There are a number of real-time chat platforms available today, suited to a wide variety of use cases, but only a select few are appropriate as an enterprise communications platform—and fewer still are likely right for your organization. To find the right chat platform for your company, consider these five factors.
(Also, bear in mind that “enterprise chat” typically refers to internal, team-collaboration apps and not “live chat” programs used to interact with customers on your website.)
1. Use Case
The first two things you need to know before selecting a chat solution are:
- What are you chatting about?
- Who are you chatting with?
For example, if you intend to chat with direct sales staff to manage your sales development efforts, that would lead you to a very different chat solution than if you want to chat with your internal engineering teams to collaborate on software projects. For the former, you’d want something that allows robust logging within your customer relationship management, so you can adequately tie it into your conversion metrics. For the latter, you would emphasize ease of file-sharing and the ability to quickly search past posts for specific references. Chatter or Yammer would be candidates for the first use case, Slack or HipChat for the second.
Broad, nebulous goals like “have fewer meetings” or “send fewer emails” are all but impossible to quantify, and thus useless as a means of evaluating potential enterprise chat solutions. Knowing the specific use case and target audience for a chat platform leads you to the feature set best suited for your organization, and thus helps you cull the herd of candidate chat solutions.
For every software solution there is a free option, and you generally get what you pay for with a free app. Facebook Messenger is generally free, but comes with all the built-in distractions of Facebook. A better option is a chat solution that may be free to try—free for a set time period, free for a certain number of users, or free for a certain constrained range of features—so that you can legitimately “test drive” the software before committing to paying for it.
Beyond the free versus paid option, you need to carefully look at the pricing structure of a chat solution. Any platform that rapidly scales up in price as more users employ it will discourage its own adoption. Be certain you can afford your chat system both today, and when it expands to meet the level of organizational growth the chat platform is supposed to help you achieve.
3. Vendor viability
No vendor is guaranteed to be around forever, or support every version of its product. TokBox gave up on its browser-based messenger service when it refocused on its WebRTC platform solution. Yahoo Messenger killed its desktop applications. Google has cycled from Google Talk (replaced) to Google Hangouts (embedded in all Google solutions) to Google Duo (brand new), and it’s unclear which versions will be around for how long. Niche and novice software developers may not survive, or their software may remain buggy due to a lack of enterprise resources. Similarly, major enterprise solution-providers that develop chat platforms as an add-on may lack long-term commitment to the solution. You need to weigh the risks of adoption—and the costs to switch away from a shuttered chat system—appropriately.
Security is often thought of as an adjunct of your desired feature set for a chat platform, but it’s important enough to merit its own distinct evaluation. Like the chat solution as a whole, your security needs are a function of who you’ll be chatting with, and what you’ll be chatting about.
Simply answering sales inquiries from customers? A security-light solution is generally fine, so long as it’s reasonably difficult for a competitor or troll to “spoof” the appearance of one of your own representatives. If you’ll actually complete sales orders in the chat sessions—and take payment information via chat—your security needs will increase.
For most situations, you’ll want a chat app that allows for private messages that can be cordoned off from the general conversation. You may even need the opportunity to go “off the record” and conduct conversations that will not be stored for posterity (or future search and reference). Discussing product strategy or trade-secret computer code with a development team? You’ll want a respectable level of end-to-end encryption like those found on security-specific chat apps such as Text Secure or ChatCrypt.
A mature enterprise chat solution will have a range of configurable privacy options to fit your specific use cases. Be certain you can make messages as private as you need to support the necessary security of your teammates and your customers.
5. Integration options
The point of a chat platform is to be a communications hub, which means your chat solution should be capable of receiving and delivering communications to and from more than just your end-users. A robust chat platform can integrate with other software solutions to receive updates, and can invoke functions of other solutions directly from a chat conversation. The aforementioned Slack is well known for its ease of integration, as is Grove.
For example, Slack can automatically create, consume, and display updates from any major calendar app, upload, download, or even edit documents in your file sync solution, or define, assign, and advance tasks in your project management system.
The most compelling reason to prioritize integration with your enterprise chat platform is the opportunity to leverage so-called bots—automated chat agents that use conversational cues to trigger certain pre-programmed actions. Bots respond to what you type, and certain keywords or word patterns invoke key functions from the bots.
Bots can be as simple as fake personas that post famous quotes or motivational advice in a certain channel every day, to sophisticated assistants that create tasks, remind you of deadlines, and draw in data from other sources to assist with specific workflows. For a prime example of a best-of-breed Slack bot, we humbly suggest our own Talla Intelligent Assistants.
Prioritizing an integration-friendly chat platform—particularly one that has tie-ins to your current productivity solutions, and one that offers the opportunity to leverage the latest bot technology—will ensure that your chat-based team collaboration doesn’t fail due to a siloing of data away from your current workflow.
Adopting the right enterprise chat platform—be it for one-to-one instant messaging or “chat room”-style team collaboration—is no small decision. Using the five factors identified above will ensure you take on the right solutions for your organization.