How to Use Slack to Improve Client Relationships
Only 200 unread emails as of today. Admittedly, I’m horrible at email, with six email accounts, hundreds of folders and 1,200 unsorted emails in my inbox.
For awhile, my “To Do” emails were simply the unopened ones. Knowing I needed to go back through them anyway, an unopened email was my visual cue to follow up, but I couldn’t keep up, and was losing interest in doing anything about it. The challenge came when I realized my system didn’t keep me in tune with my clients’ emails. I was missing them, not reading them or not acting on them.
I tried using rules as a workaround, but automatically forwarding to staff, highlighting the important ones and filtering to specific folders, wasn’t helping me clean up my inbox or get things done. How was I going to connect with my clients in an immediate and efficient way, that unlike text messaging, wasn’t going to weave into my personal life? I wanted to do better than, “own my inbox,” the Kim Kardashian way. No, I needed a searchable log of all communication and knowledge.
Although I had heard of it, I had little to no interest in Slack. Heck, I already had Microsoft Teams, and my team wasn’t using that. It wasn’t until I was invited to my first Slack workspace that I knew I was being introduced to something unique. Kudos, of course, to the administrator who took the time to lay out the workspace with creative use of channel names and meaningful channel descriptions. Still, it was obvious that something different was happening with this app, and in this case, different was certainly better.
Slack cleans up, simplifies and improves the lines of communication between accounting, bookkeeping and coaching firms with their clients – but that’s a huge understatement and doesn’t even begin to unearth the possibilities of Slack. By integrating it with other programs such as QuickBooks® Online, firm owners can begin to connect the trails of emails, tasks, appointments and reminders with beginning and end points into one platform. Does it do instant messaging and direct messaging? Of course. Can it be used to share information like photos and documents? Sure. Can users ask a bot to set up a task or remind us of a future task? Yep, it does that.
If you’re trying to make your firm operate like a firm of the future and looking to integrate your tech stack and add to your ecosystem, then Slack is a must-have tool for you. Let your imagination and your natural inquisitiveness be your guide to understanding how to use the service. There are a few videos on the topic, and I recommend watching some from outside the profession to get a unique perspective on using the platform.
Making the change doesn’t have to happen overnight. As with any tool, there is a learning curve, but if you tweet, post, text or instant message, then you already know how to use the basics. Also, the channels and the layout are straightforward. There are a lot of preferences and settings packed into the application, so it can be overwhelming to try to figure it all out at once. But, if you want to get started, you can begin your journey with three simple steps:
- Create your slack account: you can create it in a web browser, from an app on your phone, or from an app on your Windows or Mac desktop. I use all three.
- Name your workspace, which becomes the URL for “your-work-space.slack.com” account.
- Invite users, set up channels and start communicating.
I struggled with set up in the beginning. In my first attempt, I created private channels for every client. That requires a paid version of Slack, which of course, is based on a per user arrangement. The idea was simple; we would create a private channel and invite clients as “single-channel guests” to communicate with them. Unfortunately, Slack allows only two single-channel guests per paid member, and that was going to quickly get expensive. Plus, money would be spent paying for single-channel guests that wouldn’t benefit from the robust experience of having a Slack account.
No, there was no value being added there. Sub channels are not allowed, so I figured my creative naming convention would do the trick; #client1, #client1-ar, #client1-payroll, but that was cumbersome. Saving grace, the turning point was after convincing my wife Seasha, a partner in my firm and a CPA, to join Slack. She opened it, looked at it and laughed at me. She said in a very nice tone, to not hurt my feelings, “Can’t we simply create workspaces for each client?”
From that point, Slack really started to take hold. By creating workspaces for our clients, we were able to be more flexible, responsive to their needs and used the program in a way that would make sense to them. To me, it’s the responsiveness and customization of Slack that added value for our clients. By managing the workspaces for our clients, we were able to provide them with a clear picture of the jobs and tasks we accomplish for them. When clients need a special task accomplished, it’s easy to add a new channel and start collaborating. As an example, we invited a client’s loan officer to a private channel so he could be a part of building a business plan that he knew his bank would want to see.
That’s the power of guided collaboration – and that’s the power of Slack. While not every client loves it, not every client needs it, but for the clients who are interested in their business, want to succeed and appreciate the work we do for them, Slack really opened the door for communication and client collaboration.