Slack Connect has already been touted as “the email killer”.
But 77% of Fortune 100 companies already used Slack as of April 2022.
With the launch of Slack Connect, which provides the ability to communicate in Slack across organizations, you’d have to think our email inboxes will only get quieter.
Fewer emails is a win for everyone. But that creates a new challenge:
We’ve spent years establishing professional email etiquette. Slack, until now, has been used to sling GIFs back and forth in a company’s internal chat.
There are lots of questions to answer as we start to use Slack with our customers.
How quickly do you have to respond to a Slack message? Is it unprofessional to send a GIF to a client? How “official” is Slack communication? How soon is too soon to open a Slack channel?
To answer these questions, we reached out to Slack power users to get their advice on using Slack Connect with clients.
They shared what they love and don’t love about the platform, as well as best practices for using Slack Connect to its full potential as a customer collaboration tool.
Slack Connect 101
Slack Connect lets you start shared Slack channels with people outside of your workspace. You can invite people from up to 250 workspaces into a single Slack Connect channel.
Slack Connect is included with any paid Slack account, but unless you’re on the Enterprise plan, the person you invite to your channel will need to be a member of a paid workspace too.
Slack Connect channels used to be marked with a double-diamond icon—but as of October 2022, they now look like normal Slack channels.
How to create a Slack Connect channel
To create a Slack Connect channel, click "Slack Connect" or the "+" icon next to your Channels list.
Once you're in the channel creation box, check "Share outside [your organization]" to make it a Slack Connect channel. From there, you can invite external collaborators via email.
Here’s Slack’s guide on how to create a Slack Connect channel.
Couldn’t you always Slack with people outside your company?
Yes and no.
In big Slack communities, everyone is technically a member of the same Slack workspace. Administrators have to approve each workspace member before they can join the conversation.
In contrast, Slack Connect lets you start channels with people without adding them to your workspace.
The biggest benefit is that the conversation will be contained in your workspace without the need to expose all your company’s channels to the person you want to Slack with.
What’s the difference between Slack Connect and shared channels?
Not much. Slack launched shared channels between two organizations in 2017.
In October 2020, shared channels were replaced with Slack Connect, which allowed up to 20 organizations to collaborate in a single channel. They’ve since upped the limit to 250 organizations.
Can’t I just direct message external collaborators instead?
You could, but you shouldn’t. You can DM with up to nine external guests in a single thread.
However, it’s easy for DMs to get lost, and there’s no visibility with other team members, so it’s best to avoid them.
Common Use Cases for Slack Connect
Slack Connect can be used at any point in the customer lifecycle.
Sales: Technical and enterprise sales—especially virtual sales—require a lot of back-and-forth communication. Slack Connect can serve as a way to connect internal experts with external buyers to close deals more quickly.
Sales engineering: Complex software-as-a-service (SaaS) implementations usually have a proof of concept, pilot program, or trial period. Sales engineers can create Slack Connect channels to communicate directly with their technical partners on the client’s side.
Customer success: Once a deal closes and a client is passed to onboarding, customer success teams can create a Slack Connect channel (or use the existing sales channel) for priority support. It’s a more VIP-feeling way to collect feedback, create personal connections, and drive adoption.
Project management & operations: Similarly, project management and operations teams can create channels to communicate directly with client stakeholders over the lifecycle of a project.
Of course, Slack Connect doesn’t have to be used exclusively with customers. You can use it with all kinds of external collaborators:
Affiliates and resellers: Having one shared channel where affiliates and resellers can ask questions of your sales and marketing teams can increase engagement and, therefore, sales.
Agencies and freelancers: Marketing teams can use Slack Connect to more easily collaborate and share assets with external freelancers and agencies. For example, they can more quickly flip assets back and forth for review and approval.
“I use Slack Connect to liaise with copywriters and graphic designers who already have their own Slack workspace,” said Dominic Kent, Founder of UC Marketing. “It makes little sense for them to join ours and have to switch between workspaces all day.”
Customer advocates: Stephanie Totty, VP Marketing at Joinr has used Slack Connect to run customer advocate programs. “I could pop in and leave a subject-matter expert question for my advocates whenever I needed and have them provide feedback on new messaging…or have them raise their hand to participate in a new project at the moment I was planning it. It was way more engaging than a mass email to 100 people.”
