Dictionary.com describes a hub as ‘a center around which other things revolve or from which they radiate.’
Think about that for a moment in the context of your agency’s ongoing communication. Is there a place where your agency’s communication revolves around? Or do you have emails, phone calls, support tickets, task updates, hand written memos and more just floating around without unity or connection?
If this describes your agency, then here’s what you need to know:
Every communication system needs a communication hub.
We Use Slack
If you’ve never used it, Slack is an amazing team communication and notification tool. They call it ‘real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams.’
Slack took instant messaging to new heights with the organisation and collaboration features that a business needs to thrive. It conveniently allows you to create conversation channels, there’s space for your team and guests, you can create conversation threads around a topic, you can also shares files and hosts video calls. Slack is already awesome for collaborating and chatting with the team, but when you add apps and integrations to the platform, it gets a whole lot better.
But the reason why Slack makes an ideal communication hub is because it perfectly covers the 5 key features of a great communication system we outlined previously. Here’s why you should use Slack or something like it:
Why Your Agency Should Use A Hub Like Slack
1. It’s a channel that allows 2-way communication with clients.
We don’t require all our clients to communicate directly in Slack, but asynchronous chatting can help make ongoing client / agency communication more smooth.
Slack allows you to give clients guest access to specific team channels, or you can sync up one of your channels to one of your clients' Slack channels (if they use it as much as you do), providing a space for asynchronous client / agency chat that feels natural. With response expectations laid out in your SLAs, both parties know that we can contact each other without having to chase one another down and without messages getting lost in the email inbox.
You still have SLAs clarifying your response within Slack, but clients can rest easier knowing how to reliably reach you. The ability to openly communication is priceless when it comes to building strong and trusting relationships.
2. It records all of your interactions in a centralised location.
Slack is actually an acronym for ‘Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge’. The true power of Slack is that it automatically indexes and archives everything you put into it including messages, notifications, and files (with timestamps!). Of course this feature makes it the prefect tool to record and centralise our interactions. And with Slack’s powerful search function, it’s easy to pull up specific topics, conversation threads, and files from the archive.
We don’t have to worry about something getting deleted from our email database. No worries about whether notes were taken during a brief but important conversation. And there is never an issue with important info getting stuck in one persons inbox.
Slack is like a digital filing cabinet crossed with a personal secretary who will pull out what you want, when you want it.
3. It provides crystal clear visibility within the team.
Team visibility is so crucial for us as a remote team (and should be for your team, too). With your interactions documented and centralised, everything is in plain view for the team to see. Slack notifications help everyone know when new activity occurs around a topic, reducing time waste and confusion . Channels created around topics provide structure to your communication, lending to increased transparency. In addition to collaborating in groups via channels, you can also direct message other team members for more personal, one-to-one chats, or jump on calls.
One little feature that seems like a goofy bonus but is extremely valuable in increasing transparency among the team is the inclusion of reaction emojis within Slack. Reaction emojis can be pinned to any message written on Slack, giving you the opportunity to ‘react’ to the message without cluttering up the space. Channels and threads remain cleaner and more functional, yet you still have the ability to tell team members that you understood (), agree (), confirm (), have completed a task (), feel a certain way (), and much more ( ).
Beyond emojis, Slack provides a simple way for you to increase and encourage team interaction (even from 6+ countries around the world like we do). With a simple “Check In / Check Out” channel, it’s always clear when other team members are available to chat and support each other throughout the workday (like a virtual office hallway). Internal team related channels provide a place for general chat, to share resources, give team updates, and just have a bit of fun.
And as you’ll see below, when you integrate Slack with other tools, transparency continues to improve.
4. It provides the right amount of visibility for the client.
To us, the right amount of visibility to the client means providing processes and / or a place for ongoing communication as well as a higher level view over our current activities. For the communication, you can offer dedicated Slack channels for interaction with clients. You can also integrate other tools with Slack, allowing you to receive enquiries, support tickets, and other important notifications (more on the higher level view with our next tool).
