Online Chat and Text Programs Making Communication Easier

Text and chat programs have become tools that can easily be used for plumbers to communicate with team members and customers

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SMS, often called text messaging, has been around since 1992. Since then, it has been flourishing as a communication medium between family and friends. However, this historically casual form of communication is becoming more popular in the business world. 

Nowadays, most people don’t think twice about receiving a business text message. Once smart phones became ubiquitous and the vast majority of billing plans included unlimited texts, the shift occurred. 

Business to consumers

Service plumbing is a mobile and appointment-based, making SMS customer communications particularly appealing to our industry. Appointment confirmations and reminders, estimated arrival time texts, and requests for reviews are common for plumbing companies.

More robust field management software programs, like ServiceTitan, have these features built in and automated, decreasing the workload of the office staff. 

SMS marketing is also growing. Here’s an example: Text “PLUMBER” to 8675309 to receive a free camera inspection!

This form of marketing is relatively new. Advocates claim that consumers read nearly 100% of texts and like that texts are cheap to send. Essentially, their argument is high visibility for a few dollars, giving SMS marketing a high return on investment.  

However, studies are still out about how consumers feel about text marketing. Younger consumers seem to prefer text marketing to email marketing. For the brave out there who like trying new ideas, let the rest of us know how that goes!

Regardless of how brave you get in your business-to-consumer text communications, be sure you are following the rules. 

Actually, in the U.S., there are laws governing text marketing and text message privacy. Much like email, spamming contacts and sending texts without permission is a big no-no. There is a whole alphabet soup of federal agencies that monitor and regulate text communications. 

Be sure to get explicit approval to send text messages to your customers. Having their number in your database is not implied consent. If you want to read up on these laws, the big one in the U.S. is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Business to employees

Millennial workers expect employers to communicate with them via text. In fact, a growing number of employees prefer and expect mobile-first communication. 

For some older employees and managers, this may be frustrating. There are, however, some advantages to text communications. 

Speed is one advantage. It’s much faster to text a group of employees about a weather delay or morning meeting than to call everyone individually. Time-stamped documentation is another enormous advantage. Much like email, you can often see a read-receipt on a text message.

Most people would agree that conversations shouldn’t take place over text — don’t discipline or explain ideas over SMS. However, much like with consumers, texting is great for reminders, quick updates, FYIs and other productivity boosting communications. 

The rules and limitations that guide consumer communications don’t apply to employees, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be clear about policies and expectations.

CHAT

Chat communication — or instant messaging, if you are old-school — is about as old as the internet itself. It started gaining popularity in 1996 with programs like ICQ and AIM. 

Chat never really went away, but some new technology and programs have made it easier for businesses to implement chat for marketing and internal communications. 

Business to consumers

Facebook Messenger has been a game-changer for small businesses to connect directly with their consumers in a quick and less obtrusive way. While custom website chat programs have been available for a fee, these programs weren’t too interesting to most plumbers. 

Messenger is widely used touting over a billion users per month. There is a benefit to using software that is familiar to your consumer and works on desktop or mobile. It’s free to install on most websites and connects directly to the business Facebook page you are likely already managing. 

Besides being able to install a Messenger widget on your website, you can dig into some advanced options on Facebook and really take advantage of the technology for marketing. 

Chatbots are available that mimic one-to-one conversations and guide a customer through common questions and answers. You can run ads that prompt the user to start a conversation with you and book appointments right in the app. 

Dedicated chat services are also popular in the plumbing industry. Several options exist with various special features including artificial intelligence, 24/7 live response, and seamless desktop to mobile experiences. Depending on your customer demographics, you might find chat a popular option and smart marketing tool.  

Business to Employees

Chat in a business environment is nothing new for office workers. Cubicle workers have long embraced this tech. New options on the market have widened the possibilities in the past few years. Slack, for instance, has some really powerful tools with the ability to organize conversations, advanced search filters, and built-in collaboration tools. 

There is no reason field workers couldn’t be included in a well-organized Slack environment. The key is to keep your “channels” — the defined chat spaces — clear and minimize chatter on “general” channels that everyone can see.  If not, at some point, the notifications become overwhelming and get tuned out.

Slack has a well-earned reputation for integrating with other online tools. You can create to-do lists, share documents, and even use Slack for payroll time keeping by connecting other free and paid tools within your setup. 

Worth mentioning are Microsoft Teams and G Suite, which work more like traditional chat apps. For an office-only setting, these tools can help cut down on disruptive phone calls and desk “pop-ins” that increase the overall noise level of an office environment.

Technology is constantly changing the landscape of communication. Both personally and in business, the most important thing to remember is that we communicate often and clearly with customers and coworkers.  

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Anja Smith is the managing partner at All Clear Plumbing and writer/speaker at Tradebiz Toolbox. Contact Anja at www.tradebiztoolbox.com.



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