There are lots of ways to use Slack Connect with customers. But should you?
Pros & Cons of Using Slack Connect with Clients
We reached out to Slack Connect power users to get their insights on its benefits and drawbacks—especially when compared to using email to handle external relationships.
Here’s what they said.
Pro: Slack is faster than email
Everyone agreed that Slack Connect’s biggest benefit is its speed and immediacy. People simply respond faster over Slack than they do over email.
According to Slack’s own case studies, one Slack Connect user reported 43% faster response times from customers, vendors, and service providers. Another Slack Connect user reported four times faster deal cycles for their sales team.
Why the big difference in speed?
Slack more closely simulates the back-and-forth of a real conversation without needing to get on a call.
Slack also supports richer media like videos, big file attachments, and GIFs. It’s more engaging.
There’s also greater acceptance of typos and incomplete thoughts, reducing psychological barriers that sometimes slow down business communication.
“The communication style and tone are always less formal, more personal and conversational, and thus, more helpful for all parties involved,” said Stephanie Totty.
Con: Slack feels more urgent
On the flip side, Slack’s immediacy and use as a tool for synchronous communication create a constant feeling of urgency.
“Slack makes folks think any post or question warrants an immediate response,” said Stephanie. “That’s never been a huge issue for me, but for some people it could be a turn off.”
Seeing a message pop up from a big client on your phone can feel like an emergency. Multiply that by 10, 50, or 100 important clients, and suddenly, you have a constant stream of seemingly urgent messages.
Gareth Davies, Content Lead at Parabol said, “People have different Slack etiquette in different organizations. That can cause difficulties if you’re an async-first company working with a sync-first company, for example.”
Related reading: Parabol put together their own great guide on Slack best practices—and why you shouldn’t treat it as a synchronous channel.
Pro: Slack funnels communication to one channel
Using Slack Connect with external collaborators keeps everything in one single-source-of-truth communication channel that anyone can access.
“It's much easier to organize and share documents in Slack relative to email, and the ability to refer back to a continuous stream of messages over time is critical,” said Andrew Fraine, Co-Founder of Automata.
Gareth Davies added, “Anyone can pop in and out of Slack Connect channels. When someone is out of office, it’s easier for colleagues to step in for each other compared to long, closed email threads.”
Con: Your collaborator needs a paid Slack workspace
However, if your collaborator isn’t a paid Slack user, you might need to upgrade your plan or look elsewhere.
“Your counterpart outside your organization requires a paid version of Slack,” said Andrew Fraine, “which makes it difficult to work with freelancers and customers who don’t use Slack as a core tool to their business.”
The only exception to this is if you’re on Slack’s Enterprise Grid plan, where external users are free.
Pro: It’s easier to build relationships over Slack
Chatting over Slack Connect makes external teams feel more like internal teams—creating greater transparency between you and your collaborators.
“Slack Connect helps us build relationships with agencies and customers,” said Gareth Davies. “Small things like emoji reactions, GIFs, poll apps, or even icebreaker apps make a huge difference in building connections.”
Florent Merian said these connections break down communication barriers. “Everyone can start a conversation to collect feedback or reply to questions. It's more collaborative, more engaging, and because you meet the team, it's more personal.”
Con(/Pro): Slack lacks organization by default
Slack was built for messaging and therefore isn’t as powerful a client management platform as other purpose-built tools.
However, this opens the door for building your own intricate (but sometimes delicate) ecosystem of apps, integrations, and Zapier calls.
For example, using Slack Connect for bug reporting doesn’t provide as robust a toolset for assigning tickets, seeing a customer’s history, commenting privately, and tagging messages as tools like Zendesk or Intercom.
Or, in a sales context, your Slack messages don’t get automatically logged to your CRM without a plugin.
It’s also hard to organize files for your client. You can send single files or attach a Google Drive folder, but if a customer leaves a comment on a shared document, it creates a side conversation that won’t be visible on Slack.
To avoid this, you can use Dock’s Slack integration to make your Slack Connect channels more of a complete collaboration platform.
