Editor’s note: Isabella Chiu is a sophomore at Harvard College studying linguistics and computer science.
We’ve all experienced the painful execution of conference calls with the uncomfortable dialing of codes, never-ending instructions and announcements when you join. There are two approaches to modern conference calling: online conference calls or “modern” offline calls.
Inside high-tech companies, internal calls are usually conducted by some sort of video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts or Skype. However, these same companies revert to using 20-year-old conference lines when dealing with customers and partners. Despite what we may want to believe, Internet connections can still be unreliable and set-up complicated; rather than wasting time trying to help clients through it, it’s more efficient just to use technology they already know.
Finally, companies are starting to apply new technology to fix the plain old conference call. After all, the old method has more than its fair share of problems: fumbling for PINs, dropping participants when the host’s cell phone loses signal, and endless voice prompts so novices know to announce themselves.
Modern entrants include HipDial, which seems to cover the “outside-the-company case.” Its conference lines dispense with PINs entirely – clients just call and they are instantly in the right phone room. Of course, the call doesn’t start until the host shows up, but HipDial cleverly uses the host’s caller ID to know when to start the call. Personal lines allow other features, such as automated text messages, to inform the host when guests arrive on the conference line before the host arrives.
All of the “complicated” features of old conference lines are available directly to the host on HipDial’s web site – recording, seeing who enters and leaves the call in real time, etc. Busy executives, sales, consultants, or anyone who has a lot of calls outside the company will appreciate never having to worry about the pain of old conference lines.
For those who have regularly scheduled calls, MobileDay is another such startup focusing on integrating the easy button to conference calls. MobileDay is an Android and iOS app that syncs with a user’s mobile calendar and alerts them to press a button when it is time to call into a conference call.
The app then uses programmable calling rules to route the call and dials all pin codes and # keys for the user to connect participants with ease. The programmable rules can cut call expenses dramatically if your company has varied calling plans based on toll-free, long distance and local calling.
If you regularly assemble calls with people who don’t mind adding a new app, Speek allows users with profiles to connect to people all over the world by using a website or mobile app. Essentially, utilizing the app or web link connects everyone without pins through data connections. However, if a non-profiled user wants to dial in with voice only, they can still do so by going through the dialing and pin hassles. Speek packs in some useful web features of screen and file sharing, in-conference chat and recording, along with local dial-in numbers for over 20 countries.
While none of these solutions meet every user complaint with a 100 percent solution, each one makes it far easier for a particular group of users. Until everybody can instantly do Google Hangouts or Skype, the biggest teleconference needs today are simplicity and reliability. Tackling these problems first can help catapult a startup to being a conference call user’s easy button solution.