For the past two years, I’ve been encouraging (maybe even urging) all of my clients to converse with me by Skype Instant Messaging before sending me emails or trying to reach me by phone.
What IS Skype Instant Messaging Anyway?
“Skype Instant Messaging” is where a person types a message inside a message sending window within the web-based Skype communications system and the intended recipient sees the message immediately. An ongoing log of messages can be seen by each participant.
Email is very similar except you have to be very careful of your word choice because your email may get stopped by spam filters. With email, you really are not sure of when someone will respond. Instant Messaging connects the two (or more) recipients together first and then provides immediate delivery and response for as long as the discussion is required.
Why Do I Prefer Skype IM in Particular?
I particularly like Skype IM because:
- It’s free (as most IM systems are).
- If you’re chatting away on a topic, it’s easy to send a message and upgrade the chat to a live call if you need to (also free). And, Skype has a setting where you can exchange live cam video as well if you prefer (also free).
- No special setup or directory pathing needs to be made to archive your discussions; so even the least technical can figure it out.
Benefits of Instant Messaging
Do I suddenly not like talking to my clients and am trying to get away from live voice discussions with them? Have I become so busy that I don’t have time for phone discussions anymore? Is this some desparate need for me to cling to new technology just because it’s new?
Naa, none of these is true. In fact, I’m using IM more than ever before for the exact opposite of all of these reasons.
- I enjoy conversing and strategizing with my clients; even more so now with Instant Messaging. IM allows me to conduct detailed and in-depth discussions over time with my clients that neither one of us would be able to schedule in multiple sittings by phone. Using IM daily has actually brought me a lot closer to the clients I’ve connected with by chat because I get to drill down deeper to get to their real personalities and issues. clients get to learn a lot more about me as well than I would typically share in a phone conversation or email.
- IM has added an estimated 3-4 hours to my day in productivity because I don’t have to play phone tag and leave messages or read long and involved one-sided emails. I post my message and then when the client is available, we have an IM chat back and forth, where I might be having 5, 6, or even more one-on-one private chats…at the same time.
- Instant messaging is far from new technology. If anything, I think I’ve taken a few years longer than I should have to really embrace it. I’ve been using IM for discussions every day with my web services team for nearly 10 years now, but I’ve only recently suggested open chat to my clients. I have an old laptop on my desk that is devoted to doing nothing other than IM chat. That’s how important IM is to me now. Haa, that old laptop I won at a seminar years ago. It’s too slow to do anything else! And, my chat windows are open from early morning hours to late at night.
- I know, I know, the phone is better because you can get a lot more detail said in a phone conversation than you can typing back and forth, right? I used to think that too, until I started having trouble keeping all of my notes organized; and for whomever I’m conversing with, the same is true. Now I see IM as the ultimate way to stay organized with thoughts, brainstorming ideas, and handling requests from clients.
For example, when I’m providing a 30-minute consulting call, my covering a dozen topics with a client or more is common. It’s too much to ask anyone to write that fast to keep up and all those great ideas from both sides seem to fall though the cracks when it comes time to implement.
- Probably my favorite benefit of all for IM’ing is that I’m simply able to give better, more complete, more insightful information to a client or coworker during an online IM chat than any other communication method. It works with my brain speed. I love that I can receive a comment or question and then think about it for a few seconds or even a minute or two before responding. If I don’t have my thoughts quite together, I can respond with something that indicates I need more time, like, “OO! Good question! Let me think about that for 2 minutes.”
42 Instant Messaging IM Usage Tips
About once a week, I convince a client to start IM’ing with me on Skype. By the end of the first conversation, they get it. It might take a few weeks for them to commit to using Skype IM every day, but eventually they usually come around to do so. I’ve been keeping notes on usage tips for using IM for business conversations and suggestions I’ve been offering to first-time users. Here are those tips for your use in as good of a step-by-step as I could come up with:
- Add a photo to your profile that invites the kind of conversations you want to have. The picture you supply to your IM chat profile will be the one your recipients see throughout your chat discussions. Choose a photo for yourself that is welcoming and shows you’re in a good mood. I definitely see a difference in the way I read questions and comments on chat and how I reply to them depending on if my recipient has a photo at all versus if they have a picture with a positive vibe or a negative one.
- Once you’re connected, assure your settings are adjusted to automatically turn on your IM chat when your computer turns on. That way you don’t have to remember to activate it every day when you begin working. You might at first start using IM only when it’s conventient for you or when you have a question that you’re looking for help with. Try to get beyond that hump and see IM as an efficiency builder instead of something that will just suck more time out of your day. Embrace IM so that you can use it all day long to communicate with your clients, customers, service providers, vendors, employees, and contractors.
