The Art of the Modern Conference Call

A guide to the types, uses for, and ways to make the most of group collaboration technology

Communication to a business is the key component to making it function well.  With it, the individual people in your circle (vendors, sales, I.T., customers and management) can all function as a single unit and accomplish more than the pieces.  Without it, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”  The types of business communication over the years have evolved from the pony express to telegraph communications, to the invention of the telephone which led to voicemail, the Internet, e-mail, and now to full blown voice and video communications across the globe.  Conference calls are a key component of business communications today, and have been a part of business since before World War II, in the form of “party lines”.  Their use in the corporate environment is undisputed as a powerful tool to improve the organizations overall communications.

For many businesses, conference calls remain a mystery.  Almost everyone in business today has participated in or hosted a private conference call.  Yet most know very little about how to receive the maximum benefit of these forms of communication, especially the newer types such as web-conferencing, application sharing, and video-conferencing.  The companies that are using these technologies see them as an invaluable part of their organization, a time and money-saving tool, and as a part of their corporate culture.  By analyzing an individual business need for voice-conferencing, web-conferencing, and video-conferencing, small, medium, and large companies alike can see significant improvements in the overall flow of information through a company.

Audio Conference Calls
The simplest level of multi-party conference call services is the Audio Conference calls.  Traditionally, the parties call into a toll-free number, enter some sort of validation PIN number, and are placed into a virtual “conference room” where they can all speak.  In this way, a customer, a vendor, and the business can all speak together in a free exchange of ideas and information.  The more advanced conferencing bridges, such as ones provided by services such as AccuConference add extremely useful features, such as automatic recording of the conference, the ability to mute and un-mute individual conference participants, the ability to schedule calls and dial out to other people during the call, and some technically advanced tricks, such as DTMF clamping (which allows voices to be heard in the call, not touch-tones).  Properly utilized, all of these features can make a conference call more productive.
To illustrate the uses for these advanced features, we can use the example of a traditional sales call with a potential customer.  The call can be recorded so that any questions that may arise can be reviewed at a later date.  During the call, the customer may have some more advanced question that would require a technical member of their team.  By utilizing the dial-out feature of some of the more advanced conference call services, a technical support person can immediately be brought into the call.  Should more than one customer be on the call, and one is on a cell phone with lots of background noise, services such as AccuConference provide a web-based interface that allows the business to monitor the call live, see which participants are causing the noise into the call, and mute them by clicking a button in their browser.  Touch tones are automatically muted through the DTMF clamping, providing a crystal clear phone call with the potential customer.  As most sales organizations will attest to, getting the right person in the future consumer’s organization on the phone is the most difficult part.  With an old-style two-way phone call, the example above would have ended when the customer had more technical questions.  The sales person would have most likely “have to get back to you on that”.  The customer hangs up and the image is set in their mind that some of their time has been wasted.

Services such as AccuConference are even beginning to offer new products that allow sales staffers to have their own private 800 number.  This number can be forwarded to a cell phone, a home phone, or an office phone, and can record every phone call automatically.  No more fumbling for a pen in rush-hour traffic to take a customer’s message down.  No more missed calls because the customer called the office line instead of the cell phone line.  With this advanced “800 forwarding” service, the sales person can bring additional people into the call (such as the technical staffer above) to assist in the sales call.  These are invaluable features that every sales person should be equipped with, and at such a minimal cost, even one sale a month more than pays for the very reasonable service fees.

Audio conference calls can also be used in a larger scale.  AccuConference has the ability to have hundreds, even thousands of participants on a phone call.  For larger companies, these can be a required part of doing business as a publicly traded company, such as for mandatory quarterly investor calls.  For smaller companies, it can serve as a place for a focus group of several customers to come together, or as a training hotline for new clients.  An audio conference can be extremely flexible and extremely powerful to business organizations of any size.

