Slack's Guru Power Users Share Their Knowledge Management Best Practices
When Slack’s Customer Experience team first started using Guru in 2016, the goal was to manage their team’s internal knowledge so their Customer Experience Agents could answer customer questions quickly and confidently. Since then, Guru has been adopted by many other departments – including customer success, operations, learning and development, sales, product and engineering, and marketing – and Slack has become a shining example of optimal Guru usage.
We sat down with four of Slack’s Guru power users to talk about how they use Guru in their various departments, what makes Slack and Guru such a powerful workplace combination, and what their top tips and best practices are for knowledge management. Meet our power users:
The evolution of Guru at Slack
“I don’t want to think about where we would be if we didn’t have Guru at the size Slack is at right now.” – Shalina Bhagat, Content Strategist for Customer Success
Ali, Kelly, Shalina, and Stephanie all started at Slack pre-Guru and were instrumental in the rollout and ramp-up of Slack’s knowledge-centric mindset. From humble CE team beginnings, Guru is now ingrained in Slack’s workflow, from onboarding to project management, across multiple departments. “We now have a lot of teams at Slack using Guru, and we’ve seen adoption shoot up in the past year,” says Kelly. “New teams are using Guru as a place to inform other parts of the organization about specific things that they’re doing or working on. I can’t tell you how many times we hear people say, ‘I want to get a Guru collection set up so I can share information with X team or Y team.’”
Before implementing Guru, Slack experienced the familiar challenges of managing knowledge at scale as the organization grew exponentially. Knowledge lived in several disparate destinations, content had no clear owner, there was limited visibility into when resources had last been updated, and duplicate versions of collateral were common. “We were growing so quickly that things changed very quickly,” recalls Kelly. “We were onboarding these large classes of new hires with information that was constantly changing.” According to Shalina, “As we continue to grow, knowledge management is becoming more and more important because our teams are becoming more complex and so is our knowledge.” In order to scale in an organization growing as quickly as Slack, a knowledge-centric mindset is key. The organization has really embraced Guru and documenting, managing, and sharing knowledge as a way of life.
Guru use cases
Slack uses Guru to answer customer questions, onboard new hires, and work more effectively within their own product. Here are a few specific examples of how our power users leverage Guru to streamline processes at Slack:
Guru for onboarding
Before Guru, onboarding at Slack involved making a copy of a master Google Doc for every single new hire. Without a verification system like Guru’s, it was difficult to know if the information they were giving to the new hire was up-to-date. Today, every aspect of onboarding lives in Guru. “From the very beginning, our new hires start using Guru right away,” says Stephanie. “Our onboarding program is all listed in Guru. We show an overview of everything that happens each week, then point them to cards that link out to courses to take, topics to read about, Guru cards they can browse, Slack channels to join, and other resources.”
New hires can peruse Guru at their own pace and comb through all the knowledge they will need to do their jobs. They can check out the “Slackipedia” (the catalog of Slack speak that they’ll need to know), company information like benefits and people ops knowledge, and technical product information, all in one trusted place. The self-serve nature of Guru lends itself to confidence and expedited onboarding for new reps.
“You can tell when someone’s been onboarded using Guru vs onboarded before we had Guru in place. There’s a very different mentality in terms of how they search. I think for the new hires who get started with Guru, they probably feel a lot more confident in terms of finding information.” – Shalina Bhagat, Content Strategist, Customer Success
Guru to supplement learning and training
Slack uses Guru in conjunction with a learning management software (LMS) to ensure that new hires are getting the training they need and that they can go back and reference what they learned in Guru after the fact.
The way Slack’s learning and development team sees it, an LMS is for training, teaching skill sets, and walking through processes, and Guru is the supplement to that.
