IT Science Case Study: Real-time Customer Support Using Real-time Collaboration

Parlevel Systems discovered Slack, where it could create shared channels, hold private conversations if needed, field questions from multiple customers simultaneously, and meet internal target response times.

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Here is the latest article in an eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and industry experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic: Delivering Real-time Customer Support Using a Real-time Collaboration Platform  

Name the problem to be solved: About five years ago, Parlevel Systems, a provider of vending technology tools for the food and beverage industries, was in need of a solution that provided a different kind of support to its vending customers--one that was immediate and accessible. The company contemplated building its own tool after its use of GroupMe proved unsuccessful; instead, it discovered Slack, where it could create shared channels, hold private conversations if needed, field questions from multiple customers simultaneously, and meet their internal target response times.

Parlevel, which operates more than 30,000 point-of-sale systems in 14 countries, assists with initial vending software and hardware installation. This is in addition to working with more than 400 customers to track and report real-time data around vending machine operability and product inventory, so a comprehensive communication platform was a must.

Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution: Speed and quality of service were the goals. Before Slack, the Parlevel Systems team split its time and resources between disjointed phone calls and emails with customers, making their interactions feel transactional. In order to provide the service it wanted to provide, the company evaluated a variety of solutions, contemplated building its own and ultimately decided that Slack was the right communication and collaboration platform to help achieve such performance.

List the key components in the solution:

Slack Platform: Slack is an open platform for integrations, which allows users to configure and customize their own unique work needs without leaving Slack. Parlevel chose it because it needed a single place to get work done in which teams could be connected through real-time messaging. In addition to being an open platform for integrations, Slack offers Shared Channels, which has become instrumental in Parlevel;s success with client interactions and support.  

Shared Channels: Shared Channels provide a secure, common space that makes working with external parties straightforward and fluid. At Parlevel, the team will spin up two Slack channels per customer: an internal channel for Parlevel team members to discuss and workshop customer matters (which they label #int-customername), and a customer-facing channel (labeled #cst-customername) that includes the main stakeholders from the customer side as single-channel guests, to protect their privacy.

As soon as customers join their designated channel, they instantly get to know the entire team as things kick off with a digital “welcome party.” “Slack makes us feel more like one big team, rather than provider and client,” Parlevel Systems Director of Software Ashley Reno said. “Our customers’ successes are our successes. Slack helps us facilitate the open communication needed to keep that synergy and reach our mutual goals."

Describe how the deployment went, perhaps how long it took, and if it came off as planned: It took Parlevel about one month to transition employees and customers onto using Slack. At that time, the company was but an early stage startup and had only 10 customers and two people on the support team. Customers weren’t entirely tech-savvy and needed convincing that Slack was the optimal platform to achieve better communication between their companies and Parlevel. In order to achieve buy-in from customers, Parlevel created a central document that explained what Slack was, outlined the changes in communication, led training sessions on how to download and utilize the platform on both individuals’ phones and computers, and more. Learning how to overcome “channel bloat” or having too many channels lacking clear indications of their purpose took some adjustment time.

Parlevel Systems is navigating how to best onboard its newest employees when it comes to educating them on Slack best practices and how to communicate within it. The company already has in motion a Slack usage guide to share with new team members as the company grows.

Describe the result, new efficiencies gained, and what was learned from the project: More than 95 percent of Parlevel Systems’ support communication with customers happens within Slack. Slack helped Parlevel increase its speed of service to meet its “five-minute rule”: all customer inquiries need to be addressed in five minutes or fewer.

For the IT, sales, biz dev, marketing and customer support teams, the entire company is able to function in a single workspace. Slack is a space where all codes are written up, a customer integration called Parlevelbot was added to each customer channel so that customers can check whether their vending machines are working anytime they need, and more.

With the use of Shared Channels, the company is able to organize conversations and strengthen customer trust and engagement overall.

Through Slack Search and using keywords, Parlevel Systems can easily dig through previous customer interactions tolearn from past issues to solve modern problems and find a detailed historical backlog. This gives the support team a new type of continuity in training. New team members can learn from previous members and their interactions with customers, even when an employee has transitioned out of the company.

Describe ROI, carbon footprint savings, and staff time savings, if any: “After implementing Slack, not only did we achieve a single workspace and the response and resolution goals for our support team, which is available 24/7, but the open integration mindset of Slack allowed us to further build out the platform with our own bots and tools that are used by everyone at Parlevel and even our customers. We are super users, and at Parlevel work really does happen in Slack,” Reno said.

Other references: go here.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he...