- Always ask the recipient if it’s a good time to have an IM chat or ask for a better time…at least until you get to know the person well. Then it’s usually okay to barge in and start right off in the conversation knowing your recipient will respectfully halt you if the timing is not good. I’ve been in the middle of conference calls on the phone where I’ll receive an IM. Do I get angered by this intrusion? Of course not! I just politely tell my inquirer that I’m on a call and when to expect a reply. When I am off the call, I can connect to my chatter in seconds by saying “done” or “back” or “off the phone.”
- Be courteous by telling your active IM readers why you might not be able to reply right away. If you’re on the phone, say something as simple as, “Sorry, on the phone for a few.” If you just got into work and turned on your computer only to find a dozen IM messages waiting for you to logon, say, “gimme a few…just getting in.”
- Never start IM chat sentences with capital letters like you would if you were typing sentences in a blog post like this one or some other content for a website. Using capital letters to start sentences just takes too long and carries with it too much potential for spelling errors. I think using capital letters to start sentences somehow formalizes the chat process too and becomes less conversational. Whenever someone new starts chatting with me for the first time, and they start all of their sentences with capital letters, I’m almost always correct that they are new to the IM chat process. And, yes, I think I probably approach my IM conversations a little differently too when I’m sure a person is new to IM chat.
- Don’t bother using capital letters for “I” or first letters of states or countries or probably 90% of what you would normally capitalize. “i live in denver co” is absolutely permissable in IM chats whereas you would never misuse punctuation like that on a website, in social networking or even in an email.
- Be forgiving of misspelled words entered by your chatting partner. Misspelled words are sometimes seen as respectful! Can you believe I just said that? Well, it’s true. If I am chatting with a client and they misspell a word and do NOT spend the extra time to change it, I am usually appreciative. Why? Because, the client has full confidence that I will not think less of them because they misspelled a word. Instead, I’ll be grateful that they respect my time enough to not worry about perfect spelling or sentence structure and fucus on getting their thought across to me in a timely manner. Now, of course, this concept can be taken overboard too. You sure don’t want 5 misspelled words in a single sentence. I’m just saying to not get all offended when someone does type a word incorrectly. They’re just making best use of their time and yours by not requiring every word to be perfect.
- Use commas and multiple periods to connect sentences. For example, consider this reeeealy awkward sentence: “If you were to see printed words in a book, that had nothing but commas, to excentuate pauses in speech, or breaks in a sentence….you’d think i was crazy to publish something like that, right?” In IM, commas in weird places and lots of periods are okay and part of every day communication through Instant Messaging chat.
- Know your homophones and use them properly and correct them immediately if you post them wrong in a chat. A homophone is a group of words that sound identical but mean very different things (and are spelled different too). Here are four examples:
Two, too, and to – Sample sentence: Two of them went to the movie too.
They’re, there, and their – Sample sentence: Their brother went over there and they’re soon going to leave.
It’s and its – Sample sentence: It’s really too bad about its future.
Your and you’re – Sample sentence: Your first step is where you’re going to go forward.
I’ll add in another one here just because it’s so common (and one of my wife’s big pet peeves in writing) but it’s not truly a homophone. Do you know the difference between ‘lose’ and ‘loose’? Here’s a sample sentence to help differentiate the two: If you lose the game, they’ll let the balloons loose. I probably see these two words misused two or three times a day on social media, so I thought I’d point it out as one that gets on peoples’ nerves.
- Be respectful – Don’t start up an IM conversation with someone because you’re bored or looking for a pick-me-up; unless, of course, it’s their job to support you in this manner.
- Abbreviate words but only to the point where your recipient understands them. I’ll use “tho” a lot and “tru” but I deliberately keep my abbreviations to those that everyone knows, for example.
- Don’t end sentences with a question mark…unless you’re asking a question. It just irritates some people for some reason to see sentences like, “I sure wish the sun would come out today?” That’s not a question. And, in the use of IM, a sentence like that could even trigger wonder in your recipient if there was something more to the sentence that was left out. It’s just confusing, so only use question marks in questions that require them.
- Just like what you’ve been hearing about for years about how to write effective emails, STOP USING CAPITAL LETTERS TO EMPHASIZE POINTS!!! IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE YELLING!!! Be very sparing of your use of capitalized words and exclamation points in Instant Messaging conversations. It’s very easy for recipients to get the idea that you’re upset with them personally, when you’re really not, just by the way you craft a sentence. Then you wind up spending the rest of the chat session trying to prove to the person you’re really not upset at them!
