There was once a time when instant messaging was limited to use by only a few technologically-minded early adopters. Today, instant messaging is very much a mainstream pursuit, having been encouraged by the popularity of consumer apps including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
However, it remains tempting to be sceptical about the usefulness of instant messaging (IM) in a business context. Such reticence is easy to understand, given that much of the corporate effectiveness of IM unfolds “behind the scenes” rather than in clear view of the customer or client.
Should you be willing to dip deeper beneath the surface, you could be very pleasantly surprised to discern IM’s ability to streamline communications within your business. Deft use of the technology could help you to improve customer service, project management and other facets of the company.
With many benefits of instant messaging, it’s clear how they can be translated successfully into a corporate environment. As is widely known, such apps as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are free to download – and even many business-friendly instant messaging services carry no charge.
Naturally, using such services would relieve you of the need to spend money on more technology – an especially significant boon for cash-strapped small businesses. The familiarity and ease of use of IM communication could also spare you expensive costs in getting new staff up to speed with it.
Still, you might remain dubious about encouraging the widespread uptake of IM services in your workplace. Could they distract many of your staff from their responsibilities during work hours? There are both pros and cons to IM-driven business communications, as has been discovered.
You might be familiar with using common IM apps to reach out to companies and brands. Perhaps you sought their help in troubleshooting issues with their products or services. Alternatively, an advert of theirs might have piqued your interest, inspiring you to seek to learn more.
In reacting to your message, the company could have handled your query delightfully quickly. However, it might not have occurred to you just how many cogs were turning, so to say, under the hood to get you the information you sought. That’s where the importance of internal communication, and IM’s way of streamlining it efficiently, comes in.
Upon receiving your query, the contact you reached via IM might have had to refer your request to another member of staff with the necessary skill or knowledge to provide the right response. That request might have been referred through a business communications tool like Slack or Flock.
Such software is geared towards helping different team members to communicate effectively amongst themselves. You might have already implemented such software in your own business; PCMag UK notes that Slack quickly became popular simply due to its broad range of features.
However, Slack doesn’t have to be your sole choice of business-oriented instant messenger. Flock is priced lower for its paid tier of service, while small businesses could mine especially good value from Zoho Cliq as well as Workplace by Facebook, which both charge modest per-person fees.
As your business personnel settle into an instant message culture, more of its plus points could rise to the surface. For example, in using IM tools to interact with employees and clients located far from your head office, your workers could save money on long-distance phone bills.
Nonetheless, there are occasions when a phone call or email would actually be more appropriate for imparting particular details to such contacts. With most messaging programs limiting the maximum character counts of messages, this software could be ill-suited to sending large amounts of information, acknowledges AllBusiness.
Indeed, the brevity of instant messaging is key to its appeal in the right context. Tech Donut points out that “instant messaging, by its very nature, … encourages short, concise messages.” Your workers are probably already thoroughly experienced in crafting exactly those, given that “SMS and Twitter have taught us all to say more with less”.
This can all add up to time-efficient communication in your workplace, with drawn-out emails or lengthy telephone calls all trimmed down. However, with many instant message services allowing you to augment text-based interactions with voice and video conversions, too, your workers could still switch to these more sophisticated means of communication as the situation calls for it.
Such seamless switching between communication channels is very much what unified communications (UC) is meant to encourage. Your business could take up various UC solutions in quick succession, perhaps starting with a Horizon hosted phone communications service.
That service could provide a solution on which you could further build your IM infrastructure – such as through adding the Horizon Collaborate solution. This comes with its own online chat facility allowing your workers to interact and collaborate more quickly and intelligently in real time.
Your workers could even switch to group chat through shifting to the multi-party conferencing and collaboration space My Room. Another feature of Horizon Collaborate, it would allow multiple members of your team to converse through voice over IP and video conferencing.
You might have previously bought into many myths about workplace IM which you now realise can be put to bed. For example, while business use of public IM services like WhatsApp and iMessage was once discouraged for security reasons, messages sent through such services can now benefit from end-to-end encryption, enabling you to put security concerns at rest.
Nonetheless, when it comes to instant messaging, your workers could veer too far from good practice should you fail to set a few rules for them to heed. You could specify these rules through an instant messaging policy akin to your email policy. By regularly keeping each of these policies up to date, it displays not only a progressive internal ethos, but a flexible approach to business as a whole. By embracing technology, you can show your staff, customers, and even competitors that you are open to change, and adaptable enough to keep abreast of how people like to be engaged. And, with instant messaging, you’ll of course be able to engage them wherever they – or you – happen to be, and at all times. Instant messaging may only be one aspect of modern communications technologies, but it’s also one being used more broadly, and effectively, by businesses all over the world.