Is your small business using Chat as part of your sales and customer service communication strategy? How about for internal communications amongst your team? If you are, you’re not alone; and if you’re not, now is the time to consider it.
Companies of all sizes, including small businesses, are finding that Chat applications are greatly enhancing communication and collaboration within their teams. In fact, enterprise Chat solutions such as Slack are predicted to be on the road to replacing email as the primary method of internal communications. And, it appears to be working. This post reports that in companies deploying Slack utilization averages nearly 10 hours each day. That’s likely why Slack was named the fastest growing workplace software ever, after having raised $120 million in funding just 9 months after launch.
Of course, Slack is not the only option for internal Chat. This business.com post highlights the 9 Most Effective Apps for Internal Communication, based on recommendations from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
Chat for Sales and Customer Service
Several studies have shown that live Chat fosters increased sales as well as strengthens customer relationships. For example, this infographic presents study findings that show:
- 44% of consumers report that having a live person to answer questions during the purchase process is one of the most important things a website can offer. 50% say that lack of interaction has prevented them from purchasing.
- 73% of customers are satisfied with live Chat as a customer service communication method. (As compared to only 61% satisfaction with email and 50% satisfaction with social media.)
- 91% of customers who used live Chat were satisfied with its ability to aid online purchase decisions, resolve service and support issues, and provide timely answers to product questions.
- 60% of customers hate waiting more than a minute for support. The average wait time to start a live Chat was 23 seconds, and the average time to a successful resolution of the customer’s issue was 42 seconds.
- 94% of customers who were actively invited to chat while on a website were somewhat or very satisfied with the experience.
Sound like something you should consider for your small business? If so, check out the recently published Website Magazine Comprehensive Guide to Live Chat for 2015 – for readers of all levels.
As with any online communication method, Chat can be utilized by the unscrupulous to propagate viruses and malware and to extract confidential information via phishing and other social engineering techniques. Thus, when chatting online, especially when chatting with potential customers you don’t know yet, it is important to remember to follow best practices like not clicking links or downloading files from unknown sources, and not providing any confidential information such as financial account numbers, User IDs, or passwords.
In addition to the risk of chat-based attack vectors, is the risk of the contents of your theoretically private chats being exposed. There have been many examples of major cloud-based chat services being hacked, accidentally leaking chats, or providing potential unauthorized access via gaping security holes.
The Slack breach disclosed last March (Yes, the same Slack celebrated for its unprecedented growth.) in which its User database was compromised, potentially exposing email addresses, hashed passwords, and User IDs to multiple chat accounts, is just the most notable recent example. Others include:
- A security hole in Skype Group Chat that leaked chat contents to deleted users.
- Insecure transmission and storage practices by Viber. The online chat app was sending video and images without encryption and storing them online at a publicly available address.
- SnapChat’s settlement with the FTC over its false claims that messages sent via its service would be instantly erased.
- WhatsApp’s many security problems including easily stolen passwords, unencrypted messages a website that can change anyone’s status, and a flaw in its encryption process that exposes any plaintext chat sent via an Android device.
- Pidgin Chat Client Vulnerabilities including insecure handling of emoticon use and problems with handling a protocol plugin, both of which left devices vulnerable to denial of service and other malicious attacks.
- Security holes in the Telegram cloud-based messaging app that allows attackers to access messages by bypassing encryption.
Thus, when choosing a Chat application for your small business it is important to select a secure one—to protect your company, your employees, and your customers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched the Secure Messaging Scorecard in November, 2014 and continually updates it as Chat applications are improved, and/or weaknesses are discovered. Consult it before selecting a Chat application for your business. You might be surprised to learn that big names like Skype, Facebook, and Google rank relatively low; and you might want to consider some of the lesser known but highly rated apps.
Legal Implications for Chat
From the many breaches noted above, as well as the many evil social engineers out there trying to trick you into disclosing confidential information, it should be clear that Chat is best viewed in the same way as shouting in a crowded room. It isn’t private, and it may never be erased or forgotten.
Another reason to mind your chats, and to make sure that you have a strong Chat Policy for your business, is that anything you type in a chat window is a recorded, persistent document. (In that way it is unlike an in-person private verbal “chat” which is likely to be undocumented.) A chat transcript can be subpoenaed in a criminal or civil case, and when sent to an external party it is viewed as an official communication from your company.
Because of this, most businesses employ an official Chat solution that they can monitor and control. This includes the ability to save and archive all Chat transcripts. Monitoring and archiving Chat not only protects the company in the case of false claims, it also meets legal and regulatory requirements that, depending on the industry, may apply to business communications.
A Final Word
As with most business tools, especially those involving online communication, you need to take the good with the bad. There is no question that deploying a Chat solution can increase productivity in your small business; and there is no denying that Chat should be in your sales and customer service toolbox. But, it is critically important that you choose a secure Chat solution, and that you train your team to use it wisely.
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