Free Conference Call ServicesGreat Solution or Waste of Time?

By: Sandra Montano

During the last several years, a number of companies have begun to offer free conference call services. Their message is a pretty basic one; why pay for conferences when you don't have to? Assured that their customers will never see a bill from the conference provider, people have jumped on the bandwagon, only to find themselves disappointed and going back to their former providers.

There are several reasons people find themselves disappointed with these services. The immediate and most obvious reason is that the free conference call is not truly free. When the customer signs up for the service, they receive a United States based toll number and passcodes to use for their calls. True to their word, the conference provider never sends the customer an invoice. That job is left up to the long distance providers who will bill anyone who used the toll number. Each person made a long distance call and each one is paying for their participation through their own phone service.

A second issue with free conference call services is that the ability to hold a conference call depends on the availability of lines for your conference. A number of the smaller free conference call services have only limited line capacity; it is a first come first served arrangement. If you need a call at 11:00 on Monday morning with eight people, you may find that only six can get into your meeting. Should this happen regularly, you may find in short order that your free conference call service is costing you more in lost productivity than you are saving by using a free service.

Another drawback of a free conference call is that you do not usually have access to an operator to help with background noise or other sound distractions during your conference.

This leaves you with two basic options: ignore the issue or have everyone hang up and hope that when you dial back in, the distraction will be gone.

In spite of these problems with free conference call services, there is definitely a niche market that is well served by free conference calls. One example is volunteer organizations that have little or no money to spare for conference calls. If the attendees are willing to make a long distance conference call to attend the meetings, then obviously the central organization has saved precious funds that can be re-directed elsewhere. In addition, if the free conference calls tend to take place outside of standard business hours, the chances of the free conference call running out of line capacity is severely diminished, thus making it far less likely that someone will not be able to access the meeting.

Another good target market for a free conference call provider would be companies that operate with a sales force composed entirely of agents. Since the agents are typically paid on collected revenue only, it makes sense to use a free conference call service to provide the agents with information about new products to sell, teach new agents the tricks of the trade and make other important announcements about the business. Because the company uses a free conference call to do all this, they keep the overheads low, which allows them to offer better commissions. The agents in turn are motivated to make a few extra sales to offset the cost they incur by calling into the free conference call using a toll number.

Free conference calls can also be a great way for families who are scattered across the country to gather together for an hour or so, with minimal cost. Considerably cheaper in most cases than calling up your local phone service provider and arranging a conference call, the free conference call service prevents any one family member from incurring the overall charges. Also, since family gatherings by free conference calls are more apt to take place at off-peak hours so there is no real worry about running out of lines to hold the call.

Perhaps one of the greatest recent boons to the free conference call industry has come from the cell phone industry. With more and more cell phone services offering nationwide calls at no extra charge, along with blocks of free minutes in the evenings and weekends, free conference call services have become even more attractive to people who can call in using their cell service instead of a traditional phone line. With no phone charges to worry about, and no invoice coming from the free conference call provider, the free conference call actually does become free for a select few. However, cell phone calls are still subject to more drops than traditional connections, so you may find that the call is disrupted by line releases during the conference.

At the end of the day, only you can decide if free conference call services are the right fit for you. Look at your individual situation very closely, and perhaps even try out one of the free services and see if it meets your needs. If not, there are plenty of other companies that are more than happy to have your business at a small charge.

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