- If you really ARE upset with your employee, vendor, service provider, (notice the appropriate use of capital letters) NEVER use IM to battle out a fight. Written words of displeasure will only escalate the situation to outright war. Inevitably, the person you’re chatting with will abruptly leave the conversation once that escalation occurs. There will be no warning. All of a sudden, you will be in mid argument stating your case, and the person’s “away” sign comes on. It’s infuriating to be left like that. I know…it’s happened to me enough times that I’m willing to share my experience here with you publicly in hopes that you don’t make the same mistake. Take my word for it when I say IM is NOT the place to hash out an argument or dispute. Be quick to spot a problem and offer to click the “Call” button on your Skype IM window to initiate a live conversation to hammer it out.
- Use small talk to kick things off. Where most communications and Instant Messenger “experts” will tell you to not use IM for small talk, I’ve found that people are much more at ease to talk about important stuff after they’ve chatted a bit with some small talk. This is the first place in this blog post that I’ll suggest that you really want to start getting to know those you’ll be chatting with. I might start a conversation like this: “are you dug out of that snowstorm yet?” or “can you believe we’re only a week away from spring break again?” Notice how I did not use capital letters to start the sentences? I’ll do that a lot in this document, so don’t be alarmed when you see punctuation with no capital letters.
It doesn’t take too many minutes of conversing at this level before your recipient will be at ease and yet also very responsive to getting down to business. Remember too that most parents love to talk about their kids. Fortunately, I love to hear about kids’ accomplishments! So, it’s pretty easy for me to pick up on a conversation with someone on IM from the day before or the week before with, “i’ve been anxious to hear how your girl did in the swim meet yesterday!…how did it go?” Small talk really sets the mood for a constructive, efficient, creative chat session rather than just jumping into your business agenda immediately. And, it shows you’re a human being with a genuine interest in the well-being of your clients.
- Always begin your conversation with something to show the recipient you’re in a good mood. After all, who wants to chat with a grump? Stressing your discontent in your first line of chat could find yourself waiting a while for a response. I start every IM conversation with my implementation team in the morning with a long spelled out “mooooorning”. When they see that, they know I’m in a good mood and ready to start the day off right.
They’ve also learned if I start the conversation off with “geez” or “good grief” or “can’t believe it” or “must be monday” essentially ANYTHING other than “moooorning” that Marty isn’t in the best of moods so let’s get to it!
- Know what you can ask about and what you should avoid. As a general rule, I will always suggest that you stay away from tabboo subjects like religion and polics. It’s just far too easy to get in trouble with clients and even staff when going into those issues. There’s too much at stake if you allow a normal day to turn into a heated political or religious discussion with a client or helper.
But, now let’s stay on this topic but use a different example. Imagine if your client was out all week for surgery, and they finally appear on IM with a question for you. The temptation might be for you to immediately want a lot of details about the surgery. Or, you might not want to hear about it at all. Just depends on your personality I suppose. But, how much is too much so that you’ll scare your recipient into wondering why you want to know so much? How little is too little to the point your client feels like just a number and you don’t care at all about something important that might be going on in his or her life? These are very important questions you need to ask yourself when you’re chatting with people. And, often you only have a split second to decide. My only advice here is that you have to use your instinct and you really need to know the person you’re chatting with to help make those decisions. Effective IM chatting is much more an art than it is a technology. Phrases like, “everything go okay last week?” or “welcome back!” sure go a long way. Let your recipient be the one to expand. It’s your task to put a limit on the casual discussions and bridge the topic back to work related topics.
- Let consistency work for you. Let’s say, for example, you seem to always be able to chat with a specific co-worker or vendor someone between 8and 10am in the morning. Then, one day the person’s IM displays they’re “away” or “idle.” Try again…send the message anyway because fluke displays appear within IM chat systems sometimes; the person might be there and available even if you think otherwise. Always rely on your instincts and double check to see if the person is truly unavailable if you believe the person is there.
- Use lots of fluff words to reinforce your points. “Woohoo!” is a favorite of mine for sharing in someone’s success and keeps the conversation upbeat with excitement.
- Compliment your recipient with a “nice job” for a job well done or “great idea!” when brainstorming.
- Use emoticons for smiley faces or frowns but don’t get too carried away with this tool. Save your smileys (or frowns) for when you really need to make sure your message is going to be received correctly.
- Use acrotalk that fits your personality. Somewhere, you’ve probably seen LOL (which means “laughing out loud”), ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), brb (be right back). These are known as “acrotalk” and are used to add emotion to your chat conversations. For example, consider this discussion:
ME: “awww, i was sitting in my chair and the arm broke off just now!”