“Taking an LMS course is like watching a video, and Guru is your textbook or your notes that you have open next to you. Because I know that new hires will look at that one section of the course in the LMS, click on the accompanying Guru link, read all the supplemental information in Guru, and then come back to the LMS and continue on with the course.” – Stephanie Lo, Customer Experience Training Manager
The knowledge covered in the training courses always lives in Guru, not the LMS, because according to Ali, “People are never going to go back and be like, ‘What’s that course I took that told me how to answer this question?’ A course is not an ideal way to get content to a person who’s trying to answer tickets, so that’s not where the content should live.”
Instead, all relevant knowledge is always organized in Guru so that reps can access it on the fly, and often, slides in a learning course include links back to Guru so new hires know exactly where to go to read more about what they’re learning. Slack doesn’t expect new hires to remember everything covered during onboarding, so it’s important to have that knowledge available elsewhere after the rush of starting a new job dies down.
“If I need to be able to reference a piece of information later, it goes in Guru. Our LMS houses the actual trainings. We do a lot of live training here, so we’ll use Guru to disseminate any reading beforehand and supplement any documentation afterward, but if I want the team to reference something, it should live in Guru. If I want them to come back to it multiple times, it should live in Guru.” – Kelly Pearce, Learning Operations Manager
Guru in Slack
Not surprisingly, Guru’s seamless integration with Slack is what sealed the deal on this close partnership.
“Being able to pull Guru knowledge into Slack is huge for us. The ease with which we can take a Guru link and share it in a channel, or use the slash command to surface knowledge, or direct message the Guru bot with a question, has been key. Tools like Guru that integrate seamlessly with Slack are extremely valuable in our org, since Slack is where we work every single day.” – Kelly Pearce, Learning Operations Manager
For a team that works exclusively in Slack, a close integration was a must. Guru supports a Slack bot, activity feeds, message actions, dialogs, slash commands, and more. Users can even add new knowledge to Guru directly from Slack. If someone answers a question in a channel, that answer can be preserved and added to Guru in one simple click. As an organization, Slack operates primarily in channels (rather than individual direct messages) to promote visibility. So, it’s helpful to be able to capture any knowledge that is surfaced in a channel by adding it directly to Guru.
When starting up a new collection, the Slack team will also take advantage of the automatic activity feeds available via Guru. When an activity feed is set up, every new piece of knowledge added to Guru is also posted in the corresponding Slack channel. “That way, the collection owner can see what knowledge is being created in real time, right in Slack,” explains Kelly. Activity feeds in Slack are also a great way to promote curiosity and interest in knowledge. Members of the activity channels are notified when new knowledge is added and can easily click into Guru to see what their teammates are documenting.
In the days before the Guru mobile app became available, the Slack mobile app was the go-to method of accessing Guru knowledge on the fly, outside of the office. “I’ll use the mobile app to do a quick search and share knowledge on-the-go,” says Stephanie. “Because I already know exactly what I’m looking for, it’s easy to find and post Guru cards in Slack on mobile.”
The shifts in mindset and culture that come with working in Slack also mirrors the knowledge-centric mindset that comes with working in Guru. Both require attention and a deliberate approach to make the most of the solutions.
“If you’re half in email and half in Slack, you’re not actually getting the most out of Slack. I feel the same way about Guru; if you’re half in Guru but you’re documenting other stuff in a different place, you’re not actually getting the most out of Guru. Just commit. Put it in Guru. – Ali Berman, Senior Technical Operations Strategist
Guru best practices
“Guru should be concise. Very factual. Reps should go to it because they want a quick, easy, trusted answer. Not because they want to slog through paragraphs of text.” – Stephanie Lo, Customer Experience Training Manager
As Guru power users, Ali, Kelly, Shalina, and Stephanie have spent a lot of time thinking about and formalizing the way Slack documents knowledge in Guru. Every Slack team that uses Guru has different types of knowledge to document and different ways they go about documenting it, but Slack has a general Guru style guide that Kelly owns and a Guru admin council in order to maintain some level of consistency. “The Guru admins meet every month to talk about what we’re doing and what’s worked for our departments so we can collaborate and share ideas and best practices,” explains Ali.
