Selecting a Conference Call Provider

by : Sandra Montano

Over the last thirty years, conference calls have gone from a business tool that was the province of only the biggest companies to an everyday way of holding meetings for organizations of just about any size. As such, the competition these days for business is fierce among various conference call providers. This climate can work well for you when the time comes to consider just which of the many conference call providers will earn your patronage.

The first thing to do in selecting a conference call provider is to identify how frequently your organization currently utilizes conference calls. Perhaps you have departments that conduct conference calls on a recurring basis, such as weekly, biweekly or monthly. If your organization is project driven, your usage may be less structured but still result in a number of conference calls held each month. A good way to get a handle on the frequency of your conference call usage is to take a snapshot of the last six months and come up with an average monthly number of calls conducted. Add the total conference minutes used for the same period and divide by the number of conferences conducted. That will give you an idea of the average number of minutes generated per conference call. Keep this information handy. You will need it later.

Next, evaluate the type of conference call formats used by your organization. You want to be sure that any conference call provider you approach can provide the type of service you need. As an example, should your organization most often use an operator assisted dial-out style of call, there is no need for you to get into discussions with a vendor who offers only a dial-in service. Part of your task is to eliminate conference call providers who can't give you what you currently need.

At this juncture, begin to think in terms of any additional service options you may want to try in the future. Make sure any conference call provider that makes it on your list of potential candidates has those features available. Ever wondered about ad hoc conference services? How about being able to book a conference call via the Internet? Create a formal wish list and have it available to give any conference call provider you seriously consider.

Now that you have a clear picture of the services you already use and the service options you may be interested in using in the future, your next step is to compile your list of potential conference call providers. Most vendors provide enough basic information on their web sites to allow you to determine if they have the potential to be your conference call provider. Once you have a list of potential vendors, contact each conference call provider and indicate your interest in their services. It is during this phase that any potential conference call provider will ask a few questions about your average volume of usage and frequency of conference calls. Provide the conference call provider with this basic information and let them know that as part of your evaluation of each conference call vendor you are speaking with, you are requesting a free demonstration or perhaps the ability to hold a conference call at no charge. This is not an unusual request for a potential client to make of a conference call provider and the reaction of the vendor will tell you a lot about what level of customer service you could expect as a client.

Another important aspect is the type and frequency of the invoicing that you require of your conference call provider. A few still provide individual invoices for each conference call. More commonly, a conference call provider will provide a cumulative invoice on a monthly basis, often sorted by the name of each host and showing charges associated with each conference call, and then providing a cumulative total charge. Typically, a conference call provider offers invoicing in both paper and electronic formats. As you begin to narrow down your list of potential conference call providers, do not forget the billing as a key point in your decision making.

Once your preliminary evaluations of each conference call provider have taken place, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty: pricing. For this final phase, prepare a basic proposal outline to be sent to each conference call provider that meets your criteria. Ideally, you would send the proposal to at least three potential vendors. A formal proposal makes it clear to each potential conference call provider that you need a firm commitment in writing, and will allow each one to officially go on record with what they can offer your organization. The proposal also gives each conference call provider one last chance to give you their best and final price for services.

Once your selection has been made, do not discard your contacts or basic information from any of the vendors you spoke with. Should the relationship with your selected conference call provider not live up to your expectations, you will already have resources that equip you to make a second choice elsewhere.