Instant messaging (IM) is no longer just for social circles and the younger generation. It has made its way into businesses large and small and is now one of the most effective forms of communication for customers, colleagues and teams.

Many businesses opting for services such as Slack, Google+ Hangouts, Adium, Jabber etc. due to their advantages over email communication. The new uptake of instant messaging in business makes it easier for colleagues and customers to communicate with each other. All you have to do is type a message, hit the enter key, and the message is sent instantly to one or more recipients.

 

How does business instant messaging work?

Business instant messaging helps two or more people to communicate via an online chat on either their computer devices or smartphones. Delivery of messages is instantaneous, making it a quick and easy form of communication. Instant messaging can be useful in all kinds of situations, for example:

  • It provides quick questions and answers between colleagues who work in another part of the office or are based in different locations.
  • Customer queries can be handled efficiently. With instant messaging, support, sales and service teams can answer questions from multiple customers at once. Live Chat has been used over many companies across the world on their websites. Customers prefer it, if they can get quick answers from the comfort of their own home, without waiting a long time in a queue on the phone.
  • Instant messaging statuses (available, busy, away, etc), can be used to view colleague availability. Some IM systems can even change status automatically based on diary events. T
  • Instant messages usually take the form of short, typed messages, but it is also possible to send audio, videos and share files.

Choosing an instant messaging client

In order to use IM for your business, you need a simple piece of software – usually referred to as an instant messaging client or app – installed on your device or smartphone.

There are two kinds of instant messaging systems:

  1. Public instant messaging services such as Skype and WhatsApp are normally free and easy to sign up to. With these your contacts can be inside or outside of your business.
  2. Private instant messaging services provide a closed communication system. Messages never leave your company network and are therefore very secure. They are usually hosted in-house, you gain customisability and the ability to centrally log conversations.

Private systems have traditionally been the choice for larger corporations, but an increasing trend towards ultra-secure end-to-end encryption has made public IM services such as WhatsApp increasingly popular for businesses.

If you’re not sure how to get started with business instant messaging, signing up to a public service is a great way to assess its effectiveness in practice. Business instant messaging can also be found as a companion feature within certain applications. It’s not unusual to find chat options in everything from word processing software to project management tools, meaning the ability to connect quickly with colleagues and keep discussion uniquely tied to the project in question is always available. Most IM clients will synchronise all chat activity between devices, so you can quickly pick up where you left off if you switch from your desktop PC to your smartphone when you leave the office.

Customer’s and IM

Using instant messaging as a customer service channel is known as ‘Online chat’ and is an increasingly popular medium for service teams large and small. If your business includes a customer service element, there are three reasons for making sure you have an instant messaging as a service channel:

  • Reduced service overheads.
    The initial software is simple and low cost and the immediacy of interaction between customer and operative means the time required to service each query will rapidly reduce.
  • Customers prefer it.
    We live in a digital world where traditional forms of communication such as telephone and email are now dated. If you offer online chat, your customers will use it. As for them it is easier than automated phone calls, no reply emails and being in a queue.
  • Increased sales opportunities.
    Instant messaging isn’t just for your service team – it can be used as a convenient sales channel, too. The ease with which enquiries can be made via online chat will have potential customers doing just that. For example if someone is stuck whilst paying and has any queries about payment for products.

When choosing an online chat service for your business, make sure you check out the service fees (most will charge per user) and consider any potential integrations you may require. For example, you may want your live chat system to link in with your CRM or telephone system.

What is Slack and can it replace email?

Slack is an instant messaging service designed for teams of people and helps businesses to create specific ‘channels’ for different topics and mixes group chat with the ability to send private messages to one another. The service has long been welcomed as the first real alternative to email, with many businesses having successfully made the transition from one of the oldest forms of digital communication.

Email is often deeply embedded within company culture, so Slack’s ability to replace it will depend largely on the size of your business and its existing reliance on email. Slack offers a free service tier, so the best option is to get signed up and try it out. The ability to transfer files and collaborate with colleagues in a more modern, social media-like way, may just be as easy as email.

Advantages of Instant Messaging:

Instant messaging is everywhere. Communication is changing and, as a result, businesses have had to adapt quickly and it can come in handy in a lot more places than expected like:

Worldwide skill

It is estimated that there will be 6.1bn smartphone owners globally by 2020. If you’ve got a smartphone, the chances are you’re used to instant messaging. It is a form of communication that has evolved from text message and now email. Most people have sent a text message, so their ability to start using instant messaging effectively will be as basic as they come. This means less training and higher productivity.

Cost effective

The cost effectiveness of instant messaging for businesses is one of the most important advantage. In some businesses, services such as Slack can replace traditional forms of communication, and, from a customer service perspective, online chat may remove the need for an expensive telephone system to handle multiple incoming calls.

Security

There are two forms of instant messaging available: public and private. It was once the case that the former was to be strictly avoided in business, given its susceptibility to cyber attacks, but that’s changing, fast, with services such as WhatsApp implementing cutting edge end-to-end encryption for every message sent.

Efficient communication

SMS and Twitter have taught us all to say more with less and instant messaging, by its very nature, also encourages short, concise messages. No one wants to trawl through drawn-out emails or take long, needless telephone calls, and instant messaging can be just the tonic for communication fatigue.

Mobile

Any instant messaging client worth its salt will have apps available for both desktop and mobile and has the ability to synchronise messages across all devices. This can be a lifesaver for businesses when crucial status updates or requests need to be issued quickly and to all employees no matter where they happen to be.

Disadvantages of instant messaging

There are several things to be aware of before implementing instant messaging within your business:

Security risks

This is very important, especially when using public IM services that don’t employ end-to-end encryption like WhatsApp. You should always make sure or check the security on instant messenger services. Most viruses are sent through file transfers, which bypass traditional gateway and anti-virus security. Public IM clients also have publicised vulnerabilities, where flaws such as buffer overflows and boundary condition errors have been exploited to spread viruses or denial-of-service attacks.

Other uses

If employees use your instant messaging system for personal matters, it is best to set rules on acceptable use. When you are sending instant messages to a colleague, you do not know if someone is looking over her shoulder or reading the messages along with her.

Distraction

IM can be distracting when people are trying to concentrate, so make sure staff to set their status to ‘busy’ when they need to focus. The real-time aspect of instant messaging comes with a price. Having a messaging client open on your desktop can be a major distraction from your work duties, since people expect quick responses to these types of communications. The perceived need to drop everything to respond to a query can interrupt your normal workflow, especially if you end up conversing with multiple users at once. Instant messaging is also a constant temptation to “chat” with other users, which can distract from work and decrease productivity.

Instant messaging needs to be covered by your IT policy, establish clear guidelines for when instant messaging isn’t a suitable way to communicate (for example, when you need a permanent written record of something) and make sure these rules get communicated to all staff.

 

If you are still unsure if your business needs instant messaging, why not try a free trial or service tiers available. Start small by experimenting with IM internally for just one or two departments or colleagues. As confidence and productivity increases, you should find word about its many benefits starts to spread.