Customer experience is 10 percent technology and 90 percent culture.

During the summer I had the pleasure of hearing Matt Haughey speak at An Event Apart. Matt is a real pioneer in the web industry. He is currently working on customer experience with Slack, a company that is revolutionizing the digital workplace. When I heard Matt speak I was so impressed. He was summarizing what he had learned about success and failure of all the many web projects he has been involved with since the mid-90s. His conclusion was that the things that succeeded always had a genuine customer-centricity, and that empathy is one of the core skills for success in the digital age.

Then he started talking about working at Slack. Do companies like this really exist? Matt explained that “customer experience is the second biggest group employed at Slack.”

  • Every new employee does at least two full days of working the support queue
  • Designers and engineers do two hours per week of support, forever
  • All our support stuff is integrated into Slack, so you can see every ticket, review answers, etc.
  • A weekly summary of support is sent on Monday mornings about the previous week in our general channel (which is very low traffic, announcements only)

Slack is a company that genuinely invests in the customer experience. And it pays. “Slack stands on the precipice of product mega-fame,” Seth Stevenson wrote for the Wall Street Journal in November 2015. “There’s a decent chance you haven’t heard of it yet, and it sounds almost banal in description: software that helps groups of co-workers exchange instant messages and swap electronic files. Yet Slack is, by some estimates, the fastest-growing business application of all time.”

The present is for the customer. The future is for the customer. Skeptical, impatient, simplicity-demanding, this customer has been set free by the Web. Practically everything important that has happened on the Web (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) has been customer-centric. It has been about empowering people, giving them more control of their lives, giving them more choice and more time.

Support is the new sales. Support is the new marketing. And Slack has proven this. What Slack also proves is that the workplace is ripe for a productivity revolution. Slack is a tool for employees that is fun, easy to use and productive. It is a vision of a new workspace that is highly collaborative and efficient, and that takes a genuine concern for the employee.

Technology will make everything technological the same. It’ll be the same chip, the same storage, the same material. The difference will be made by those who understand humans the best and who design things that humans can relate to, can feel comfortable with, and can simply use.

However frustrated you may feel in your role of customer champion right now, know this: The organizations that are genuinely putting the customer and employee first are not just surviving. They are thriving. Empathy for the customer and employee is where the future value of organizations lies.