IT intelligence: messaging services

Sue Fidler says instant messaging services can be a good helpdesk alternative.

Many charities manage telephone helpdesks, and many more probably wish they could. The issue for the voluntary sector is normally a lack of resources.

Email is a good alternative because responses can be condensed by answering many emails in one 'offline' session. But email doesn't feel very personal, and the user always suspects they are receiving canned answers. A once-a-day response, though practicable, also means the user does not get rapid feedback.

A newer alternative is to use a built-in instant message service through your website, known as 'live chat'. Some versions are available for as little as £10 a month, or can be installed on your web server.

Users can open the messenger without making any downloads or installing special software. They can then write instant messages to the support desk. The communication is more rapid than email, frequently more informal and feels like real person-to-person communication. It also has the benefit of anonymity, beyond even that of a phone call.

In the office, you can have a frequently-asked-questions crib sheet from which to copy and paste answers. You can also store and audit the chat and record how many people log on per session.

More importantly, one person can handle multiple users at the same time as people take time to read and respond. Live chat software condenses all the users on to one screen and flashes an alert when there is a new message, allowing staff to continue with other work when nobody logs on.

If all your staff are busy, the system will display a message to that effect.

So for a free, personal, anonymous, secure and instant helpdesk, consider adding live chat software to your website.

- Sue Fidler is an independent charity consultant

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