Love them or hate them, instant messaging and chat apps are firmly entrenched as staples of modern communications. Various surveys indicate that more than half of the world’s population actively use at least one of these apps regularly, both for social and work purposes. Furthermore, many of these folks want to use messaging apps to connect with businesses and brands.
What impact do these apps have on workplace productivity? There are divided opinions on that score. For some, the immediacy of the medium and the ability to be brief and direct make messaging a highly valued business tool. Others take precisely the opposite stance — it’s distracting and intrusive, the digital equivalent of someone walking into your office without knocking.
A recent Webtorials survey illustrates this contradiction. In the company’s “2017 Workplace Productivity and Communications Technology Report,” chat and messaging apps ranked as both the least-used and least-efficient communication mode among respondents. However, 61 percent of the very same people agreed with the statement that “Instant messaging and chat improve teamwork and productivity.”
Although those numbers might seem curious, they also make sense. A good deal of business communication will require more depth, detail and nuance than can be delivered in a few characters, so a phone call or an email would be deemed more efficient. Yet, there are times when a quick note is exactly what is needed.
Messaging is particularly effective in some collaborative efforts. Group chat features allow teams to communicate in real time about an ongoing project. When multiple people are working on a document or a file, it is easy to open a chat window and the file side by side on the screen. These conversations can be even be saved for later reference.
Messaging can also be useful when communicating with team members in different parts of the country or different parts of the world. Various accents and other language barriers can impede voice communications. Messaging also gives you a chance to doublecheck your message before hitting send.
In team communications, messaging can be superior to the phone or email. The very nature of messaging encourages people to be brief and to the point. On the other hand, phone calls have a way of encouraging rambling conversations — neither party wants to be rude by ending the call too abruptly. Conference calls can quickly become frustrating and confusing when multiple people are talking at once. And we’ve all experienced email threads with multiple recipients that seem to go on forever as the inbox fills with countless “reply all” messages that arrive out of sync and add nothing substantive to the conversation.
Apart from workplace collaboration, messaging and chat apps are increasingly valuable for communicating with customers. In a recent Vanson Bourne survey of 6,000 consumers in North America, Europe and Asia, nine out of 10 said they would like to be able to use messaging to talk to businesses. Gartner predicts that customer service requests over messaging apps will surpass those over social media by 2019.
Despite their detractors, messaging and chat apps are a valuable component of the workplace communication environment. Beyond that, companies should also be looking at how they can extend messaging to their customers. By enabling direct and personal communications, messaging and chat apps can give businesses valuable marketing and customer service opportunities.