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Chatting for business? Apply these rules
Sunder Ramachandran
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July 25, 2006

23-year old Amita Pandey, a technical support executive with a BPO in Delhi, troubleshoots common computer problems for her company's UK-based customers. She communicates with them online, using MSN's chat service.

Online chat, traditionally used to make friends or stay in contact with them, is fast emerging as an effective tool for business communication. It enables you to chat with clients, colleagues or your boss who may be based in India or abroad. It is fast, cost-effective, can involve audio or video to communicate ideas and, best of all, functions in real time.

However, irrespective of whether you use Rediff Bol, Yahoo or MSN messengers, there is etiquette to be maintained while chatting with a client or colleague. This is especially important when you have never seen the person you are chatting with, considering you need to make a good impression and build a rapport.

Create an identity

When choosing a nickname, avoid jazzy ones like 'Cool-dude 24' or 'Sweetie-pie'. Keep it business-like and simple.

If your name has already been taken, try adding a unique number in front of it. For instance, add your vehicle number in front of your name (Amit 0748) to make it as unique and easy to remember as Amit_sales, if you work in the sales department.

Availability status feature

All IM applications allow you to set your status -- for instance, 'Available', 'Away' , etc. Some also let you customise messages like 'I am in a meeting until 2.30 pm'. If you are set to 'Available' but are away from your computer, you may upset people waiting for a response, so don't forget to update your messenger's status.

Be polite

You won't be judged by the colour of your skin, eyes, hair, your weight, age or clothing. Not even your accent. You will be judged only by the quality of your writing.

Say 'Goodbye', 'Thanks for your time', 'Good day' or some other greeting, and wait for a farewell from the other person before terminating a chat session. You can politely refuse a customer's unreasonable demand, empathise with a colleague, and apologise to your boss, sound polite, professional and courteous with the right choice or words. Here are some standard chat phrases you can use:

. How may I help you today?
. Thank you for being so patient
. We value your inputs
. I'll get right back to you
. I'm glad I could help you
. Would you like me to review anything else with you?
. I'll take care of that right away

Fonts, text, colour and animation

TYPING YOUR MESSAGES IN UPPERCASE is considered rude -- it gives the impression that you are shouting or being aggressive. If you are a slow typist, stick in lowercase. Be careful with your font size. Don't use a size 22 font when a size 10 will look a lot better. While choosing a font, stick to something conservative like Arial or Times new roman in black letters, as opposed to Monotype Corsica characters in hot pink.

It is annoying and distracting to use animation in a business chat. It does not portray professionalism either on your part or that of your organisation, so save it for personal conversations.

Language and tone

During a business chat, spelling, grammar and tone count.

Let your tone be positive. Use pronouns like I, We, etc. to add a positive tone. Say, 'When you complete the report' instead of 'If you complete the report.' The latter sounds aggressive and may put someone on the defensive.

Begin all new sentences with capital letters, capitalise all proper nouns, and do not forget to capitalise the pronoun 'I', irrespective of where you use it in a sentence. Beware of spelling errors. Keep a list of most commonly mispronounced word pairs within your reach or paste it on your workstation. For instance, principle/ principle, their/there, advice/advise, etc.

Jargon, slang, abbreviations

When used in a live chat and instant messaging conversation, this can help reduce keystrokes, but may come across as unprofessional to the person you are communicating with.

Until you get to know a person better, or see them using the same lingo, it is best to steer clear of slang like LOL (Laughing out loud), BRB (Be right back), JAM (Just a minute) and emoticons. If the other person isn't familiar with the lingo, it may confuse them.

You can use abbreviations that are acceptable and comprehensible by both chat partners. These include COB (Close of Business) or EOD (End of the day). Look at the Chatter's Jargon Dictionary for a comprehensive list of abbreviations and emoticons. And yes, do proofread your text before hitting the 'Enter' key. In situations where emotions are running high, one wrong word can turn a difficult situation into an explosive one.

If, at any point, you accidentally have hit the 'Send' button before proofreading your text, send a correction message highlighting the correction. A quick apology and correction will show that you care.

Listen, and pay attention

Use words like 'okay', 'alright', 'sure', 'definitely', 'great', 'absolutely', etc. to imply that you are listening. You can also use phrases like 'I hear you', 'I'm listening, please go ahead', or 'I understand what you are saying' to acknowledge the other person. Steer clear of slang like 'mmhh' and 'ah' to show you are listening -- it sounds unprofessional.

Making the other person repeat himself or herself gives the impression that you are not being attentive. It helps to be complimentary during a chat. For example, if a client asks a difficult question, instead of replying with 'No clue', answer with something like 'Good question, Mr Sharma. Hold on for a minute and I'll find out.' The few extra keystrokes are worth it.

Avoid multiple chat sessions, especially while chatting with clients or your boss. You may miss an important point in the other person's messages or lose the gist of the conversation.

Humour? Use caution

Humour is very culture specific. There are all sorts of cultural and personal differences among people from different places, so what may seem funny to you may be considered weak or even offensive to others.

For example, if you are chatting with an American client, 'LOL' is acceptable. However, a British client may take offence because they tend to be more formal.

Give people enough time to respond. 'Machine gun' messaging is a good way to get people to ignore you in future. Multiple questions sent to a recipient before they have had a chance to answer can seem more like an interrogation than a conversation.

A business chat can be a great way to build relationships with colleagues and clients. Getting 'chat smart', then, is something you should work towards as quickly as possible.

The writer works as a Trainer with a leading global BPO.

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Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: Nice Article

However I am already following these rules but I have learned a few more thing by reading this article. Thanks a lot! Jaspal ...

Posted by Jaspal

Sub: Feedback

Thank you for the article... I have myself lost a chance of getting a job because I made some spelling mistakes in the online form ...

Posted by Abha Agarwal

Sub: chatting for work? Top rules

Dear Sir, Ever since I started using Internet, I am an ardent user of your Esteemed "". Many have come, many have gone and many ...

Posted by S Ravi Kumar


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