Getting The Most Out of Chat at Work Without Killing Your Productivity

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Stuart McKeown’s Picture

Stuart McKeown

See how we use chat at Gleam to automate our workflows and help us work faster.

Sometimes you find a service that just fits beautifully with the way that your business works. We came across HipChat in March when they announced that the service was free for teams with less than 5 people.

Prior to this we were using:

  • GTalk to communicate
  • Airbrake / Bugsnag for exception notifications
  • Email for support

We thought that system was working fine for us, but we always had a few underlying issues:

  • Gtalk doesn’t save conversation history, plus since some of us use iPhones the ability to chat remotely is severely limited. The Hangouts app solves this a bit, but it’s still not great (given that it takes over the audio notifications).
  • Airbrake is good if you look at it, there’s a distinct lack of realtime updates that give urgency to fix problems. I personally would never login.
  • Email is good, but often you never know who’s dealing with the request.
  • We could only talk to clients via GTalk/Email or Skype. Arguably we could use something like HelpScout but the volume of requests doesn’t justify it yet.

Enter HipChat, a persistent group chat room for teams. Here’s how we’ve used it to completely overhaul how we interact with each other & with customers.

Private Internal Chat Rooms

We have a few private chatrooms setup, this allows all team members to discuss issues in realtime, attach files or images, plus insert a range of awesome emoticons if wanted.

Public Chat Rooms

We also have a public chat room setup that allows customers to discuss issues in real-time with us. If we’re not around they can ping us & we’ll get a notification.

Public chat history is available to anyone assigned to the room, guests will only see messages from when they enter.

There are a few disadvantges here in that you can’t 1 to 1 message guest users, but it suits us reasonably well right now. Think of it more as a public company IRC channel.

Private Chatrooms For Projects

For external projects with other teams we create a private chatroom, we’ve found it invaluable to be able to communicate effectively with them.

There’s quite a few advantages to doing this:

  • Fast communication between multiple teams
  • Fast feedback loop, rather than email & waiting
  • The file upload allows you to quickly share mockups & concepts
  • Room history means you can technically leave messages for people when they get back

Chat History

This is perhaps one of my favourite things about HipChat. Since everything is stored you can connect to a Chatroom wherever you are & catch up on anything you missed.

You’ll see some of the things we post to our rooms below, but there’s nothing better than waking up in the morning & scanning through your HipChat history to see what’s been happening overnight.

Works Cross Device

With the previous point in mind, one of the reasons HipChat aligned well with the way we work is that you have your Desktop client for your main workstation, then you have a mobile app which allows you to stay connected on the go, then if all else fails you can connect to the web app interface.

Compare this with something like GTalk, I can’t see previous or missed chats on a mobile device because I use an iPhone. For that very reason HipChat now has prime space on my phone homescreen:

Mobile Notifications

You have a number of options to enable SMS notifications from HipChat, this service is even available to free users.

You can essentially whitelist the HipChat number so it wakes you up during the night if that’s your thing 🙂

Awesome Emoticons

There’s over 160 emoticons that you can use in rooms, it may seem trivial but I’ve found that it can really bring some humor & fun to chats. You can also upload your own custom emoticons.

hipchat-emojis

Getting Creative With HipChat

One of the great things about HipChat is the API, you can use this to really get creative & integrate it deeper with your business. Here’s a few ways we use the Room Message API.

Once you configure the API we simply just need to send a call similar to this in Ruby:

room.send('Gleam', "New user: Barack Obama, [barack@obama.com](\"mailto:barack@obama.com\") (New York, NY, USA) from [barackobama.com](\"http://barackobama.com\")", color: "purple")

Bugsnag

I mentioned above that we used to use Airbrake (formerly Hoptoad). Once we start using HipChat we looked for a solution that could post any exception errors in Real-time to our chatroom.

hipchat-bugsnag-1

Bugsnag can post realtime exception notifications directly to a HipChat room of your choice. The error above is us hitting the Bit.ly API limit when shortening URL’s, luckily we were able to put in a fix within a few minutes.

We’ve found that putting exceptions & errors in front of the whole team greatly improves our awareness. We can have a fix deployed within a few minutes & someone will check the Bugsnag notification to see which users might be affected to get in touch.

Github

There’s also a handy Github hook that allows you to post all deploys & issues directly to your rooms.

hipchat-github1

Here’s a recently deploy of our Facebook Tab integration.

If someone on your team opens an issue, comments on it or closes it you’ll also see that get posted to the room. Handy to know when things are being opened/closed/dealt with.

hipchat-github2

Stripe

You can send Stripe web hooks directly into your HipChat rooms, this notifies you of new cards added, transfers & charges. It’s a great morale boost for the team to see this sort of stuff.

hipchat-stripe

Important User Activity Notifications

If you run an SAAS app then new signups are the lifeblood of your business. We use the HipChat API to instantly post to the room when a new user signs up.

hipchat-important-notifications

Signups are particuarly useful for a few reasons:

  • If it’s someone I’ve actively been talking to I can see right away when they signup.
  • If we see someone that might need help, or perhaps could be a larger client we can reach out right away to help

We have a few other important things we like to keep an eye on, new campaign creation & also a 5 minute rollup of entrant activity.

hiphchat-notifications-2

hipchat-notification-3

Support Requests

All of our support & public contact requests get posted directly into the chatroom, this allows us to quickly pick things up & discuss the request before coming back with a response (we also cc it via email).

The great thing about this is – if the issue is development or bug related we can often have a quick bugfix deployed before going back with the support response. This is great for getting everyone involved, rather than waiting a few days on a fix.

hipchat-support-requests

Tests & Production Checks

We have a production test that runs against our platform to check everything works as intended, we post the output of this test to the room. Occassionally this might break after a deploy, or if a critical API we depend on stops responding.

hipchat-prod-check

Backup Status

We send a message to our HipChat room on successful backups. Not a huge deal, but it lets us know if a backup fails or if we notice backups aren’t happening for whatever reason we can fix it.

hipchat-backup-status

Sales & Revenue

How often do you check your revenue inside your CMS? Reduce distractions by posting a rollup of E-Commerce revenue every x period to your chatroom.

Daily Reporting

You could easily create a daily report that gets sent to your room at midnight, detailing all the important metrics from the previous day. You could also build this into an email, but I actually quite like scrolling through overnight activity on HipChat – makes me feel more in touch with what’s going on.

hipchat-daily-reporting

There’s no doubt there’s a lot of stuff here, one could argue that too much for a single chatroom. It’s completely up to you how you segment these messages, if you do a huge amount of volume then having orders / customer activity in a separate room might be more viable.

What things do you or could you post to your room that’d make you better at doing business? Let us know in the comments!

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