Instant Messaging as a Business Tool

Being available and keeping in touch are two tenants to success in any sales/service profession.

When your customers and clients need you, whether to discuss a listing or follow up on a transaction, their satisfaction with your services is often directly related to how accessible they feel you are during the entire home buying and selling process.

This not only explains why technology tools such as the cell phone and email are so important to today's real estate professional, but it also highlights the great potential that Instant Messaging (IM) offers as well.

The idea of using IM to conduct real-time text "chat" through the Internet is not a new concept, and has been popular for personal communications for several years. What is new is the use if IM technology to keep in touch with business contacts and this is a concept that should be embraced and implemented by any busy real estate professional.

The benefits to using IM are numerous:

  1. It is often faster to conduct terse, yet specific, client communications through IM than more verbose voice conversations for dealing with simple follow up and service details, such as confirming a showing or details of a listing.
  2. IM, as opposed to email, can be conducted in "real-time" but messages do not have to be instantly responded to. For instance, a client can send a question via IM and that message will wait until the agent has time to reply.
  3. The proper use of IM technology can reduce your reliance on time consuming tasks such as checking email and voice mail.

Despite it's advantages, there can be a tendency for IM to interrupt and interfere with important business at hand, so it's good to have a few "IM rules" in place in order to ensure that use of this technology leads to greater productivity and not the opposite.

  1. Configure your IM software to only allow communications from specific users (often called Buddies) as you cannot afford to have your IM account accessed by just anyone on the Internet.
  2. You need to manage your current "Buddy list" so that it is always current, removing those individuals who are no longer actively looking to buy or sell so that you'll never be distracted by non-business conversations.
  3. You may want to include loan officers and title officers that you frequently work with during transactions.
  4. Make sure that when you add anyone to your Buddy list, you also make it clear to them that you only use IM for business matters. Ask them to call or email when they want to discuss personal or non-urgent matters.

Carefully adhering to these suggestions will almost certainly lead to enhanced productivity. On the other hand, ignoring these basic work rules generally will result in IM becoming a daily distraction that can cost you time and productivity.

Which Network to Use?

On of the inconveniences of IM is that customers and clients will likely use a variety of IM networks. Most will belong to either MSN, AOL, ICQ or Yahoo. Unlike email, these are not interoperable and because you never know which network a future prospect might use, you'll likley have to subscribe to all four.

That said, there are IM software solutions that will allow you to communicate on all four of these popular IM systems.

Three well-known solutions for this are Everybuddy, Trillian and Odigo, which can be downloaded and installed from:

http://www.everybuddy.com/en/index.php

http://www.trillian.cc/

http://www.odigo.org/

Keep in mind that while these programs allow you to communicate using AOL, ICQ, Yahoo and MSN Messenger, you still need to subscribe to each of these IM networks individually, obtaining a username and password for each.

Once you have done so, you can then use any of these three IM software packages to communicate on all four of the leading IM systems and that will certainly make keeping in touch much easier.

Website Chat

While standard IM technology will serve you well when communicating with existing customers and clients, you should also consider implementing chat technology on your web site itself so that prospects you don't already know can establish real time IM chat's with you as well.

Offering a Web site visitor the opportunity to ask a question though such a convenient and non-threatening medium will go a long way to converting visitors into prospects and then into clients.

Popular tools that can easily be integrated into your existing web site come from companies such as Groopz, Live Person and Live Helper, among others.

Their web sites, where you see these technologies in action, and also download necessary software are:

http://groopz.com

http://www.liveperson.com

http://www.livehelper.com

In addition to being able to communicate with online prospects, these services also allow you to send pre-prepared messages (helpful for answering common questions) and even to manually direct the visitor's browser to the specific pages on your site that have the information that they're seeking.

However, unlike consumer IM networks, which are free, these systems do have a montly cost, that depends on how many simultaneous connections you wish to support. For an individual agent, the cost would be in the $100 per month range, but this would allow as many software installations as you might need (home, office, assistant, etc) but only one open conversation at a time.

For the agent (or office) that implements such a convenience, and at a cost that's not much more than a short Sunday one-day classified ad, this technology is sure to pay for itself over and over again.

Regardless of how much IM technology you currently use, all trends for the future point to the simple fact that you will likely use much more in the future; and that your productivity will improve because of it.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale