Conferencing services run the gamut, from low-touch, self-service offerings to high-touch operator-assisted services or managed services. And within those service realms – which can become blurry to even the most experienced conferencing pundits – are varying degrees of partner and provider involvement. The agent’s job is to figure out not only which types of solutions will work for each individual client, but also the unique selling proposition of each type of product or service.
Self-Service. So many times in technology, we talk about “ease of use.” If that’s ultimately what innovators are striving for, wouldn’t the successful culmination be products that are completely self-service?
Greg Plum, director of business development at the Conference Group, said not only is there a trend toward self-service, but it has, in fact, been the trend for the last decade and continues to grow. “Software as a service is always on demand, and there’s no capital expense. Year over year, reservationless conferencing has grown by leaps and bounds,” explained Plum, adding that it is especially the frequent users that are drawn to this type of conferencing solution.
Rob Hughes, senior vice president of worldwide sales and support at conferencing technology vendor Vidyo Inc., agreed. “Having worked in the video conferencing market for more than 20 years, I’ve seen the growing demand for solutions that are easy to deploy and use, without the high costs of constant maintenance and monitoring of equipment and networks,” said Hughes. “If our resellers are any indication, the market is really hungry for products that allow customers to receive the highest quality experience with greatest ease and convenience. For our channel, that means an easily deployed, simple to use HD video conferencing and collaboration product that people can use without IT help, from their laptops, desktops, netbooks, over general IP networks like the Internet, at any time, from wherever they happen to be — in a hotel, on the road, at home or in the office. That is truly ‘self-service.’”
Higher-Touch. Gary Iles, senior direct of strategy and product management at ACT Conferencing, said a telecom agent can expand the appeal of his/her conferencing services and potentially reach more customers by offering high-touch services. “Integrated multimedia events, audio/Web, audio/Web/video, audio with Webcasting — people are accustomed to interactive content and expect this from their group interactions,” said Isles. “Engagement is higher and retention is also higher, so hosts are interested in using multimedia events to make a more impactful message and improve communications.”
the Conference Group’s Plum said a common place where high-touch conferencing works is with investor relations calls managed by a third party. These operator-assisted calls, which offer constant monitoring, carefully orchestrated question-and-answer sessions, etc., can mean significant margins for agents.
Iles agreed that the higher the profile and cost of the event, the higher the stakes are, and therefore the more attention that is paid to delivering the high-touch event. “One strategy that can differentiate someone’s need for high-touch services versus other services is the response to a single question: ‘What happens if something goes wrong?’ If the answer is as simple as ‘we meet later,’ then there isn’t a need for high-touch services,” Iles explained. “But if the response to that question is prefaced with a long pause and a litany of negative outcomes, then there is a need for higher-touch, operator-assisted services.”