If small business is the backbone of the global economy, then Xero – a worldwide leader in cloud-based accounting software – is a chiropractor, keeping everything aligned. Xero offers streamlined invoicing, payroll and inventory services to nearly 1.6 million subscribers across the globe. Ranked by Forbes as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company in 2014 and ’15, it’s now available in over 180 countries for all types of small businesses, from Amazon sellers and charities to cafés and startups.
Headquartered in Wellington, New Zealand, Xero’s 2,300 employees are as global as its customer base, with outposts in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. Until late 2017, teams at Xero were using just about every messaging tool available: Yammer, Flowdock, Google Hangouts, Skype. But nothing was interconnected or facilitated cross-functional collaboration, and information was collected and distributed in silos. “We never had a cohesive communications product across all of our business units,” says Grant, an internal applications specialist in the IT department. “It was just a bit clunky and old. One of those things you’d check because you had to.”
The Xero IT team knew it needed one universal platform for collaboration and conversation, so it experimented with Slack by rolling it out to its product teams. Three months later, not only had the entire company been onboarded, but Slack had quickly become Xero’s wall-to-wall communication tool of choice.
“We never had a cohesive communications product across all of our business units.”
Breaking down internal barriers to solve customer issues faster
When a small business’ finances are at stake, a few minutes can matter a lot. Comprised of various specialists trained to address all manner of customer questions, the Xero customer experience (CX) team previously relied on emails to share guidance and documentation. Matt Simpson, a lead workflow coordinator (WFC), explains that those emails, “Got lost. They were just here, there and everywhere.”
Today, CX has 30 to 40 Slack channels dedicated to each specialist group and the customer support flow is smooth, streamlined and supported. For example, when an agent needs guidance, they simply mention @coreseniors in their specialised channel, which notifies every senior online in the group. Whoever picks it up reacts with an emoji to indicate they’re on it. Then they’ll jump into a thread to discuss it or talk face to face. “Agents can move on to the next customer,” says Matt. “That means our customers are actually getting quicker answers. That’s huge.”
As a workflow coordinator (WFC), it’s Matt’s job to ensure that the CX team keeps to the response times promised in its service level agreements. Often that means being the liaison between a front-line agent and a specialist who can give the insight needed to close a case. Before Slack, this could cause a huge bottleneck: if Matt wasn’t around, the next-in-command might be unclear and questions would pile up in an unproductive Yammer group chat.
Slack helped Matt scale his operations in a way that didn’t leave anyone – or any problem – behind. It’s all thanks to a custom bot called Kevbot. To start, you open a direct message with Kevbot and ask, “Who’s the current workflow coordinator (WFC)?” Kevbot will list the WFC, leaving you free to ask that person any questions. Similarly, the bot can recognise keywords and direct reps to the right specialists.
In the end, it gives Matt peace of mind: “I don’t have to go back three or four hours and pick up any of the lost work.”
“I’ve got the peace of mind that there’s been someone online and that people were going to the right person at the right time.”
Rapidly resolving internal incidents with customised tools
On a busy weekday in late January 2019, Xero’s office printers went down... globally. Unlike past incidents however, there was no frantic scramble around the office to find troubleshooting resources. Instead, the IT team turned to a custom-built Slack tool called Multivac.
Multivac manages both Pagerduty integrations and Xero’s incident management workflow. When there’s an incident, Multivac will set up a new channel, pull the right people in and assign an incident commander through Jira. A lead from CX can then jump in and start troubleshooting the problem. In the end, the tool allows any incident management team to complete the task at hand without sending anyone into a panic or losing a huge chunk of time. “It’s something that Xero’s never had before,” says Grant.
For flagging internal incidents such as these, Grant has integrated Slack with Zendesk. When an employee comes to the #hello-IT channel for help and the team can’t answer with a short reply in thread, they can create a Zendesk ticket right in Slack. That means no context shifting from one application to another and fewer interrupted workflows.
Meanwhile for smaller requests, Grant’s team uses simple emoji reactions to keep everyone in the know. Instead of replying with a new message each time, eyes (👀) let people know the IT team are aware of the issue, a spanner (🔧) indicates the team are working on it and a tick (✅) says it’s resolved.
A dedicated home for security issues
Security Engineering Team lead Rupert spearheads one of seven security teams that need high visibility and efficient communication channels. To answer questions about security and infrastructure, the team started a #help-security channel. With all 60 security employees available in one place, they’ve speeded up their response times. “No matter what happens or what the question is, someone will see it and be able to get it to the right person,” says Rupert.
The channel is now the main resource for employees to gain insight on what’s happening in security. In fact, Rupert’s team has built a bot for the channel, Wheatley, to answer the most frequently asked questions. Need access to particular system? Need some insights on infrastructure? A quick DM to Wheatley pulls a scripted answer, along with links to Xero’s Confluence pages to learn more.
Not only does Slack make Rupert’s team faster, but it broadens their scope. With security questions being raised and answered in a public channel, small problems are spotted before they snowball. “Say someone asks a seemingly benign question that may allude to something being set up wrong, or maybe something is visible that shouldn’t be,” says Rupert. “We have a lot more eyes on the issue at the same time without having to take anyone away from their desk.”
“We have every member of security in one channel, so there’s a really fast response time.”
Bringing teams together through wall-to-wall communication in Slack
Before Slack, Xero’s teams were working in silos, which made it difficult to locate information. Today, everything happens much more organically, and teams are empowered to find existing answers and eliminate redundancies. “We see people from outside our own teams linking directly to previous conversations,” says Rupert. “Having that functionality keeps us from recreating the same answers.”
Grant notes that Slack has holistically reshaped comms at Xero. Externally, teams at Xero take advantage of Slack’s shared channels feature to collaborate directly with partners. Internally, says Grant, “It’s been life-changing for us within the IT team, because we’re able to connect with the whole business rather than just individuals.”
Previously, connecting at Xero was an exercise in individual networking. If Grant wanted to speak to someone in HR, he’d go to that one person he already knew. Now “Slack has opened that [conversation] up to everyone”, allowing teams to stay connected as Xero grows.
Available to all teams at Xero, Slack is a now a fundamental tool for CX, platform services, product teams and more: more than 2,300 active users upload over 1,200 files, utilise 600 apps and send more than 58,000 messages daily. It’s revolutionised the way teams communicate within the company – and has led to a better customer experience for Xero’s 1.6 million subscribers.