The Conference Call from Hell

Look, I hate to be pessimistic (not really), but has a single conference call in the history of time ever gone according to plan? I mean, have you once ever organized a call or participated in a call that involved more than just you and one other person and had it go smoothly from beginning to end? Of course you haven’t. And neither have I.

Today, though. I mean today I had a conference call that went really awry. I’m not really sure if there are varying degrees of awry, but if there are, mine went the most awry possible.

The sales person who works for my employer scheduled the call yesterday and couldn’t see my schedule online for some reason, and scheduled a call with her customer and me right over another important meeting that I had to attend. That was the least worst thing that happened.

Naturally I informed her that I couldn’t attend a meeting at that time on Thursday, so she called back her customer contacts and rescheduled the meeting for Friday at noon. Nobody likes to meet during their noon hour, but when a deal is going to close and a quota is on the line, you schedule meetings on Saturday if you have to!

The newly proposed time appeared to jibe with my Friday schedule so I accepted the meeting invite. Her invitation included all of the juicy meeting details, including a long distance number and an access code. Simple enough, right?

So I’m at my desk, involved in several different tasks, and at the last minute remember that a meeting reminder popped up fifteen minutes ago for this customer conference call, so I better jump on. I dial the provided number, enter the access code, and wait. Beep. Every few seconds – beep. Every once in a while an automated message plays just to let attendees know that they are on the call, but waiting for the organizer to join.

In today’s high tech environment, so many methods exist to communicate that it’s almost impossible to mess up something as simple as a 3-way conference call. Texting, instant messaging, mobile phones, landline phones, VoiP phones, walkie-talkies, sattelite, WiFi, LTE, 4G, Morse code, telegrams, smoke signals, email. It’s all there. If one thing doesn’t work, you switch to the other. And then the other. Unfortunately, sometimes too many options can lead to inefficiencies.

A few minutes pass while I’m waiting for the “conference organizer”, but still nothing. I notice an email pop up in my email inbox from the sales person: “I’m not in a location where I can access the conference call information. Could you please set up another conference call?” Sure, I think – no problem. I have a GoToMeeting acccount and can set up an instant meeting.

So I hang up on the current conference call that I’ve dialed into, load up my conference call application, start a new meeting, and invite attendees. It takes me a few minutes to access the necessary details, but I’m in a hurry and send my email with call-in information.

I wait a few seconds to see if anybody joins my meeting, and notice an email from the customer in my inbox. I take a quick peek. “I’m happy to set up a conference” says the message. Trying to be helpful, she includes new dial-in information for yet another conference call for attendees to dial into.

Meanwhile, the sales person has joined my ongoing conference call. We talk for a couple of minutes. Surely, the other parties will see my email and call into my updated conference call, won’t they? We wait. And wait. It’s 12:13 now, 13 minutes into a call that is supposed to take about 10 minutes.

The sales person decides we’ve waited long enough, puts me on hold, calls one of her customer contacts directly to see if they’re going to join our already-in-progress call. The answer to that question is no, as two of them have already joined the other call.

The sales person hangs up with her customer contact, gets back online with me, and informs me that we need to join the other call. By now it’s about 12:20pm, twenty minutes into our 30 minute call and we still do not have all parties on the same conference call.

So the sales person and I say goodbye for the second or third time now (I’ve lost track) and prepare to join the customer’s conference call. I look at the customer’s email with the call details and dial the number.

“Hi, this is Judy,” says a voice on the other line. “Hi Judy, I’m trying to dial into a conference call and was given this number. Is this 800-555-5555?”, I ask her. “Um, no, that’s not this number,” she replies. “OK, sorry for disturbing you.” I hang up.

I’m sure I dialed the right number, but it’s always possible that “fat fingers” got in the way. I hang up and try the provided number again.

“Hi, this is Judy.”

Not again.

I’m really confused now. “Sorry, Judy, but this is the number I was given. Do you ever get calls from people trying to connect to a conference call?”, I ask.

“Yes, I do,” she says. I ask her where she is located. “Arizona”.

We exchange our second set of pleasantries and hang up.

Ok, what now?, I think. I switch my attention to my email inbox.

A series of emails are flying back and forth between the customer, the sales person, and me.

Turns out my sales person is having the same challenges that I’m having with the dial-in number provided by the customer. Judy in Arizona is beginning to get perturbed about the quantity of wrong numbers she’s fielding.

The sales person calls me and tells me that she’s going to suggest we use the meeting I had previously organized. After 27 minutes into our 30 minute call, we finally get all parties connected on the same conference call.

One of our two customer contacts apologizes for providing incorrect conference call information. All parties discuss the issue at hand, get their questions answered, and we finish our intended business in about 15 minutes.

In retrospect, the irony about the conference call from hell is that the customer involved in this bridge call fiasco is a major telecom provider.

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