’s architecture is also inherently distributed. Boa describes Slack as the glue that keeps everything connected. The GitHub app for Slack has proved particularly useful, allowing engineers to request code reviews from their colleagues with the click of a mouse.
Mettle has a fully automated software deployment pipeline into its main platform. Before any change is pushed through, it has to be checked by at least two people, who receive a pull request (PR) via Slack. ‘You can’t get anything into production without a PR, so it’s a massive help to get them in Slack,’ Boa says. ‘It saves from having to continually switch between tools.’
As well as facilitating straightforward code reviews, Slack has streamlined the process of getting feedback and opened up the floor to collaboration. ‘People are free to say, “Hey, that’s not quite right” or “Maybe there’s a better way,”’ Boa says. ‘Hopefully, that overall discussion promotes excellence and gets us better-quality code.’
In fact, Mettle uses Slack during every stage of its software development cycle. Its software testing and production environments are managed through Slack, and it has even created a Slack app called Ditto that generates fake user data for engineers to use in test bank accounts. Before this, engineers had to manually create their test data, which meant finding a new phone number and signing up for a new email account every time. ‘It was a real pain and very time-consuming trying to come up with those,’ Boa says. ‘Now we have Ditto, it’s all handled automatically.’
‘The observability that Slack provides gives us a really straightforward way to monitor the health of our systems.’
Built-in security controls that encourage smart choices
Mettle operates in a highly regulated industry, and it must comply with myriad security laws and guidelines. The company uses Slack Enterprise Grid, Slack’s plan for large or complex organisations. Slack Enterprise Grid combines all the security and governance functionalities you expect in an enterprise solution with an intuitive, consumer-like experience. One of its features is mobile device management, so Mettle can control how its internal data is used and accessed on mobile devices.
‘Slack Enterprise Grid makes it possible for our people to sign in safely from their mobiles,’ Boa says, ‘so we’re not dependent on special locations or special networks.’
One of Mettle’s top security concerns is data loss prevention, and it uses Sumo Logic to ingest all of its Slack logs and detect any data loss events. Any security alerts are piped back into Slack for triage and management.
Slack’s administrative security controls are granularly configurable, so Mettle can, for example, reject logins from unknown IP addresses, or remove employee permissions to documents for information rights management purposes. ‘We can adjust Slack to match how we want to do things, how we want to operate our processes,’ Boa says. ‘It’s difficult to convey how well designed it is from that perspective.’
Slack has a system of security checks and balances built in, which gives Mettle more control and visibility over its data. Users at all levels also get clear messages as to the impact of their actions, something that encourages positive security choices and behaviour.
‘We could get Slack up and running without any major tweaks. It had all the A+ security features that we wanted.’
There’s no doubt that Slack is embedded in Mettle’s culture. No one has to leave Slack to get meaningful work done – everything they need is right to hand. The company has also extended Slack’s channel-based messaging to its outside partners, with Slack Connect.
Mettle has relationships with many other external organisations, from lending partners and product and market research companies to marketing agencies, and it’s often necessary to work with several of them on the same project. With Slack Connect, the company can gather all the right people in the right place.
‘If we’re having any technical problems,’ Booth says, ‘if we want to iterate the product or, heaven forbid, if we’re having customer problems, we can actually reach out to people in a quick, smart way with Slack Connect. It’s great, because engineers don’t do email. This way, I get products to market in record time.’
With Slack, Mettle is giving its customers the always-on service they expect. Internally, Slack is where collaboration happens and problems are solved. Dedicated social channels also help strengthen company culture; employees can have a digital watercooler chat, while automated birthday reminders, custom emoji and the exchange of pet photos make work a lot more human.
‘I wouldn’t see us working without Slack,’ Booth says. ‘It’s an essential part of our business.’