Conference Calling Solutions – I think I found a Doozy

As a small business/self-employed bum I need to be able to provide enterprise-class connection options to my customers without paying enterprise-class prices.  What am I talking about?  Well, today I’m talking about conference calls.  Now hold on, don’t roll your eyes.  As a consultant I find it incredibly valuable to have a conference number to allow teams to connect at a moment’s notice.  Not everyone has Skype installed, not everyone uses Google talk.  Everyone has a phone though.  So conference calls are a staple – and I wanted to find the right tool for my use.  Boy did I ever – and it is a doozy: FreeConferenceCallHD.com.

Before settling on this service I did a little research on a number of free conference hosting services.  I ended up giving this service a real go and am completely thrilled with their service.  I’m not being paid for this endorsement, it comes from a genuine desire to share the benefits of this service with others who are looking.  So let’s get to the nitty gritty:

Benefits

  • High call quality.  I have spent tens of hours on the service and have not once heard audio problems beyond those of the people calling in (e.g. mobile phone noise).  They claim it is high quality and I have to agree.
  • Enterprise grade feature set.  Call recording, call hold, caller hold, broadcast mode, call playback number, Q&A queue, caller kicking, configurable entry/exit tones, host vs participant numbers, up to 1,000 callers, up to 6 hours of talk-time … I’m not sure there’s a feature that is lacking – certainly none that I need.
  • Web management interface.  They offer a web interface where you can monitor who is connecting, place people on hold, initiate call recording, replay recorded calls, review call history, place call in broadcast mode … and more.  It is a very nice feature to be able to see the number of someone who joins instead of asking “Who just joined?”  Discussing senstivie topics?  Don’t guess who is on the line.
  • International callers.  Some other services block Canadian numbers from calling in.  Why the hatin’ on the ‘Nucks?!  I’ve had people call in from Canada and the US without a hitch.
  • Call reports.  After each call I get an email that lists out the participants and how long they were connected.  A nice memento of the call … kind of like a roll call without having to do it throughout the call.
  • Price.  I can’t argue with free.
  • Support.  I had some initial questions about the service and connected with their support team.  I was impressed with how quickly they connected with me and talked me through my questions.  I was seamlessly escalated to a technical support person once my questions became overly technical in nature.  The emails were timely, and the support rep followed up once things went quiet for too long.  Simply put, a great customer support experience.
  • Free Skype calling to the conference number.  I put this one last because it really is the clincher for me.  Each conference number has an associated Skype contact created.  This allows me to add this “contact” and simply start a Skype voice call with it, and that will act as my dial in to the call.  This doesn’t use Skype credits or anything, this is the free Skype calling feature.  So I can call into my conference line from anywhere with Skype installed for free, no long distance.  Since I tend to live in Skype for team communication this feature is simply awesome.

Detractors

  • Web console uses Flash.  Boo Flash!  The (optional) web console requires the use of Flash in the web browser.  Bleh.  Please make the Flash pain stop – I’m ready for the HTML5 revolution!
  • Proprietary product.  Imagine how cool it would be if this was a project that released its source code, or revealed the products they’re using underneath the Flash veneer?  Imagine how cool it would be if they opened up the service to allow user-created plugins?  This is all bits and bytes going on here and the Skype integration is a great first step – opening up the project to community contributions might accelerate the rate of feature development/data mashups.

Yes, those really are the only negatives I’ve found after a few months of use.

I am giving this service a strong recommendation to anyone looking for high quality, feature-rich conference call services – free or otherwise.

Scam Alert – Caught in the Act

In the last couple of weeks I’ve received several calls from companies claiming that my computer is sending them messages indicating I have been infected by a virus.  The scam tries to get you to install remote control software so their “Microsoft Certified Technician” can show you where the virus is on your computer, and possibly help remove it.

Frankly the scam came on pretty hard and was fairly convincing.  Continue reading