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7 Dirty Tricks of The Audio & Web Conferencing Industry Exposed

Oct 7, 2007
The audio and web conferencing business is booming with growth rates of over 30% per annum being reported.
With all this activity, it's becoming increasing hard for you to compare 'like with like' and choose a supplier which is right for your needs. To put it bluntly, some people are being ripped off.

This article gives you tips to avoid expensive mistakes and get the best deal, whichever service provider you choose.

1. Claiming conference calls are FREE when they are not

RIP-OFF: Advertising services as being free when they can actually work out more expensive than paid-for services.

This is probably the most common trick in the industry. A Google search will return a myriad of so-called 'free' conference call services. They are not really free at all. This is how it works:

The conference access number is what's known as a Non-Geographic Number (NGN). NGNs normally start with 08 or 09 and often cost more, sometimes much more, than calling a normal landline number.

The reason they cost more is that the telephone company gives some of the money for the call to the owner of the NGN - the conference call company. This is how conference call companies make money on these services.

So, although the conference call company does not charge you for hosting the conference call and therefore claim it to be free, you pay your telephone provider for the call so it's not really free. A more accurate description would be "Free telephone Conference Hosting".

It's worth noting that calls to NGNs from UK mobile phones and calls from abroad can be extremely expensive. Also, there is no guarantee that you will even be able to connect from abroad as foreign telephone companies are under no obligation to connect to NGNs.

Other disadvantages include lack of control and visibility. NGN based services are typically quite primitive and do not include the features and support needed by serious business users. Companies who use audio conferencing regularly are almost always better off using a host-paid service as the cost savings can be considerable.

Suggested Countermeasures:

Ask your service provider to tell you how much your conference calls will cost including costs of the phone calls to the conference bridge.

2. Charging you for being late - or early

RIP-OFF: Charging the host for participant calls from the moment each participant dials in, irrespective of whether the host is on the line yet.

Some companies start the meter running as soon as each participant dials into the conference access number - even though the conference doesn't actually start until the host arrives.

Beware: This is a great way for the audio & web conferencing companies to make money for services you haven't actually used! For instance, imagine you arranged an 11am teleconference for 20 people. If your service provider charged 10 pence per minute and each of the participants arrived 1 minute early but the host was 2 minutes late, you'd have paid GBP 5.70 for the privilege of listening to hold music.

We think this practice is outrageous but it is quite widespread.

Suggested Countermeasures:

Ask your service provider to tell you at exactly what point they start charging, is it when the participants arrive or when the host arrives? Remember, even if your service provider is not billing you directly because you are using an NGN based service (see Dirty Trick 1 above) you will still be paying for expensive phone calls whilst you wait.

3. Stealth charges - What you don't know can hurt you

RIP-OFF: Charging high rates for services and hiding them by not providing a detailed breakdown in the hope you'll just pay the bill without questioning it.

Unfortunately, this is a very common practice. The sad truth is that many large companies simply don't have the time or resources to check every single bill. Service providers know this and exploit it. Here are just a few examples of what can happen:

a) A service provider wins your business by offering you an unbelievably low rate on UK access charges and then grossly overcharges you for overseas calls.

b) They levy charges for conferences which were booked but subsequently cancelled.

c) They charge for participants which don't turn up, or turn up late - or even turn up early.

The list is almost endless.

Suggested Countermeasures:

Ask your service provider if they are able to provide a FULLY ITEMISED BREAKDOWN of their charges accessible via a web interface.

The web interface part is important as some companies just dump reams of paper on you hoping that you won't get around to reading it. Invariably they're right, you won't.

Others insist you download & manipulate data in a spreadsheet which is fiddly, tedious and hence very rarely done. It's also worth checking if the information is available in REAL-TIME. Some companies only show information days, weeks or months after the call.

REAL-TIME access is particularly important if you intend to bill your clients for audio and web conferences as part of your own company's services.

It pays to shop around and ask for a full price list so you can work out the actual costs you'll be paying. It is often possible to save 40% to 70% by doing so.

4. Charging for no-shows

RIP-OFF: Charging for participants who were booked on a conference but didn't attend.

Most enterprise level audio and web conferencing service providers offer managed event call services. A managed event call is where operators perform tasks to help the call go smoothly, examples include dialling out to participants, welcoming them to the calls and chairing Q&A sessions.

As event calls involve a number of people (sometimes several hundred), they must be booked in advance. Much like traditional events, if you invite 100 people, chances are only 80 or so will actually turn up on the day - audio and web conference providers know this and some exploit you by charging for places even if people don't show up. For the service provider, this really is money for nothing.

