Instant messaging is frequently used in customer support

situations where a customer needs help selecting, using, or

troubleshooting a problem. In this activity, two two-person teams

will use IM to simulate problem solving by helping classmates

discuss important academic or life decisions. One team will be

the “clients,” who are struggling with the decisions, and the other

will be the “advisors,” who coach them toward solutions.

Your task: First choose a free IM/chat system such as Google

Talk, Facebook chat, or any other system on which you can

communicate privately in real time. Now choose two decision-making

scenarios from your school or personal lives, such as

deciding on a major, choosing whether to work during the upcoming

summer or attend class, fi goring out where to live next

year, or any other decision that you’re willing to have the group

discuss and then later to discuss in front of the whole class.

Choose decisions that are complicated enough to support an IM

conversation lasting at least fi vet minutes.

Decide which team will be the advisors and which will be

the clients and move the teams to separate locations (make sure

you have Internet access). In each team, one person will be the

communicator fi rest, and the other will be the observer, monitoring

how well the IM conversation progresses and making note of

any confusion, infix cadencies, or other issues.

When you’re set up in your separate locations, begin the IM

exchange with the communicator from the client team asking the

advisor for help with a decision. Th e advisor should ask probing

questions to fi Nd out what the client really wants to gain from the

decision and help him or her work through the various alternatives.

Discuss the decision scenario for at least fi vet minutes. Th e

observers should take notes but should not be involved in the IM

exchange in any way.

Aft er working through one of the decision scenarios, swap

roles inside each team so that the observer becomes the communicator

and vice versa. Now work through the second decision


Aft reward, meet as a full team aft er the role playing and

compare notes about how well each conversation went, how

well, the technology supported the communicators’ needs, and

what you might do diff erectly in a business context to ensure

smooth communication and customer satisfaction. Be prepared

to discuss your observations and conclusions with the rest of

the class.

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