You have a variety of options when it comes to choosing your conferencing technology. It can be overwhelming to figure out which option is the best solution for your needs – a simple free service or a robust, all-inclusive platform? The last thing you want is to end up stuck in an iron-clad contract after making the wrong choice. To ensure you make the right decision for your business, we’ve outlined what to look for when researching and choosing a conferencing service.
What are your conferencing needs?
An important place to start when evaluating potential conferencing solutions is to understand your business needs and determine if and how they are currently being met.
Is this your first conferencing solution? Or are you already using a conferencing service but looking to change? What issues are you currently experiencing that you need to resolve? If you already have a service provider, then it’s important to identify why you’re considering alternative solutions.
Nearing the end of a yearly contract is a good time to assess if your current service is meeting your needs or if it is time to shop around. Often this decision is driven by pricing and the competitiveness of potential solutions. Another reason for switching conferencing services is if your team is unhappy with your current solution. Ask them to evaluate their experience so you can search for a platform that meets their needs. Are certain features not available? Is it too complicated to use? Have you experienced issues with the service and support? When determining the needs of your company, you’ll want to consider both the current needs and what may be needed in the next 2–5 years.
Considerations when identifying conferencing service requirements
- What capabilities are needed? How will your teams utilize the platform? Are you looking for audio-only conferencing, or do you need a suite of capabilities including options such as screen sharing and video conferencing?
- What is your call volume? Determine how many people will need to use the solution. Consider both the average and the maximum number of host users, as well as the average and the maximum number of participants on each call. Do you expect these numbers to increase over the next 2–5 years? If so, you’ll either need to choose a scalable solution or select one that will cover your estimated future volume.
- Are there integration requirements? Do you have any internal processes or technologies that the conference service will need to integrate with? If so, you will need to partner with a provider who will work with your company to develop any necessary functionality and features for your business.
- What is the service area? Do you have multiple locations country-wide, or worldwide that need to all use the same integrated service? Do you have remote employees in other geographic regions who will need to use the service? If you answered yes to either of these questions, it’s critical to select a service that can accommodate domestic and international conferencing.
- Do calls need to be recorded? Not all conference services offer the ability to record your conference calls. So, when selecting a service, you will need to determine how important this functionality is to you.
- Will you need transcriptions? As with recording, not all solutions offer this capability. Will you require call transcripts for any of your conferences?
- Are there security requirements to take into consideration? At what level of encryption will you need to ensure your conference calls and company data are safe from hackers, spam, malware, and viruses? How will a proposed conference solution integrate with your current firewalls? If you will be using screen sharing services with external third parties will the service provide the necessary levels of both access and security?
When assessing your company’s needs and answering these questions, it’s important to consult with the relevant people within your company, so that nothing critical is overlooked. Speak with your team and regular users about the capabilities and key features they need. Contact the IT Department regarding onboarding, security, and integration with current systems and processes.
You can ask the Office Manager or Executive Assistant about current call volumes and reporting and billing needs. And check with HR about potential company growth and how that may change volume requirements over time. HR can also provide insight into service areas, and any company or legal requirements regarding call recordings and transcripts.
Which business constraints can influence conferencing?
After identifying how the solution should meet your needs, it’s important to assess any constraints you’re facing as a company. After all, there’s no point in evaluating solutions that are not feasible for your business.
Some common constraints that may be applicable when selecting your conference calling service
- Budget. What is your initial budget for purchasing a conferencing solution?
- Support requirements. What level of service support will you need from your provider? Does the service require IT support to maintain and manage? Are you willing or able to hire internal personnel to oversee and manage the service? Or do you need an end-to-end service that provides adequate consumer support? How many account administrators will you need?
- Timing constraints. Do you have any timing constraints when it comes to installing and implementing your new conference solution? Is there a deadline for how quickly the service needs to be up and running? For instance, is your current contract ending in 30 days? If so, you’ll need something implemented quickly enough that there is no gap in service.
Having a clear understanding of constraints: budget, support and time allows you to quickly rule out potential options that don’t fit your topline needs without having to spend a lot of time digging deep to research them. For instance, once you know what your budget is, you can immediately rule out anything that is too costly without having to spend any time reviewing features and functionalities.
Identifying Conferencing Service Options
Once you have a clear understanding of your mandatories and constraints it’s time to start identifying your options. There is a multitude of conferencing services in the marketplace, but now you’re in a position to intelligently narrow down your choices. You’ll want to develop a shortlist of potential platforms that appear to meet all of your needs while being within your budget and providing the support services that you require.
