Instant Messaging — a corporate tool?

From the Smart Mobs weblog comes word about the popularity of Instant Messaging, or IM, as it is usually called. I don’t use IM all that much. But I do use it to contact my daughters, who use it constantly. In fact, if they are upstairs in their room and I’m downstairs I find it easier to just IM them rather than shout up to their room. And if they are at a friend’s house they are usually reachable quickly by IM, although a phone call will work in a pinch.

So what does this IM stuff, which is clearly the province of young people, have to do with corporate culture? Right now, not much. But eventually it will be a mainstream tool. In fact, if you read the PDF download of a recent speech by West Publishing’s President Mike Wilens you’ll see an interesting discussion of IM starting on page 11. West’s support personnel (who are called ‘reference attorneys’) use IM to provide support to law students who use the computerized legal research service Westlaw, and according to Wilens West has gone from providing 100% of their law student support through phone service to only 20%. They now provide 80% of their support to law students by way of instant messaging.

Lest the point be lost, there is apparently a huge benefit to West by providing service in this way. According to Wilens, the West representatives can do 4 to 6 IM sessions simultaneously (of course, we all know that phone sessions are a strictly one-to-one interaction). So if a legal publishing company like West has found efficiencies in using IM to provide support, how long do you think it will be before this becomes a more widespread phenomenon? It’s true it won’t happen on a massive scale anytime soon, but it’s going to happen on a massive scale eventually. My oldest daughter is going into the 9th grade next year. I’ll bet by the time she graduates from college most companies are going to have started using IM to provide tech/customer support. And one can easily envision it happening even faster than that.

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