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3 ways Slack streamlines onboarding for our support agents, so they can help customers faster

On day one, agents are connected with the knowledge and experts they need, so they can help customers faster

Author: Hairol Ma9th February 2021Illustration by Patrick Leger

The folks on our customer experience (CE) teams are a bit like seasoned librarians: They’re knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics, both from a broad and a granular perspective, and if they don’t know the answer to something, they’ll at least know how to find it—and store the response for future reference.

Of course, excelling in this role requires deep product knowledge and strong cross-functional relationships. In a past life, the road to becoming a full-fledged support agent was paved with outdated docs, lengthy wikis, and “fwd:fwd: Do you know the answer to this?” emails. While onboarding doesn’t happen overnight (we’re working on it), there are a few ways Slack helps get our agents up to speed significantly faster.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how our CE teams quickly onboard agents in Slack. By taking advantage of search capabilities that allow new agents to surface knowledge and experts across the entire company, cross-functional relationships can grow and self-learning in channels is encouraged. If your organization works in Slack, we’d be delighted if you take these tips back to your support teams.

1. Form instant community through channels

Being introduced to and getting to know your colleagues is the natural first step of the onboarding process. That’s why our agents are gradually exposed to knowledge and introduced to their coworkers in Slack channels. New employees can start off with team channels to meet team members and form immediate connections.

“Remote onboarding meant we didn’t get to meet people in person,” says Amanda Garza, a CE agent who joined Slack in August 2020. “I think joining team channels was the most powerful way to be introduced. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful right off the bat.”

Depending on an agent’s specialization, they’ll also be added to channels specific to their product area, providing a safe space to start engaging with other teams and asking questions right away as they solve customer issues. New agents are also given an onboarding guide that lists specific channels relevant to their role, as well as a brief explanation of each channel’s purpose.

2. Self-learn by searching and discovering knowledge in Slack

There’s a learning curve to starting every new job, but the obstacles are compounded in a remote work environment. According to Harvard Business Review, the lack of access to information is one of the biggest communication barriers for remote workers, making it difficult to find answers to simple questions or get context on decisions. For new CE agents, being able to find all the messages, files, how-tos, and tickets they need to troubleshoot customer issues is vital to the job.

Slack is a searchable repository of knowledge that makes self-learning simple and accessible. Let’s say a CE agent just started at the company and wants to learn about a specific feature as part of a product specialization strategy. The new agent can search and filter results to find the exact conversation that first kicked off the project, as well as how every decision was made.

Instantly see the conversations that led to every product decision

“You can search all information, context and history about the way that a feature went from A to Z,” says Lina Saravia, a CE manager at Slack. “It’s so empowering because it allows you to understand the decisions made throughout the entire history of Slack.” Having full visibility into how processes and decisions are made give our agents insight into how teams work together at Slack. If a search for information on a certain feature launch led to the original project channel, for example, an agent can scroll all the way to the beginning and understand an entire project lifecycle, including any roadblocks that appeared along the way.

Standardizing points of contact with Workflow Builder

A help request made with Workflow Builder

Workflow Builder is a visual tool that allows any Slack user to automate routine functions by creating custom workflows. Our CE teams use Workflow Builder to standardize how requests are made and collected. By scrolling through the appropriate channel, like #ce-policy or #ce-access, new agents can learn how to make requests and see who is responsible for answering incoming questions. Designated subject matter experts monitor submission channels and work with requesters in thread to ask additional follow-up questions and collaborate on a solution.

“When you have those forums to make requests consistent, it really does level set as far as what’s needed, and what isn’t needed also, and can be followed up on later,” says Garza.

Adds Saravia, “It removes unnecessary decision-making, like, ‘Who do I need to ping? What’s their bandwidth?’ ”

Learn from work that’s already been done

Search results in Slack

“I get a well-rounded view into how much collaboration really happens in channels, and how far a ticket can go or how far a bug can go,” says Garza.

If a new CE agent is trying to figure out how to help a customer who’s been locked out of their account, chances are another agent has already solved this in the past. By searching in Slack, CE agents can find previous solutions to different customer issues, and in the process, learn the appropriate language to use while crafting answers.

“You really start to learn best practices and communication of how we work with other customers by searching in Slack,” says Saravia. “It helps us stay efficient.”

3. Build relationships with cross-functional partners

Received a complex ticket, or trying to figure out who should get a piece of customer feedback about a bug or feature idea? In order to solve a variety of diverse problems, our CE agents maintain tight partnerships with product specialists, engineers, product managers and other subject matter experts around the company. This can be tricky, however, for newer employees who haven’t yet had the chance to build cross-functional relationships.

Using search to identify subject matter experts

Having the ability to search and find all the context around specific decisions or processes in Slack has another benefit: Our agents also know who to contact if they have questions. For example, if a bug is surfaced around a new feature, the CE agent can search for the feature’s designated project channel in Slack, identify the product manager and DM that person for guidance.

“I had a customer issue with a bug, and I found the bug in a previous channel and escalated it the same way. I was able to see, ‘Who should I ping? Who knows the history?’ ” Garza says. “Things just got resolved faster.”

Of course, the most important element to successful onboarding is creating a safe environment for new hires to learn and feel welcomed.

“At Slack, it really feels like we are one team right away,” Garza says. “You can feel that through just using Slack. You can reach out to anyone. I could reach out to Stewart (Butterfield, Slack’s co-founder and CEO) if I wanted to.”

While we don’t necessarily endorse direct messaging your CEO, we do recommend establishing a culture that invites new hires to ask questions about existing processes, decisions, projects and more. After all, the sooner your agents get comfortable with how your product and organization work, the sooner they’ll be providing helpful instruction to your customers.

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