For example, you can build an onboarding checklist like this in Dock:
When changes are made to the onboarding checklist, here’s what it looks like in Slack:
This builds a single project hub that works alongside Slack to provide continuous context to your messages and keep everyone on task.
Pro: It’s easy to manage users
Compared to most SaaS tools, Slack makes managing internal and external users much easier—and there isn’t much onboarding required.
“It's dead simple,” said Dom Kent. “Everybody stays in their preferred workspace and there's no need for anyone to install or be added to anything else.”
You also don’t have to worry about constantly managing paid seats.
“In classic sales and customer success tools like Intercom and HubSpot, we have a limited number of seats and, as a result, some time-consuming back-and-forth internal conversations in Slack,” said Florent Merian. “When we start a shared channel, anyone can join—engineers, designers, product managers, marketers.”
This also reduces silos between your departments and gives everyone a closer relationship with your customers, as everyone in the channel can see the conversations taking place with customers.
Con: You’re bottlenecked by your Slack administrators
Although it’s easy to add users, Slack administrators have to approve every user you want to add.
“Every time you want to send a new invite, you need to reach out to your Slack admin to whitelist their email address,” said Dom Kent.
This makes it frustrating to manage Slack Connect users if you’re not a workspace admin.
Your external collaborators need approval from their Slack admins too. When you invite someone outside your workspace, they’ll receive an email like this:
They'll also see an invite directly in their Slack workspace, like this:
Once they accept the invite, their workspace administrator will be notified, and they’ll, in turn, have to approve the invite.
If the admin isn’t available or slow to respond, or the workspace doesn't allow for Slack Connect connections, this can cause frustrating delays in communication.
But this level of security is understandable, added Dom. “The alternative didn't work when Slack made it completely open and anyone could message cross-domain. So I get it.”
Pro: You own a direct communication channel
Email inboxes are full. Social feeds are saturated. Owning a direct line of communication with your customers and collaborators is a powerful sales and marketing tool.
You can more easily announce new products, share blog posts and sales content, or kick off new campaigns by shooting over a Slack message rather than an email.
And even if a prospect doesn’t pan out, or a client moves on, you still have direct access to them through your Slack Connect channel.
Con: Slack channels get messy at scale
If you have a long list of Slack Connect channels, things can get messy pretty quickly.
Plus, every Slack Connect channel lives in your Slack sidebar until you delete it. If you end a relationship with a client or collaborator, you’ll either need to keep the channel forever or have a “breakup” moment when you delete the channel for everyone. It can get a little awkward.
As Brad Harris brings up on the Hanzo blog, there’s also a lingering question about Slack’s data retention.
The original creator of the Slack Connect channel can decide what messages get stored or deleted. If the other party wants to retain messages for legal purposes, things can get dicey.
Best Practices for Using Slack Connect with Customers
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to go all-in on Slack Connect, here’s how to make the most of the platform.
1. Don’t introduce it too early
Immediately bringing a prospective client into Slack Connect after your first discovery call is like introducing your parents on a first date. It feels awkward, overly committal, and “too soon.”
Wait to open a Slack Connect channel with your partner until you’ve agreed to collaborate on something.
For example, start a channel only once you’ve both bought into pursuing an enterprise deal. Once the formalities of emails, Zoom calls, and sales demos are out of the way, you can take things to Slack to work through the steps to making that deal happen.
For complex products, a free trial is a great opportunity to open a Slack Connect channel. It gives your prospect close access to your customer experience and sales teams.
When that prospect does become a customer, you’ll already have your entire history of communication dating back to the start of the deal.
2. Plan ahead for IT approvals
Because of the need to have both you and your clients’ Slack administrators approve every Slack Connect channel member, have a clear plan for how you’ll make that happen.
Involve your internal IT team early on in the process to establish internal best practices and write up easy-to-follow instructions for your partner.
Ask your champion or main point of contact on your partner’s side for a list of everyone who needs to be in the channel. Adding them all at once will be much smoother than getting one IT approval at a time.
3. Establish “rules” of engagement
Set up ground rules and best practices for engaging on Slack at a few levels: with your internal team, informally with your client, and formally in your service-level agreements and other legal documents.
To make things easier on your team, it’s best to follow your existing internal communication policies if you have them.