5. It allows us to extract information for reporting and internal improvements.
Slack is a communication tool, not our project management tool, but it’s still highly useful for reporting. The organisation and search features of Slack make it easy to quickly pull relevant info you need to whip up a report or work on internal improvements, such as the time you received a task, the details included, the conversations that took place… You don’t always need this info, but when you do its waiting for you.
So Slack is a pretty cool tool for communication purposes, but it’s useless if you never get started using it.
Setting Up An Effective Slack Workplace
Start By Organising Your Team Channels
Getting up and running with Slack is really straightforward. In short, you can download the desktop and mobile apps for free, set up a free (limited) account, create a ‘team’ / ‘workspace’, invite your team members to join, then start interacting and sharing. We’ll leave the details of setting all that up to Slack.
Once running, you can put a little more thought into how you structure your channels and the resulting communication. Here’s how we do it…
We have a few standard team channels such as:
'Check in / check out' - a channel for letting the team know when you’ll be away and when you’ll be contactable and working
for non project specific team communications and interesting work related things
for interesting links, photos, tractor jokes and anything else. This is a place to get to know each other (so it’s super important to make the effort if you’re a remote team like us!)
Other channels have a prefix or suffix to indicate the type of channel it is, like this:
other channels that start with an underscore are team wide channels
internal to the team, operations and business focused
these channels are shared directly with a client (so we use a little caution in what we say)
these channels are internally used channels for specific clients (or client projects)
these channels are for specific products
these channels are for automatic notifications (eg dev tools, client emails, activity on a task)
That’s our basic structure for Slack channels. So here’s what some of our actual Slack channels look like (with the client name changed to FT - fictional client):
for direct communication with FT within Slack (shared with FT so don’t say anything stupid!)
an urgent only contact channel, but all discussions about specific actions should take place in the relevant Trello card or Freshdesk ticket and any actions should be instigated via Trello or Freshdesk.
everything to do with FT projects (general chatter around the project)
reference copies of emails sent to FT (for easy access in the future by the rest of us), Bcc or forward emails to FT@ourwebsite.com
notifications from Freshdesk for FT
notifications from @OurServies Trello user. This is for monitoring of FT communications with us within Trello
With this level of structure and organisation, it should be easy to find updates and what they relate to. There are many channels for one client, but they aren’t all going to be used all the time. Having multiple channels makes processing information easier because you don’t need to sift through a bunch of data to find what you need.
Then Automate Your Notifications
Now it’s time to turn Slack into a real communication hub by feeding all your communication channels into it.
The idea is to use Slack as the hub, database, and notification center of your business communication, but that doesn’t mean every single interaction occurs within Slack. The power of Slack multiplies when you start to integrate it with your other tools.
Let’s start with email:
Our process requires us to push important emails to Slack. Using a dedicated Slack email address, any email can be Bcc’d or forwarded to a Slack channel (eg. notifications sent to #c-FT-notif-email channel).
Pushing email to Slack ensures that no piece of information is bottlenecking in one team member’s inbox, and, as you know, everything we put into Slack is archived and indexed. This feature is incredible at increasing transparency among the team.
Check out how to send emails to Slack (paid feature).
Support Ticketing Software
It is possible to offer support via a dedicated support email, but that can quickly become a hassle for a growing agency. We recommend using customer service software to facilitate support ticketing and customer enquiries (we often use Freshdesk), and integrating your support desk with Slack makes serving clients smoother and more efficient than ever.
Integrating support desk software with Slack allows your team to get notifications for various ticket events such as ticket submission, updating a ticket, and more (eg. notification sent to #c-FT-notif-freshdesk). Your team stays up to speed and the ticket event is archived and indexed. Conversation and collaboration can take place around the ticket or the team member in charge of processing tickets takes the next action. Some integrations also allow you to make changes to a ticket right within the Slack app. Our process requires us to tag ticket notifications with a tick mark emoji () to clarify to the team that it was processed and next actions have been taken or scheduled.
If you use Freshdesk, here’s how to integrate it with Slack.