ME: “the other broke off last week, so now my chair has no arms at all”
ME: “i need to get a screwdriver and fix this before I put it off, brb”
- Use other well-known emotional tie-ins to begin and end your sentences. Some of my favorites are “eew” and “ick” for things that are not so good and “yum” and “coolness” for things that are good. “hmmmm” i might use to start conversing about good or bad situations. For example:
“ick, i can’t believe it’s really going to snow saturday again” or “you really got that to work already?? coolness!” or “hmmmm…i wonder how that’s going to work out”
- Abbreviate words where you can but only to the point where your recipient understands the meaning of the abbreviation. Two of my favorites are “haa” (my preference over LOL or ROFL as those just seem to teenager-y for me) and the letter “k” (okay).
- If you’re instructing someone to do something, be overly descriptive and exact. What you are thinking in your mind is almost always not transferred to your fingers in the same amount of detail as your mind is thinking it. Safer to over-describe than to under-describe.
- Correct important mistakes quickly. If you make a mistake in your typed description, add a new line quickly. I like to preface my own mistakes with a “awwwwwww…” or “did i really say that?” This is especially important if you are in a leadership position in your company or communicating to contractor helpers that you keep instructions on a level that’s concise but not abrupt.
- Avoid using curse words. This goes for anywhere online really. There’s no need to use offensive words of any kind in your chat conversations. The occasional “dammm i can’t believe it happened again” or “dude, that was friggin BRILLIANT!!!” is about as close as you want to come to crossing that line. Even misuses of “God, what is happening here!!” can be offensive to some. I haven’t come across anyone being offended by my using “dang it” or “noooooooo not again!!!” or even using characters in place of swearing like “#$@$#$%!!!!” yet so I choose to stick with those.
- If you are “the employee” or the hired contractor and you receive instructions, don’t leave your boss hanging by suddenly leaving for two hours or taking off for the day. Reply as soon as you can that the request is complete or at least that you got the message and that you’re working on the issue. If you can’t attend to it immediately, acknowledge that you’ve seen the request and that there are a few things in line before that issue can be addressed.
You might even recognize the request as a higher priority than anything you’re working on. In that case, ask if it truly is the highest priority. You can make that request in two ways; you can sound snotty about it, even if you’re not intentionally trying to sound snotty. The snotty approach: “I’ve got 8 other things I’m working on that you gave me yesterday and now you’re piling this on me??? Get SAM to do it!!”
The more accepted-by-the-boss approach: “oo, you’re right, that’s an important thing to get fixed right away…probably even more important than the A, B, or C project I’m fiddling with here. Would you agree?”
Remember, the great thing about IM is that it’s in writing. So, if a week goes by and you were pulled off a project to work on something else, you can always use that written request as proof if things at the office get tense.
- Write in single lines or single sentences that wrap around to a second line. You may have a full paragraph worth of description to say. But, break it up into one liners or at least single sentences that cover only two lines. Not only will your content be more easily digested, but you as the writer will appear less frantic too. Here, I’ll give you an example of “frantic.” Read this sentence of how a client might come onto IM with a frantic sounding service request for me:
FRANTIC CLIENT: i need a new addition to my website immediately where the opt-in will show up on the right column so that i can start capturing email addresses and building my list because i hear that is the most important thing on the web is building your list how fast can you get an opt-in onto that right column so that i can start building my list?
See what I mean? It’s just waaaaaay too much text to read, seems like the client is upset or frantic or even desparate. Now read the same thing as presented through one-liners and with using a few suggestions from this list. I’ve placed “SAM the CLIENT” and “ME” before the line to indicate what you would see on an IM chat screen after the chatters hit enter one line at a time:
SAM the CLIENT: yoooo…marty are you around? [hit enter here] ME: mooooornin…yeperooo, what can i help with sam? [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: i need a new addition to my website immediately if humanly possible [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: the website needs an optin added to the right column [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: so i can start capturing email addresses [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: and building my list [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: i hear that’s still the most important thing on the web these days [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: i know, i know, you’ve been saying that for years! haa [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: i’m finally ready to do it! [hit enter here] SAM the CLIENT: what else do you need from me to make that happen? [hit enter here]
- Let your chatting partner finish his or her thought. Hold yourself back from answering questions before the questions are completely described. Yes, I know it’s tempting to barge in to someone’s thought, especially if they’re describing something in one-liners like I’m suggesting. Just be patient and make sure the entry is complete before responding.
