B2B Chat - Beneficial or Problematic?

I'm sure that most of you use some sort of Instant Messaging or Chat application.  Personally, I have three.....AOL, Yahoo! and our internal Oracle one.  I use AOL & Yahoo! for friends (luckily, most of my friends use two or more, so I don't have to create and MSN account), and I use the Oracle app for co-workers. 

When I have a question for a co-worker, I usually just ping them via chat: 1-because I can multi-task and 2-for quick questions, it usually takes less time to get an answer than with email or phone (conversation often leads to digression). 

However, for customer and partner interactions, I (and most of us in our group) still use email  and conference calls.  I believe conversations with customers are more formal and usually requires more than one person at a time - while chat seems (true?) to be much more informal and is typically one-on-one.

Several consumer software sites offer chat support from their website as an option to call desk, and my question is does this apply to financial operations as well?  Would you want your collector to be able to IM a customer's payables clerk to answer a quick question regarding a past due invoice?  Would you allow your payables clerk to accept IM inquiries regarding payments and invoices from your suppliers?

I'm of two minds.  On one hand, it could be really quick to get an answer to your question, but on the other, it may become too disruptive for your staff to handle chats with all of your trading partners.  What are your thoughts?  Is B2B chat the future of financial operations, or will it distract from the goals of your finance department?

Comments:

Thanks Joe for posing this question. It's very relevant to a project that's currently on my plate. I'm eagerly anticipating hearing our readers opinions.

Posted by Elise Mattei on April 17, 2008 at 08:04 AM PDT #

Apologies Joe - an opinion from the inside. Its a very tough balancing act - your collector would get an answer extremely quickly relative to an email response. You're providing a better service to your customers or at least a faster service and they get that warm and fuzzy feeling. But if that clerk has 50 collectors asking questions - an exageration I know but they would very quickly become swamped with requests. How do they get their regular work done? If the clerk's manager is not willing to accept that AIMing answers is a valid and measurable use of their time then there's trouble afoot. I think it needs to be a department or company policy of what the support tools need to be for such a case. Personally, I love to talk on the phone but thats cos Im sad and lonely :0) but IM allows you to multitask with multiple folks and their enquiries - if those conversations can be captured, even better or is it? Tim

Posted by Tim on April 17, 2008 at 09:54 AM PDT #

Personally I hate those chat windows on companies websites, you can even have a IM chat with a nurse from my health insurance website. For informal chats, with people I work with or friends IM is fine, but for some reason I can't explain I don't like them for more formal interactions where I am the customer. I would not contact a customer via IM either I don't think - maybe I'm old fashioned!

Posted by David Haimes on April 18, 2008 at 07:14 PM PDT #

I have quickly jotted down the thought came in to the mind as below: Pros: 1. One can get swamped by either phone calls or emails also which have got the same distraction factor. We accept them as formal communication medium. 2. IM facility can have selective access. Like it can only be given to the top 10 customers, platinum customers etc in b2b cases. 3. No harm in providing one more communications mechanism which is very popular, very fast and effective. 4. Today this might be already in place with yahoo, aim, google etc. And yes we already have Salesforce for Google Apps which integrates google talk with salesforce. 5. Saves communications cost. 6. A company where you have all our major business with few customers with whom you need to deal day in day out, IM is very useful. 7. Can act as a support communication medium. 8. Maybe timeslots can be fixed for formal IM. Cons: 1. It may become too disruptive and may affect productivity, concentration etc of the workers. Management will not like this medium. 2. Will not be treated as formal way of communication in business like one can not ask balance confirmation on IM. 3. Only useful for things which can be answered quickly. 4. Critical information flow over the IM is not recommended. My opinion is we can provide this as one more medium of communication. Let the business users decide whether they want to utilize the same. As if utilized with prudence this may rotate the business wheels little faster.

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