Task Management Software
We use Trello for task management (more on that in the next article), and integrating it with Slack takes team transparency and efficiency up a few notches. There are plenty of uses for a Trello / Slack integration, from creating and updating Trello cards within Slack to pushing Trello activity notifications to Slack. This integration is just another point of centralising communication, making it perfect if you want to keep the team updated on actions taken for a task or project.
We also use Trello with Slack as a second way to receive support tickets. It works like this:
Our clients often use their own Trello boards. They’ve granted us user access to relevant boards. Anytime they tag our username within their Trello boards, a notification is sent to a Slack channel with the info (eg. notifications sent to #c-FT-notif-trello). In this way, we always know when we are needed without having to monitor client activity.
Here’s more info about integrating Trello with Slack.
An Average Workflow Using A Slack Comms Hub
Okay, you’ve got a lot of the pieces, now it’s time to put it all together. You can better understand the system if you see it in action, so let’s check out an average workflow in Slack.
A typical workday starts with opening Slack and checking in with the team in the #_chico channel. It’s like walking into the office and letting others know you’re available if they need anything.
As you open Slack you can see where activity has taken place. Channels with activity are bolded, indicating an area where you need to get caught up. You also click to view activities with your name mentioned on them (yay team transparency).
Getting caught up on team / project activity is usually quick. You read through conversations and give your input if it’s useful or relevant. The conversations don’t warrant a written response, so you let the team know you’ve seen the message and indicate your reaction to it by tagging the message with an emoji reaction (). It’s a simple process and that’s why it works.
Part of your job is to respond or take action on client retainer support enquiries, so you immediately see what those are by jumping into the client’s corresponding channels. You see which tickets have been acted on by another team member while you were out because the tickets have been ticked off () . Anything that requires action sticks out like a sore thumb.
From there you jump into your email account to make sure nothing important has come in. In your inbox you see that there is an important email from a client and a new customer enquiry so you push those to Slack for the rest of the team to access and you tag relevant team members.
Then you dig into your work for the day as usual. About 3 hours in, you get a notification from Slack. Looking at your channels in Slack, you can immediately see what kind of notification it is without even knowing the exact details (due to the channel where the notification ended up). It’s another support enquiry that you process (and immediately tell your team that it's done by ticking it off with a reaction emoji). On another one, you need to collaborate with the team so you start a thread around the ticket and tag relevant team members to notify them.
Processing requests usually includes creating an action or task card within your task management platform. You do that by either using the Slack integration you set up earlier, or by going into your task management software to add the card and any relevant information (again tagging the team) .
You’re back to working on something else when you get another Slack notification. This time it’s letting you know that a task has changed within your task management system. It appears that your teammate has worked on a task and updated it by moving it on to the next stage. You get an automatic notification because you’ve integrated your task management system and told it to ping you every time a task get’s moved to your stage of the project. Without ever having to contact you, your team knows that you are up to date with moving the task or project forward.
As the day progresses, you receive more client enquiry notifications and a few chat messages from your coworkers. You process the enquiries as they come in but enjoy sharing a few jokes, articles, and weekend pics with the rest of the team when you have a little bit of down time. By the end of the day, there are no overlooked requests because Slack diligently notified you, so you jump into the #_chico channel to say goodbye for the day.
That’s a typical way to use Slack as your communication hub throughout your daily work routine.
Last Piece: Lay On The Value
You’ve built a communication hub that helps your team serve your clients more efficiently, and you’ve made it dead simple for clients to interact with you. That is great!
The entire purpose of the communication system is to increase efficiency within internal operations AND to build strong trusting relationships with clients. Setting up and using a communication hub with Slack is the first step to increasing efficiency.
Now that you’ve done that, tell your clients about it! Clients have no way to know and understand how much hard work you’ve put into serving them if you don’t share your process. Help clients understand and experience the level of value you bring to the table by telling them about the systems and processes you've created to receive their enquiries, collaborate around them, and take action – all done in a seamless fashion.
Okay, you’ve received your tasks and chatted with the team, now it’s time to turn talk into action with a task management system.