Instant messaging (IM) is no longer confined to social circles and youth culture. It has made its way into businesses large and small and represents one of the most effective forms of communication for customers, colleagues and teams.
With many businesses opting for services such as Slack in order to rid their offices of email, the significant uptake of instant messaging in business is in no small part due to the ease with which colleagues and customers can communicate with one another. Just type a message, hit the ‘return’ key, and the message is sent instantly to one or many recipients!
Business instant messaging enables two or more people to communicate via an online chat on either their computers, tablets or smartphones. Delivery of messages is usually instantaneous, making it an attractive form of communication.
Instant messaging can be useful in all kinds of situations:
Instant messages usually take the form of short, typed messages, but it is also possible to send audio, videos and share files.
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 computer, smartphone or tablet.
There are two kinds of instant messaging systems:
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. An IT expert - like your IT supplier - can also advise on the various options.
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.
Online chat is an increasingly popular medium for service teams large and small. The abundance of ‘Chat now!’ buttons on business websites is testament to this.
If your business includes a customer service element, there are three compelling reasons for implementing instant messaging as a service channel:
When choosing an online chat service for your business, pay attention to 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.
Slack is an instant messaging service designed for teams. It enables businesses to create specific ‘channels’ for different topics and mixes group chat with the ability to send private messages to one another.
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. For many, Slack can be a great companion for email and often slots well into certain areas of the business where remote working is common.
Slack offers a free service tier, so the best option is to get signed up and give it a go. The ability to transfer files and collaborate with colleagues in a more modern, social media-like way may just be the perfect tonic to fight email fatigue.
There are several things to be aware of before implementing instant messaging within your business:
Make sure instant messaging is covered by your IT policy, establish clear guidelines for when instant messaging isn’t a suitable way to communicate and make sure these rules get communicate to all staff.