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Small Business Takes On IM

Instant messaging is gaining favor as a business tool.

Is e-mail the new snail mail? Some tech-savvy entrepreneurs think so. IM is growing up as an effective business tool. A variety of business-strength IM tools have reached the market, including AIM Pro from AOL and open source solutions like Wildfire from Jive Software. "We see IM adoption in younger, more technically savvy companies. People have realized it is a legitimate business tool," says Matt Tucker, CTO and co-founder of Jive.

There are benefits to moving from a consumer-oriented public IM service like Yahoo! Messenger or MSN Messenger to an industrial-strength version. "You get the ability to control [it] and have security around it, better features and a better experience," says Tucker. It's also a great way to make remote workers feel more connected to the main office. It's no surprise, then, that this technology is working its way into more creative business applications.

Pizza.net, a pizza-ordering search engine with more than 62,000 restaurants listed, has 13 employees who rely on IM to communicate with each other. The company maintains its own IM server that handles thousands of customers, who receive an IM notification when their orders are confirmed. Pizza.net is also testing IM as a way to reach customers during the ordering process. If a customer seems to be having trouble, the company contacts him or her through IM to offer assistance. "Customers now almost always complete the order process," says Pizza.net's co-founder Adam Reiser, 44. It's a concept that other growing businesses can consider as a way to reach out to clients and increase customer satisfaction without waiting for e-mail or clogging up phone lines.

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This article was originally published in the December 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get the Message.

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