- Carefully keep the conversation moving forward. Your conversation will have a sort of rhythm to it. You’ll type a sentence. Your recipient will reply in a certain number of seconds or minutes. After a few back and forth replies, you’ll discover the rhythm of the conversation. If suddenly, you don’t receive a reply for twice as long as that rhythm suggests you should, then ask something nicely to assure you still have a connection. You have to be careful with this one because you don’t want your recipient to feel like you’re being too pushy. Comments like, “Did you do it yet?” or “You’re getting right on that right?” can be easily misconstrued as your being too pushy.
- Use your copy & paste feature to speed up reminding someone what they said earlier in the day or in a chat from a previous day.
- Customize what you copy and paste between IM’s. I often have a conversation where I’ll have one of my implementation team talking about something they just fixed on a client’s website and then I’ll copy and paste their description of what they fixed into the client’s IM conversation. This is a great way to convey accurate information exactly as it was decribed by my, much more technical than I, team members. Just be very careful with that wording as you might want to chop off the part that could be insulting to the client.
- Apologize immediately when you post to the wrong IM window. As you get used to using IM daily, you will eventually find yourself having more than one conversation going at the same time. As a result, you can very easily type in the wrong chat window. Apologize immediately if you post to the wrong IM and get to the next point. I like to tack on some verbal language we’re all familiar with, but typed as a non-verbal filler word. For example, I might type something like, “awwwww, sorry, wrong IM, meant for Donna.”
- Only transfer files through Skype IM if you really have to. Transferring files sometimes clogs chat sessions; and don’t even get me started about viruses. Better to email images, screenshots and files. Also, I have three computers on my desk. I don’t want to save transferred files onto my dedicated chat laptop. Sending emails with attachments gives your recipient the choice of where they would like to save what you’re sending to them.
- If you are asked to do something over IM, reply that you’re working on it. And, when complete, write “done.” It’s short, simple, and it gets the message across.
- Be on the lookout for when a chat should escalate to a phone call or schedule an in-person meeting. IM should not be thought of as a total replacement for one-on-one in person or voice contact. This is particularly the case for sales opportunities. If you use an online chat like I have on the HereNextYear.com site, try to answer questions without attempting to close the sale through IM. I’ve managed to close a few deals through IM, but it takes three times as long and gives the prospect way too much opportunity to bug out. If you see an opportunity where a prospect or an existing customer really needs something you offer, ask that a phone conversation be made to answer questions more efficiently than IM will allow.
- Remember, EVERYTHING is saved. Don’t be too worried if your computer shut off when you were at lunch. Just turn your computer back on and you’ll see the most recent discussions with all the details.
- Remember everything IS saved, so watch what you say. That might sound like a duplicate, but for good reason. We don’t hear this message enough. Be VERY careful what you say on IM chat or anywhere else on the web. Do not chat usernames or passwords. I don’t even write my children’s names in IM or anyplace else on the web. I simply refer to them as “the 14yo” or “the 8yo.”
- Remember, everything is SAVED. Consider your chat content to be usable for blog posts and articles. Keep an ongoing diary or log of topics discussed and ideas and solutions presented. Heck, you could convert many of your actual IM chats into even a book one day! If nothing else, at least transcribe some of the takeaways from your IM chats and save them into a file so that you can refer to them later.
- Know your conversation is being saved…on the other end too. Most IM systems will save an archive of your conversation without any additional setup steps by your chat partner. You can reference a conversation you had even a month or two ago and tell your recipient to go review what was discussed.
- Sign-off from your chat by telling your recipient that you’re leaving. But, “how” you describe that you’re leaving is very important. For example, probably the most inconsiderate way to leave a chat is to just turn off your IM in the middle of a conversation–especially if you’re both working on a specific problem that needs immediate attention. At least complete the discussion and even ask if your recipient feels the conversation is over before pulling the plug. The key to a successful exit is to set an expectation for the discussion. For example, “We can go over this now but just to let you know, I simply MUST be out this door to a meeting in 4 minutes or I’m a dead duck!” sounds a lot better than if I was to say to you, “You got 4 minutes.” Doesn’t reading that sound condescending? Sure does when I read it! So, you have to really be careful how you use words and short phrases in instant messaging. Because it’s very easy for something to be taken the wrong way.
Instant Messaging IM Tips Summary:
Once you see how powerful and time-saving IM is for you, you’ll want to get every client, vendor, service provider you have Skyping with you through IM chat. Upgrade your communication to incorporate IM chat into your daily work life. You’ll be glad you did.
What other suggestions can you provide for using IM chat?
What systems do you use that you prefer and why are they better than Skype IM?
Why have you chosen to NOT us chat of any kind?
Let’s keep this discussion going and remember that I reply to every comment personally. Happy chatting!