A few mistakes can derail a meeting, online or in-person, but it still amazes me that video, web and audio conferencing services continue to be dogged by poor attendee experiences, particularly when joining a meeting. While cost will always be a factor in IT buying decisions, companies should focus on understanding how features and functionality affect productivity on a daily basis.
Savings of a few dollars per month can easily be lost when meetings don’t start on time or participants can’t join because of a poor join experience or faulty invitation data, or when software installation requirements get in the way. When evaluating conferencing services, IT organizations should look at how the differences in features and functionality impact productivity. Small details matter, particularly in instances where conferencing solutions will be used with outside parties. While executives may argue an organization will get used to a solution’s particular quirks, outsiders will not.
The following pointers should help organizations evaluate how product features impact meeting start times and in-meeting productivity. Measuring the impact of application behavior in relation to time spent will be critical to building a business case to spend more for a more user-friendly solution. Having an executive sponsor outside IT with measurable performance metrics, such as customer satisfaction for customer service or net new customers per quarter for sales, can be critical to building a compelling business case.
- Assume nothing, assume the worst, use past conferencing data, and use your own end user device management and support data to build a model to analyze cost. By having a mindset where you assume nothing, you open your evaluation to all possibilities. Since evaluations don’t have unlimited time and resources, you will need to focus on the most important scenarios, but you have to at least understand the possible scenarios and their impact.
- When evaluating the join experience for the video or web conferencing component, think about the software installation requirements for participants both inside and outside the organization. Will participants come from an organization with strict controls on their PC environments? If you have important business partners with whom you interact regularly, be sure you have an understanding of their environments so that the lines of communication will be smooth.
- Research the current web browser and device trends. Those will give you a sense of which browser and operating configurations are common, as well as the prevalence of older versions of Windows. Do you expect that your customers or partners will have Apple computers?
- Which mobile devices are most prevalent? While Apple MacOS users often have issues when installing web components before joining a meeting, Windows users often have audio issues where they either can’t hear or can't be heard because of configuration issues with their devices. To address this possibility, see if the solutions you are evaluating will enable users to close a meeting application and rejoin if there is an audio configuration issue.
- One feature that often trips me up as a meeting attendee is the prompt to state your name prior to joining a conference call. I expect that stating my name results in an announcement to attendees that I am joining the call. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. If there is silence on the call and I’m multitasking, I can forget to announce myself. Survey users to see what their behavior is under similar circumstances. What type of delays can that cause?
- For security reasons, at a minimum, there should be a tone when attendees join meetings with 10 or fewer participants. That prompts the organizer to ask who has joined, which helps attendees identify if they’ve joined with their headset on mute. How much time is wasted when participants think they are speaking to the group but aren’t being heard?
- Another important detail to evaluate is if the scheduling component automatically inserts mobile-friendly dial-in and conference code information for conferencing calls. It shouldn’t fall to users to include this information themselves. How does the solution support switching from mobile to desktop phones on networks with mobile unified communications?
- Finally, if a solution touts noise cancelling technology, test it. Join a meeting from your cafeteria during lunch, type away on the loudest keyboard you can find, put a fan on your desk and crank it to full speed to see how well that noise cancelling tech works. Fighting to be heard over a single caller’s ambient noise is a productivity killer, and any solution that solves that problem for even a couple of meetings a month could pay for itself.
Once you’ve collected this data, analyze it and determine the impact in terms of delayed start times per meeting per month and meetings interrupted by background noise or problems changing presenters. If you can quantify the costs and benefits of a better solution, you can then work with your executive sponsor to help support your case for the better solution.