Today’s enterprises are confronted by a dizzying array of seemingly contradictory responsibilities. Your success depends on investing in new growth opportunities, but you’re also under pressure to lower costs. You need to communicate regularly with all constituents’ employees, customers, partners, suppliers, and shareholders but without incurring the expense of off-site meetings and events. Your strategy requires that you collaborate more with remote partners’ but you are being driven to reduce travel to a minimum. You want to deliver high quality, responsive customer service but you also want to reduce support costs. And with the renewed focus on profitability and the need to increase shareholder value, you are being asked to achieve more with fewer resources. If your company is like many others, these forces are driving you to seek better and more efficient ways to communicate, collaborate, perform business processes, and deliver services. That’s why conferencing has emerged as one of the most effective ways to improve productivity, control costs, strengthen communications, streamline business processes, and collaborate more effectively, enterprise-wide.
Organizations worldwide are discovering that conferencing is much more than simply a feature of their business phone systems; it has become essential collaboration tool driving new levels of productivity, competitiveness, and profitability.
Regardless of your company’s size, if it’s like most businesses, your workforce has become more geographically disparate than ever. And while your team may not all share the same office, or is comprised of road warriors or remote workers, you all still have to meet on occasion. But how can your company avoid eating travel costs to get members together for something as large as an annual strategy meeting or as simple as a weekly check in? In the not so distant past, video conferencing was something on most companies’ wish lists, but not anymore. “Video conferencing has finally taken its rightful place as a core business tool.
But what type of conferencing is best for your organization? Is audio-only conferencing adequate – or are there extra benefits that only the combination of audio and web conferencing can deliver? Is there a role for videoconferencing? Does it make more economic sense to purchase conferencing services on a per-usage basis – or to invest in an in-house conferencing solution?
Video conferencing has become an indispensable tool for businesses, connecting remote employees and partners in a way that phone calls and emails can’t. The subtlety of nonverbal communication and the tone of voice of the participants improve the clarity and meaningfulness of the conversation. In business, this can be the difference between a done deal and a missed opportunity.
Choosing the right video conferencing service for your business is important. How many participants will regularly sit in on your calls? Do you need to integrate other applications, such as Google Docs, to share with other users? How often do you intend to utilize video conferences? You need to consider all of these factors before you make a decision. Buying all of the bells and whistles could turn out to be a waste of money, but sticking with a free service might not provide all of the features you require.
How to choose the right video conference service
As with any other purchase, it’s important to know what you need to get out of your video conferencing service before you choose the one that’s right for you. Different companies have different needs; for example, a large company might need to loop in dozens of participants at once, while a smaller company might only require one-on-one conferences. Here’s what you should keep in mind in addition to your budget.
- Number of participants: Consider how many participants are likely to sit in on these conferences regularly. Some services allow you to connect a handful of participants for free, so if you don’t need to connect a lot of people, you might not need to pay much, if anything. Other services specialize in connecting a large number of users; some even allow unlimited users to join the conference. The range is wide, so knowing what you need before you start looking can save a lot of time and help you determine how much money you should consider spending.
- Ease of use: It doesn’t matter how many participants you’re hosting if they can’t figure out how to use the software. Make sure you select a video conference service that’s intuitive and easy to navigate. Otherwise, you might start presentations without essential participants watching, or miss an opportunity to connect altogether. Don’t let an unfriendly user interface be the only thing holding your business back.
- Types of meetings: Some of the higher-end services allow you to launch different rooms depending on the type of meeting. Do you like to host open-forum Q&As where everybody can give feedback? Are you giving a presentation or lecture and prefer that other participants be muted? Know what kinds of meetings you typically host, or if you host a variety of meetings, look for a service that can accommodate all your needs.
- Mobile experience: The whole point of video conferencing is to be able to connect to people remotely, and sometimes, that means connecting from a mobile device. Much like with the user interface in general, you’ll want to try out a video conference service on your mobile devices both tablets and smartphones – to make sure any participants connecting through mobile will have an equally positive experience as those connecting via desktops.
- Video/audio recording: Sometimes, it’s helpful to save the highlights of a meeting for later. Ensuring your video conference service has video and audio recording capability is essential if you like to go back and replay meetings or conferences. If your participants aren’t great at taking notes, maybe an online archive of past meetings would do them some good. You can also save snippets of meetings for introductory or training materials for new employees.
- Screen sharing: You can enhance meetings and presentations greatly by making them more interactive, and screen sharing is a central component of keeping participants engaged. If you need to explain the finer points of a presentation or show a remote employee how to access certain documents, screen sharing can help you do it more quickly.
- Application integration: Many video conference platforms allow the integration of third-party applications, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Sharing software that you already own within a video conference system can help you import presentations and documents. Moreover, many services have note-taking capabilities, and some allow participants to get in on the action with notes of their own. Consider which applications you need to work within your conferencing system, and determine how much influence you want participants to have over a meeting.
- Customer support: Last but far from least is the quality of a company’s customer service. It’s probably worth your while to give the customer service line a call before deciding to partner with a company so that you can get a feel for how it’ll treat you. When something goes awry, you’ll want a tech support line that responds quickly and accurately, and treats you with the seriousness and respect your business deserves.