For example, if your company has a default-to-public policy, encourage your clients or partners to follow that standard.
“At Parabol, we try to work as much as possible in public channels to maintain transparency, whereas some external folks prefer to write DMs, which erodes that transparency,” said Gareth Davies. “Setting expectations early on helps make the process much smoother!”
Most importantly, your partner should have clear expectations about when they’ll hear back from you.
“Make sure your customer or partner on Slack Connect understands your on and off time,” said Andrew Fraine. “People tend to look at Slack for more immediate feedback, like a chat app. It's important to make sure the expectation of response time is clear."
If you can, set up the rules of engagement with your partner in a loose, friendly way. They shouldn’t feel overly prescriptive. You want them to feel like part of your team.
Here’s what not to do:
All communication with our team should be restricted to our public Slack channel. Do not DM our team members. Our team will respond to all messages within 24 hours. To report a bug, use the hashtag #bug. To report a request, use the hashtag…
That’s too formal and overly complicated.
Instead, keep your ground rules human and easy to follow:
It’s always best to reach out to us on our Slack Connect channel, [channel name]—it’s where you’ll get the quickest response from our team. Using the public channel as opposed to DMs means someone will always see your message. We’ll normally get back to you within a few hours, but it’ll never be longer than the next day. We usually don’t check our messages on evenings and weekends, but we’ll keep our eyes open for urgent messages. Feel free to tag me directly if it’s urgent.
However, if you have service-level agreements (SLAs) and contracts with your clients and partners, include your legal and IT teams to establish what communication and data security standards need to be formalized.
For example, is Slack communication covered by your non-disclosure agreement (NDA)? If you close the channel, what data will be shared with your partner?
Bonus tip: Slack Connect channels exist forever until you close them. To avoid the awkwardness of when to close down a channel once a relationship is over, establish the circumstances for closing a channel early on. For example, say you’ll close down the channel one month after your contract is up (to leave room for saving the deal!).
4. Establish a channel naming convention
Many organizations have an internal and external channel for each client. If you have a lot of clients or partners, establish a channel naming convention to make your life easier.
The name should be easy for your partner to find too, so it’s wise to stick with a [your-company]-[their-company] naming convention:
- #dock-lattice (for your Connect channel with the partner)
- #dock-lattice-internal (for your internal channel)
Slack automatically sorts channels alphabetically, but Slack Connect channels are kept separate from internal channels.
5. Treat your channel like a community
We loved this tip from Florent Merian: manage your Slack Connect channel like a community.
“We use Slack Connect like we’re building a small two-sided community,” said Florent. “When someone new joins the channel, we welcome them by introducing the existing members of the channel and starting a conversation.”
But channel management should extend beyond initial icebreakers.
“Just like building a community, you need to follow up regularly with news and updates. The fact that multiple team members can join the channel really helps because you can have conversations that go beyond the classic sales touch points or bug reports. You can conduct user research, congratulate them on milestones, etc.”
The more your channel feels like an open, comfortable place for sharing, the closer you’ll feel to your external partner.
6. Automate as much as possible
As mentioned above, Slack’s ability to integrate with other tools makes it possible to do pretty much whatever you want with it. There are over 2,500(!) apps for Slack.
If you take the time to set it up right, you can automate lots of customer communication touch points.
“I like to configure bots in Zapier to do async check-ins with agencies and collaborators,” said Gareth Davies.
“These are easy to configure and automatically request a short status update on a given cadence. For example, every month we have a bot that prompts us to plan content for the next marketing sprint.”
Enhance Slack Connect (and Customer Relationships) with Dock
Using Slack Connect with prospects and clients is a first step towards providing a more premium-feeling customer experience.
Dock’s Slack Connect integration takes collaboration ten steps further by pulling all your customer touchpoints, documents, and project plans into Slack.
Connecting Dock to Slack lets you see updates to:
- To-do lists
- Task statuses
- File uploads
- Comments on files
- And anything else that happens in your Dock workspace
Any time a change happens, it will be updated in Slack.
This makes it much easier to pull customer conversations back into Slack, rather than having ad-hoc, on-the-side conversations on random files you’ll never find again.
We like to think of it as a project hub that provides full context to your relationship.