In order to arrive at this shortlist, you can start compiling a Google search list of reviews of the best conference call services. From reviews and product sites you should be able to quickly identify which solutions do not fit your criteria. Omit those providers and identify 3 or 4 that seem like they may fit your criteria based on your initial research. Once you’ve selected these 3 or 4 services, request a demo from the sales team of each solution. This will allow you to check out the service features in detail and confirm if they meet your needs.
It’s a good idea to include a variety of people on the demo so that you get a broad perspective of the usability of each service. You can ask your evaluators to rate each tool on the following criteria, on a scale of 1–5.
- User-experience. How easy was the tool to navigate? Was the dashboard easy to understand and use? Was the functionality intuitive? For example, was it easy to mute and unmute your line?
- Training. How detailed is the service? How many advanced features are there that people will need to be trained on? For the average employee, will the service require extensive onboarding? Is the system intuitive enough that it does not require more than a demo for training?
- Support. What was your impression of the sales/ support team? Were they available to answer questions? Were they knowledgeable? Helpful? Friendly?
- Extras. Are there any valuable extras that the service offers? In other words, are there features that are not in your “must-have” list but that are attractive enough to put one solution above the others in the case of a tie?
Once everyone has evaluated the demos, cross out any conferencing solutions that failed to meet one of your needs, and then rank the rest based on the team’s feedback. Whichever solution had the highest score is your winner!
Implementing Your Conferencing Service
Even the best solution can lead to buyer’s remorse if it isn’t implemented successfully and adopted by the team. As part of your selection process, make sure you choose a service that integrates with existing tools and processes.
Ensuring end-user adoption
- Implementation time. Is the conferencing tool up and running on schedule? Has it been successfully integrated with your current processes and tools?
- Training. Has training been completed for all necessary employees? Was training sufficient? Are users finding the solution confusing or difficult to use? Keep in mind that training requirements will vary based on the tool you chose, as well as user needs. Some solutions are very intuitive and will need very little training.
- The frequency of use. How often are people using the new conferencing service? Are certain individuals or teams not using it or having more difficulty with the service than others? Are there certain features or functions that people are struggling to adopt? Do additional features need to be added to the service to increase usability and use?
- Overall impression. After two months, what is the general impression of the new solution? If it replaced another service how does this new service compare?
One of the fastest and easiest ways of evaluating integration and adoption is by administering a short survey or poll of your employees. For instance, use a tool like Survey Monkey to create a free employee survey based on these questions. Using their feedback, you can identify any problem areas and address any concerns which will allow you to improve the overall adoption rate of your new solution.
Monitoring Long-term Success
Once your new service is up and running, there is still a risk of buyer’s remorse occurring down the road. After all, if you don’t monitor the long-term success of your solution, you could run into problems later, especially if the service cannot scale with your business. Regular monitoring will also help ensure new employees are smoothly onboarded, and that employees continue to gain value from the solution.
Considerations for ensuring long-term conferencing success
- Return on investment (ROI). Can you monitor and weigh the service value vs. cost, so that you can understand your return on investment (ROI)? If you chose a solution that costs more than the competition, you want to ensure you’re getting more value from it.
- Error monitoring. Are you tracking any errors, issues, downtime or other service problems? It’s important to understand any recurring issues and identify the root cause. Is there a lack of service support from the conferencing company? Or, do new employees just need system training?
- Usage monitoring. Does the system provide adequate tracking and reporting? It’s important to monitor call volume, the frequency of calls, call range, and usage by team or department. With the proper information at hand, the conferencing sales team can help you identify which type of conferencing plan is best suited to your company’s needs.
As with initial adoption, surveys of employees are a quick and easy way to monitor long-term success. Implement an annual survey to assess employee satisfaction with the conferencing service, and to discover any areas that may need extra attention.
Buyer’s remorse is never a good experience. Thankfully, with the use of this assessment process, you won’t have to worry about whether you made the right choice for your business. You’ll feel confident that you’ve asked all the right questions and chosen the conferencing service that is perfect for your needs.
Conferencing Service Evaluation Checklist
- Does the conferencing platform provide audio-only conferencing or a suite of capabilities?
- Does this service resolve any and all issues we’re currently experiencing?
- Can it accommodate our current and projected future call volume?
- Will it integrate with our internal processes and technologies?
- Can it work across all of our business locations and service areas?
- Does it offer recording?
- Can they provide transcripts?
- Will it meet our security requirements?
- Does the service provide pricing plans within our budget?
- Does the service include all necessary administration needs such as reporting and billing?
- How quickly can the service be up and running?
- How much training will it require?
- What is our impression of the sales/ support team? Do they provide enough technical and account support?
- Will we have a means of tracking and evaluating service use?
- Can we easily track errors, issues, downtime, or other service problems?