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Dec 3, 2015

Is it possible to build a billion dollar business in a few short years solely on word of mouth? Slack has proved that it is.

By Laura Canavan-Hayes (Associate 4D Facilitator)


Inc. magazine recently named Slack their ‘Company Of The Year’ and their journey has been a unique and fascinating one.  The story of Slack, phenomenally morphing from an idea to a $2.8bn business-collaboration messaging software giant, in just three short years, is storied insightfully, by Jeff Bercovici.

What interested me in particular about Slack’s success, and what interested the 4DHB team hugely, was that it happened without a sales team.  I know what you are thinking– and I did too – ‘What, without a sales team?! A $2.8bn company in 3 years? No way! Not possible!’.  Well, it turns out that it is.

97% of new business at Slack is word of mouth referrals and they only recently started to advertise.  Even more impressive, the first several thousand tweets from Slack’s twitter account were personally written by CEO Butterfield.

How have they managed to have this much success without a single salesperson?

It all comes down to their unique approach to customer support, which is right down my alley.  Now a much larger 300-person company than their original founding team of 8, Slack have managed to do the very difficult thing of preserving absolute dedication to the customer via their emotionally intelligent customer support team.

This is the biggest team in Slack and is run by Rayl, one of the original founders, who has tried to inspire in Slack’s customers the dedicated customer loyalty that companies like Virgin America and Zappos have nurtured.   Rayl wants every single interaction that customers have with Slack to be wonderful.   And, why not?

What I love is the ethos that she and Slack have when they are hiring into that vital team: 

"Rayl tries to hire customer support reps with emotional intelligence and writing ability. Technical knowledge can be taught; personality is paramount. "We are a very liberal-artsy company," Rayl says. "You need to feel like you're talking to someone who has read a few books--someone who has a lot of interests outside the office, but right now they're just hanging out with you, talking about Slack.

(Jeff Bercovici, Inc. Magazine)

Not to get over excited but isn’t that flippin’ awesome?!

It underlines how important personality has become for Companies hiring (and for employees, full-time to freelance).  Once you have the foundation of personality, and the cultural synergy between the employee and company, the technical stuff can be taught (provided the person is of the right background/experience for the role of course!).

In my opinion, great and even superb customer service (and isn’t this always what we should aim for?), can make or break a company and can certainly be a leading contributor to the level at which it thrives.  It can also create a buzz, an excitement and a pride among the rest of the team, and the whole company, when everyone knows that every single customer is taken care of really, really well.

Rayl’s favourite customer service story is of a Filipino burrito truck called Señor Sisig, which comes to Slack every week on a Thursday.   Family lunch being a tradition at Slack, most of the Slacker’s line up for their delicious weekly fill of Señor Sisig’s burritos.  The Señora at the window knows every regular's usual order and Rayl says

"The experience of that super personal touch, where I am a person to that person giving me a burrito--that's F***ing amazing," Rayl says.

It is amazing and moreso; it’s really simple.

It reminds me of my husband and my favourite restaurant in Dublin, the gastro pub ‘The Chop House’ - the head waiter knows exactly what we like to drink, eat and when we might like to go a little guerilla and try something special on the menu.  They know what our jobs and hobbies are and take keen interest.  They know what Ronan’s favourite football, rugby and GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association!) teams are and there is always laughter, banter and seriously good customer service around all of that and simply great conversation.   It feels more like a family than a restaurant.   I don’t drink alcohol too often these days (had my fill during the wild years of my twenties!) and the last time we went for a Saturday evening bite, the owner found out that we had the car with us, encouraged us to leave it there for the night and sent over free cocktails for us and a special something to taste while he sat down for ‘a chat’.

As a result, we go there regularly and send lots and lots of people there.  We have had family parties there, pre-Christmas lunches and dinners and if we have friends staying, that is our first port of call.  Recently, Colin Farrell named it one of his favourite restaurants anywhere and their Facebook page rocketed by 30k in a matter of days.  Nice one Colin! There we go again, the power of word of mouth by doing the simple and brilliant thing of taking care of your customer to the very best of your ability.

That personal touch is absolutely vital and we humans love making meaningful and enjoyable connections.  This simple and always successful ethos engages with the customer emotionally and intellectually and if in person, physically (with a hand shake, smile, open body language and good use of the gesture plain (the Obama 'welcome' pose and on the phone, through the wonderful medium of the voice).

When it comes to our 4th dimension that we work with at 4DHB, that of intention, it is simple and brilliant - to make sure that the customer feels like a million dollars and really valued.  Naturally, they want to continue being part of that experience again and again whenever they interact with the company, restaurant and even phone company (yes, it is possible but rarely seen!) and they tell everyone who will listen about their superior customer experience.

So you see, everyone wins - the customer gets an experiential, high level of service and the business wins as they get a long-term, loyal customer base, who will gladly and passionately spread the word.  

As a final anecdote to express the loyalty that results from what we’ve seen thus far, I want to share an excerpt about Steve Job’s loyalty, from the beautiful, eloquent and touching obituary that his sister, Mona Simpson, read out at his funeral (it is well worth a read):

“For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal.…he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car…If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church”

Inspiring this level of loyalty (and after reading the above, we all know how loyal Apple peeps are!) is actually simple.  For some reason companies who don’t seem to get this (or if they do intellectually, they don't or can’t practice or implement it effectively throughout the organization) fail miserably and they are usually not particularly enjoyable environments to work in. 

When a company makes the effort to understand this and does customer service and loyalty well, it sticks its head way above the parapet and way above most other companies and their competitors. 

It’s obvious what the choice has to be.

Feel free to share your stories and anecdotes on what has inspired loyalty for you – the team at 4D is ever curious and would love to know!