If small businesses are the backbone of the global economy, then Xero is a chiropractor, keeping companies financially aligned and ensuring painless connections with customers and banking institutions. The company’s easy-to-use cloud-based accounting software is used by small businesses and their advisors around the world.
Xero’s services are available in more than 180 countries and used by all types of small businesses, from Amazon sellers and non-profits to cafés and startups. IDC MarketScape, which evaluates ICT vendors, recognised Xero as a leader in its Worldwide SaaS and Cloud-Enabled Small Business Finance and Accounting Applications 2020 Vendor Assessment.
Headquartered in Wellington, New Zealand, Xero’s workforce of more than 3,000 employees is as global as its customer base, with outposts in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, the US and South Africa. 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 Foster, 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’s finances are at stake, a few minutes can be a big deal. Composed 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, says those emails got lost. ‘They were just here, there and everywhere.’
Today, CX has 30 to 40 Slack channels – virtual spaces where teams can share messages, files and tools – dedicated to each specialist group, and the customer support flow is smooth and streamlined. For example, when an agent needs guidance, he or she simply mentions @coreseniors in their dedicated channel, which notifies every senior member who’s online. Whoever picks up the issue reacts with an emoji to indicate that they’re on it. Then they’ll start a thread to provide a resolution. ‘Agents can move on to the next customer’, Simpson says. ‘That means our customers are actually getting quicker answers. That’s huge.’
As a lead workflow coordinator, it’s Simpson’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 frontline agent and a specialist who can give the insight needed to close a case. Before Slack, this could cause a huge bottleneck. If Simpson wasn’t around, it wasn’t always clear who should be calling the shots, and questions would pile up in an unproductive Yammer group chat.
Slack helped Simpson 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, users open a direct message with Kevbot and ask, ‘Who’s the current WFC?’ Kevbot will list the workflow coordinator, saving users from a frustrating and time-consuming search. Similarly, the bot can recognise keywords and route reps to the right specialists.
Kevbot gives Simpson peace of mind, and ensures that workflows continue, even when he’s not around to manage them: ‘I don’t have to go back three or four hours later and pick up any of the lost work’, he says.
“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 to find triage 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 spin 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 triaging the problem. The tool allows incident management teams 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’, Foster says.
For managing routine IT requests, Foster 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, the requester 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, Foster’s team uses simple emoji reactions to keep everyone in the loop. Instead of replying with a new message each time, eyes (👀) let people know the IT team is aware of the issue, a wrench (🔧) indicates the team is working on it, and a tick mark (✅) says it’s resolved.
A dedicated home for security issues
Cameron Miller, a security engineering team lead, oversees one of six security teams that require efficient communication channels and high visibility. To answer questions about security and infrastructure, the team started a #help-security channel. By bringing all 60 security employees into the channel, the team has sped up its response times. ‘Having our entire security and infrastructure team available in one place means there’s always someone on hand to respond’, Miller says.
The channel is now the main resource for employees to gain insight on what’s happening in security. In fact, Miller’s team has built a bot for the channel, HAL, to answer FAQs and direct users to the right teams for more complicated questions. Need access to a particular system? Want insights on infrastructure? A quick DM to HAL pulls a scripted answer, along with links to Xero’s Confluence pages, which contain an archive of company knowledge.
‘Our #help-security channel makes it easy for the wider Xero team to get the information they need, fast.’
Slack channels bring companies together for joint campaigns
Every year, experts from across New Zealand’s agriculture and technology sectors come together for Fieldays, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agricultural event. Leveraging Fieldays’ momentum, Xero partnered with agtech app providers PaySauce and Figured as part of a wider marketing strategy around Xero for farming. Together, the companies offer an end-to-end financial management solution for agricultural businesses.
To coordinate the campaign, Caitlin Powell, Xero’s New Zealand Events Manager, and Justine Wallendorf, Xero’s New Zealand Partner Marketing Manager, turned to Slack channels. ‘Before Slack, we would just send emails to the whole group, or we would have to do individual phone calls with each company and each person, or we would get everyone into the room together’, Wallendorf says. These methods proved time-consuming and expensive with travel. Slack changed that. ‘With channels, we can just catch up as we need to, when we need to’, she says.
One of the challenges of running a campaign with multiple partners is aligning all the stakeholders. By bringing participants together in one virtual space, Slack ensures that everyone is on the same page and speeds up decision-making.
Case in point: The marketing and sales teams from Xero, PaySauce and Figured worked in a joint channel to develop campaign assets, drive project management and approve deliverables. When the teams co-created information sheets for sales, the drafts were shared in a channel for review. Marketing and sales leaders from each company joined the channel to quickly view and sign off on the assets, saving everyone from a lengthy back-and-forth approval process.
‘The Xero for farming joint marketing campaign served as a proof of concept’, Wallendorf says. ‘We have an ecosystem of over 800 apps that integrate with Xero, so there’s a huge opportunity for us to do more work like this with other app partners in Slack channels.’
Whether it’s used for internal incident management or launching a joint marketing campaign, Slack has enabled Xero to automate routine processes, improve visibility across teams and speed up resolution times. The channel-based messaging platform has revolutionised the way teams communicate both within and outside the company – and led to a better customer experience for Xero’s 2.3 million subscribers.