Choosing a conference call provider is not easy. Simply Google the phrase “conference call” and you will see many providers. Fortunately, most of them position their services based upon a small group of factors. Understanding these factors and weighing their relative importance to the needs of your organization is the best way to make an informed decision. Research in the field indicates that there are five elements that usually allow a user to make a cautious decision. To help you make that decision, this article highlights these 5 areas.

     1. Costs

All-conference calling systems cost something to use. This even applies to systems that position themselves as ‘free’. Why is that? With the exception of a fully VOIP-based system (eg Skype), all conference call services require that users choose a bridge number. In the case of services providing free bridge numbers, a fee per minute is calculated. The lowest rate that you can normally arrange is several cents per minute, but you usually pay 5 to 10 per minute. This levy is assessed cumulatively. In other words, if there are 5 people with a call of 60 minutes, a surcharge of 300 minutes is applied. Some services still charge legacy prices of 20 or 25 cents per minute. These plans must be avoided!  As discussed earlier, some services are free with regard to the fact that no costs are imposed by the provider. However, these services do not offer a toll-free number with their free services and therefore users will have to pay regular long-distance rates to participate.

     2. Scheduling Possibility

Services usually fall into one of the two general buckets. Paid and custom business services typically offer a planning interface that enable the organizer to make the call. For the services with an Outlook integration or similar functionality, a pin code and dial-in number can be automatically assigned to the user for situations in which the user wishes to carry out his own schedule. The free conference calling systems usually only provide a pin code and a dial-in number; the initiator of the teleconference call is responsible for sending individual e-mails and keeping track of individual answers.

     3. Archiving and Recording

For many users, the ability to retain information associated with the call or even the call itself can be quite valuable. Some teleconference service providers give the opportunity to record teleconference calls in GSM, Wave, or Both formats. Some companies offer this opportunity for free, but usually this is found as part of paid conference services. The audio file is usually retrieved after the conference call is ended via a link from the conference website or a link sent to the participants. It is generally not possible to e-mail the audio itself due to capacity problems. Some services provide the calendar of the conference to be archived. This possibility is of course not possible with services that simply offer a pin code and dial-up bridge, but can be offered by services that offer planning possibilities because the planning template registers information that is specific to calls.

     4. Sharing Your Desktop

Sometimes, a conference call should not be analyzed or determined by the basis of its audio format. If your business needs to share data visually (for example PowerPoint presentations), sharing the desktop is an essential part of a successful conference call. Some users choose a best-of-breed approach and use different services for sharing and meeting their PC. However, more and more conference calling providers are rapidly evolving to bundle desk sharing functionality in their core product. In the case of well-known companies such as GoToMeeting, this is part of a goal to conquer both markets. In the case of companies calling to make calls, desktop sharing is offered as a paid feature to generate additional revenue.

     5. Personalization

A frequent complaint from users of conference systems is the need to remember arbitrary dial-up numbers and PIN codes. In the past year, the confluence of telecom and internet technologies solved this problem. A handful of conference call companies allow users to adapt their PIN codes to something that is easier to remember. There are some systems that also provide pinless access when users call from a known phone number. However, these systems require user registration to enable a matching of the number.

For most users, the final choice for conference calling service requires that these (and perhaps other) factors be weighted according to the requirements of your organization. The good news is that the explosion of competition in this market will expand the available services for you.