The goal of the Guru admins council is to standardize the way knowledge is structured in Guru across departments. The team has templates explaining different formatting decisions and best practices, proper tagging structure, linking between cards, and more. According to Ali, “We want it to look like all the content is written by one person, even though it’s written by a hundred different people.”
Formatting knowledge in Guru
Why does consistency across teams matter? Because most teams at Slack have access to and rely on other teams’ knowledge. “We’ve realized the importance of not having hidden Guru collections,” says Shalina. “We were finding that it was actually more detrimental having certain knowledge hidden because there’s a lot of stuff in Guru that everyone can learn from.” Ali elaborated a bit more: “Since multiple teams have access to each others’ knowledge in Guru, we want to make sure that anyone on any team can look at another team’s collection and understand how it’s structured and why.”
For Shalina’s customer success team, that structure looks like this:
“Within a Guru card, we always start off with a summary of the asset. And that’s because when you search in Slack, you can very easily see that summary at the top of the card, so it gives you a quick view of if that is actually what you’re looking for or not. And then we have a link to the actual asset (if it lives elsewhere) and any special instructions, including the intended audience. And finally, where do people go to submit feedback? We try to push everyone to add a comment on a card if they have feedback, and that pings the author in Slack.”
CS also uses folders within their collection to organize knowledge in a way that helps CS reps access it quickly. Shalina organizes her team’s cards into Slack’s customer journey stages: launch, adopt, mature, expand, and renew. Within each of those stages, the CS team has success criteria linked to each journey stage that CSMs aim to achieve, so they organize their knowledge in the CS board by stage and success criteria.
For Ali’s Customer Experience team, cards take one of two formats: “One type is an overview card about how a particular part of the product works, and the other type is a troubleshooting card. The troubleshooting cards are broken up into bulleted lists and steps that are really easily visually-digestible so reps can reference them on the fly while answering tickets. The “about” cards are a little longer and more in-depth and technical. People use these cards when they want to learn about something. So the use case of the card dictates the format.”
“One of the things I really like about Guru is being able to break up information into more digestible bits. Instead of doing a control-F and scrolling through a long document, searching in Guru pops up the information you’re specifically looking for. That has allowed us to be a little more detailed in the card. It’s almost like you have more flexibility because you’re just working in the card and you’re not trying to cram a bunch of information onto one giant page.” – Ali Berman, Senior Technical Operations Strategist
Housing content in Guru
“For our CS team, content can mean several different things; it can mean a slide deck, it can mean a PDF document, it can mean a video, it can mean an internal enablement deck. No matter the format, links to everything ends up in Guru.” – Shalina Bhagat, Content Strategist, Customer Success
Like many organizations, Slack has multiple locations where content and knowledge might live. Between Google Drive, project management software, and Slack itself, sometimes the most logical place for content to be created is an external environment. For example, a Slack employee wouldn’t fire up a new Guru card to create a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are best suited for Google Sheets, and according to Shalina, that’s perfectly fine. “Even if there’s a slide deck or PDF that we keep in Google Drive, that will still be always accessible from Guru. We include a link in the Guru card to the Google Drive file or iframe the file into the appropriate card. At the end of the day, regardless of what the file is, it will always be accessible via Guru.”
It all comes down to how people search for knowledge. Shalina explains that “Content can live in so many different formats, but the organization of it is so valuable when you have everything in one place, which for us is Guru.”
“Even if content still lives in Google Drive, in terms of actually finding it when you need it, it’s a lot easier to do that in Guru. So, your main hub of where you’re going to go look for knowledge, kind of like your Rolodex, that’s Guru. We know knowledge can be kept elsewhere, but at Slack when you’re looking for something, you know to go to Guru.” – Shalina Bhagat, Content Strategist, Customer Success
Slack + Guru: Better together
The Slack team have been big fans of Guru since their initial rollout in 2016, and continue to exemplify best-in-class knowledge management practices. Ali, Kelly, Shalina, and Stephanie are all passionate about Guru and empowering their teams with the knowledge they need to do their jobs.
For more information about how Guru and Slack work together, just get started!