We think charging for no-shows is grossly unfair. It can be particularly difficult to spot unless your audio & web conferencing company includes full and detailed reporting (See section 3 on stealth charging).

Suggested Countermeasures:

Luckily this is one of the easiest scams to protect yourself against. Simply ask your service provider if they charge for no-shows before the date for which you have booked your event call. Don't put up with weasel words, and excuses; the answer should be either YES or NO.

5. Overcharging YOU because of THEIR antiquated billing systems

RIP-OFF: Charging the host for participant calls at the highest call rate even when some participants are calling in from cheaper lines.

This one is very difficult to spot and it never even occurs to most people to check. Most enterprise level audio and web conferencing companies offer several ways for callers to dial into the conference. The per-minute cost varies by access method.

The most common example of this is the choice of freephone or local rate access. Participants can either dial a freephone number for which the host is charged, say, 8p per minute or a local rate number for which the host is charged slightly less, say, 7p per minute.

Now, if you held an audio conference for 12 people for 1 hour with 10 people calling in on a local rate number and 2 calling on a freephone number you would expect it to cost you (GBP 42.00 for the 10 participants dialling in at GBP 0.07 per minute plus GBP 9.60 for the 2 delegates dialling in at GBP 0.08 per minute).

You might be shocked to learn that some service providers would charge you GBP 57.60, an increase of over 10%. This is because they'd charge you the freephone rate of GBP 0.08 per minute for all 12 lines even though only 2 people were using the more expensive freephone access method. Not a massive difference you might say, but it adds up over time.

To be fair, not everyone who does this is deliberately overcharging you. It's just that some service providers have outdated billing systems which are not capable of differentiating between different classes of lines on the same call. Whatever the reason though, you are the one who ends up paying extra!

Suggested Countermeasures:

Again, this is a very simply trick to foil. Simply ask them how they handle mixed rate calls. Be particularly careful to check international rates as some of these are extremely expensive.

6. Insisting you sign up for annual contracts

RIP-OFF: Offering you good rates but only if you sign an 'exclusive' contract for 1 year.

This is often used as a bargaining tool to make you think that the audio & web conferencing company is giving you something special in return for your loyalty. In reality it is you which is giving the service provider something of value, not the other way around.

By signing an annual contract the service provider can be pretty confident that you will not be looking at the competition until close to when the contract expires. Even if there is an industry-wide price drop, you probably wouldn't notice and they certainly aren't going to tell you. Why should they? There is no incentive to do so. They have you tied in for a year.

When you sign the contract, the Account Manager makes a note to call you 1 month before the contract is up and, very often, you just sign on the bottom line and renew - at the same, now inflated, rate. Easy money.

We believe that your service provider should be giving you the best deal possible anyway without trying to tie you in. Most so-called 'exclusive' contracts are meaningless and unenforceable anyway. Check with your lawyers but chances are you'll find you are free to use multiple suppliers.

If you find a better deal, be promiscuous. Gradually migrate over to the new company at a pace which suits you. Remember, there's no need to cancel your account with your original supplier until you are confident the new company can meet your needs.

Suggested Countermeasures:

Refuse to sign an annual contract and ask for the same great rates anyway. If they refuse, be suspicious. Are they trying to entice you in with a low per-minute call rate but then rip you off using some of the tactics described in this guide. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

7. Charging premium rates for ordinary services

RIP-OFF: Charging you premium rates for services they claim are tailored to your specific industry, e.g. Legal, Retail or Medical.

As more companies enter the market, everyone is looking for a point of difference and an excuse to charge more. Some service providers charge premium prices for what they claim to be unique industry-specific solutions.

In reality all they are doing is using clever marketing tactics to sell standard services - the same services which are available from competitors at much better prices.

One company we know of charges over 5 times the going rate for legal conference calls and gets away with. This is because many people in the legal profession assume that there is something very special about a legal conference call which justifies the premium. I'll let you into a secret - there isn't.

A legal conference call is simply a managed event call, recorded and stamped with a case number delivered on cassette tape. Several audio and web suppliers can provide this service at greatly reduced rates but very rarely get a chance to quote as the market is dominated by one or two expensive players with large marketing budgets.

Suggested Countermeasures:

Ask your supplier precisely what extra they are giving you in exchange for their higher prices. Some companies will insist that they are the only company certificated to serve your market - or the only company allowed to do so by your professional body. Chances are they are lying.

A few phone calls should establish the facts and you could save a bundle.
About the Author
Peter Bennett is CEO of Ozone Conferencing Limited. This article is an extract
from his FREE Buyers' Guide which can be downloaded from http://www.OzoneConferencing.com/dirtytricks/
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