Internet presentations, videconferencing, teleconferencing and virtual meetings

by James Edison, Claripoint


For most companies the first steps on the Internet have been with either a simple marketing 'brochure' website, or with a 'self-service' sales capability.  Although, this has been successful for some companies, for others it has been inappropriate for either the satisfaction of their customers or the nature of the products or services that they are selling.  In introducing a new way of doing business, the 'old' ways of personal interaction and human customer relationships have been left aside.

Increasingly companies are turning to solutions that let them combine the best of both approaches. These solutions allow an individual to talk to customers whilst sharing images over the Internet in real time.

The advantages can be immense.  Adding visual information means that in many cases you can achieve the effectiveness of a face-to-face meeting with the efficiency of a phone call.  You save on both time and cost compared with setting up a face-to-face meeting or even having a telephone call followed up with an email or fax.   Customers benefit through faster and better understanding of the material that you are presenting to them - and remember it for longer.  Plus, if they have any questions once they see the material, you can respond immediately.

Aspects to consider

What do you want to show them?

Do you simply want to be able to show them existing pages on your website?  Or would you like to be able to talk them through a PowerPoint presentation?  If so, do you need to be able to use a different presentation for each customer, or would you like to have a your own collection of frequently used presentations immediately available to you.  Would you like to be able to show them something from some other application on your computer, for example an Excel spreadsheet or your own bespoke software?  How closely do they need to be able to follow what you are doing within that application?

Along with the decision on content, consider the quality of the image that is shown to your clients.  Is it the same as you see on your screen, or has the image been shrunk making any details harder to read?

What level of interaction is necessary?  Do you need the customer to be able to raise questions, or enter into a poll, or even to take control of your application?

Who is your audience?

Are you presenting to new or existing customers, shareholders, or members of your own team? How many will be in a conference call simultaneously?  Regular, short web-based seminars are a great way of cost-effectively briefing potential or new customers.

There are two important questions to answer when you analyse to whom you are presenting.  Firstly, are you presenting regularly to the same people or are you often presenting to people for the first or only time?  Secondly, do you have the right to expect them to spend time downloading bespoke software (or a large java-applet) and even having to change their firewall or security settings, just for them then to be able to see your presentation?  If you are their boss and will be regularly presenting to them like this, the answer is probably yes.  If you are a potential supplier, especially as a smaller company supplying a larger company, the answer should be 'not if you can avoid it'.  Instead you should look for solutions that are as fast and as simple as possible for the customer to use - and ideally branded by you.  That way, you take the maximum benefit from your presentation without the customer being distracted by the technology or, even worse, the risk of an embarrassing failure.

When do you want to present?

Do you want to have the ability to present on an impromptu basis?  Some services require that you schedule presentations in advance, whilst others let you simply use them whenever necessary.  This allows for you to present to a customer whenever you want to, but what about presenting to a customer when they want it?  For example, there is a facility offered by Claripoint which allows customers to click a button on your website, enter their name and number and, when you are available, receive an immediate call-back.  What makes this new service unique is that with no further steps necessary by the customer you are able to present anything you like to them through their browser to illustrate what you are saying over the telephone.

Does your presentation need to be secure?

If you are simply showing them web pages from your website, i.e. material that is already published, then this might not concern you.  However, if you are showing them something from a presentation or an application with commercially sensitive information or even their personal details then this is an important consideration.  You should check that there is no possibility of other users either fraudulently entering the same presentation, eavesdropping on the traffic or even subsequently being able to view the information if it is left on a server.

How will you 'talk' to your customers?

For the customer the most acceptable means of talking to you is usually with the trusted and familiar telephone.  Of course they need to be on-line at the same time but this is less of a problem than many assume.  With business users, it is now relatively rare to have just one phone line for all services.  With consumers, about a third of those with Internet access can used a fixed line at the same time as being online, and this is increasing as more take up a second line, ADSL, Home Highway or Cable for their Internet access.  Even amongst those with only one fixed phone line, the vast majority have a mobile phone which makes a good alternative.

There are two other alternatives to a conventional telephone.  The first is to use the PC as a telephone.  This requires the customer to have the correct software, and to have microphone and speakers installed and configured.  It further requires a good quality connection for sufficient bandwidth, and even then the quality usually falls far short of that of a conventional phone.  Although using the PC and Internet this way can save some costs, it is not recommended as a dependable or easy solution for customers.

The second alternative is text-based chat.  This can be reliable so it does offer a feasible fall back if a normal telephone conversation is not possible.  However, it is much slower and less personal than a telephone call, and therefore it can be harder to maintain a customer's interest when discussing more complex matters. 

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

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