Web Conference Calls
Once a business has begun to realize the benefit that audio conference calls provide to their company, more advanced needs can form.  The most commonly used feature of web-conference is application sharing, such as a business employee sharing a PowerPoint TM presentation with prospective customers.  In the wake of 9/11, air travel is becoming a costly expense to many businesses, both in the cost of the travel, and the time required.  Delays at airports, rental cars, hotels…  A typical business trip to present to a client can take 3 days out of the work week.

The simple solution to this is to evolve the audio conference call into a web conference.  Current service providers, such as AccuConference provide the ability (AccuConference is no additional charge!!!) to project a PowerPoint TM slide show to multiple parties via the Internet.  The AccuConference service does not require any software on the business computer, or on the client computer.  Simply go to AccuConference’s website, upload your PowerPoint TM presentation, and click to share it with the client.  AccuConference refers to this service as “insight Web Conferencing”, and includes advanced features such as the ability to chat via an online interface, poll a group of customers with a question, and when combined with the audio conferencing, can offer a very reasonable substitute for travel.  In some ways, it is superior to air travel, in that far less time is wasted “organizing” the event.  Travel requires setting aside a conference room, scheduling conflicts, time that has to be spent in the office, and the added cost of hosting a face-to-face event.  A web conference requires only that everyone have a computer, a phone, and an Internet connection.

Technical companies that sell software products may need to share other applications besides PowerPoint TM.  These more advanced features require that additional software be downloaded, and typically cost more than the PowerPoint TM conference.  AccuConference offers Meeting Central® which provides the highly-advanced features required by some more technical companies.

Video Conference Calls
Should a company require the more advanced features that web conferencing requires, the ultimate evolution of business communications is the video conference call.  This extends audio communications even further by displaying a moving picture of some or all people on the conference call.  These types of calls can be extremely helpful in large settings by providing users with a video of the person speaking, helping them to connect with the speaker.  For smaller calls, multi-point video (each person can see all of the other people) can be an added benefit, and, as Rob Anderson of AccuConference states: “Video conferencing adds accountability of paying attention to the meeting.”  The downsides of video conferencing are that it requires each participant to have a high-speed Internet connection, a web camera connected to their computer, and special software (provided for free by AccuConference) for utilizing the video features.  Audio can also be transmitted through the Internet, but typically, the quality degrades and better communication can be achieved by using a hybrid solution of a telephone audio call, combined with a video web call.  Utilizing this blended service allows customers that do not have a web camera or high-speed Internet connection to still participate in the call, and people with more advanced technologies can receive the full benefits that video conferencing can provide.

These features can be extremely useful in a small-business environment as well.  One of the criticisms of a conference call is that you lose the “personal” touch that face-to-face meetings can provide.  By implementing a video conference call solution, a small-business can add back some of the “face-time” that they want, while not adding the cost of air or land travel to the client.  Using (or at least having available) the more advanced technologies shows a client that your company is on the leading-edge of technology, and that their business is important enough to you to spend the extra money on a professional communications technology.  With AccuConference, you can have the best of both worlds – professional communications at budget prices.

With the fast-paced environment that we live in, communications technology will continue to change.  Mobile devices, such as text-messaging, mobile web browsing, and wireless Internet are pushing the advances in the world faster than most companies can keep up with.  Audio conference calling has been very mainstream for years in a business environment, and web and video conferencing are catching up quickly.  By choosing to implement these technologies, a small, medium, or large company can show potential customers both that they are willing to spend the money to save their clients time, and that they are using current technology in their everyday business practices.  If your company is not using these techniques today, then give a company such as AccuConference a call.  AccuConference provides trained and friendly customer service staffers that will listen to the needs of your company and help you to find better ways to communicate, using the technologies that are now very readily available.  AccuConference is available at 1-800-977-4607, via the web at http://www.accuconference.com, and also via live Internet chat on their website.  Call today to see a demo of these technologies at work, and to find out how your business can benefit as much as your competition’s probably already is.

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