Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why a Single Phone Line is All You Need

Technology Review

2010.04.27_Google_voice_logo I’m writing today about the use of a single phone line for all business and/or personal phone and SMS communication.  Specifically, I’m writing about Google Voice.  This type of service is often referred to as part of a Unified Communications (UC) platform. A complete UC package involves other services such as email, IM, and presence meta data. You can read more about UC in this Wikipedia article.

The first question I asked when I heard about Google Voice last year was why should I care.  I already owned a cell phone number, had an assigned IP Telephony work phone and fax number, a home number, and I used assigned phone numbers when I was at client sites.  That meant exchanging anywhere from two to five or more numbers with people, depending on the circumstances and the need.

The immediate problem that I faced was what if a coworker wanted to get a hold me.  He could, of course, try each of my numbers until he found me.  This often leads to wasted effort and multiple voicemails, wasting the caller’s time in leaving so many messages and the receiver’s time in having to listen to all of them, or at least listen long enough to realize some are duplicates before deleting them.

What’s more, if I needed to conference someone in, I either had to use a conference line, an office phone with its associated conferencing feature, or use my cell phone and dial in no more than three people at a time.

Enter Google Voice.  Here are the features that Google advertises on its home page as part of the Google Voice features (they include features that require getting a number with Google Voice), with an explanation of the benefits of each:

  • Google voicemail: voicemail like email
    What this means is that your voicemail is saved to Google servers, similar to how web-based email works.  It’s not deleted until you decide it should be.  It’s searchable based on generated transcripts (See below).
  • Voicemail transcription: read what your voicemail says
    That’s right!  Your voicemails are transcribed.  Keep in mind, the transcription is only as good as each caller’s annunciation of the words.  So, if someone speaks in a garbled tongue, you’ll end up with gobbeldy goo.  Nevertheless, you can have a transcribed message and send in those that are too scrambled to Google development to help them refine the service.
  • Custom greetings: vary voicemail greetings by caller
    This features rocks.  You can have a different greeting per user, which may be too much, but you can also have a custom greeting for each group of people.  So long as you have all of your contacts assigned to different groups, you can record a different outgoing message for each group.  What better way to differentiate between how professional or laid back you sound on your outgoing messages for business or family, respectively.
  • International calling: low cost calls to the world
    I know the Skype users will want to know this: Google Voice gives you better international rates than Skype.  I’ve seen a difference of up to 50% in per minute fees between the two services.  All you need to do is purchase a block of time, and start making calls directly from Google Voice or use the Google Voice for Mobile (See related post on Google Voice for Mobile).
  • Notifications: read voicemail messages via email or SMS 
    The brief description says it all, except that if you install the Google Voice for Mobile on your Smartphone, you will never use this feature! 
  • Share voicemails: forward, embed, or download voicemails
    Oh yeah! Just like an email, you can also forward your voicemails or download and archive them on your computer or network.  Want to embed a conversation into your project report? No problem.  Google Voice has you covered.

    NOTE: Check with your legal department before you do this.
  • One number: a single phone number that rings all your phones
    This is one of the biggest features of Google Voice, but it requires that you get a free phone number from Google.  Don’t worry.  You can get a local number with your area code, or one with your client’s area code, for most areas.  Even if you don’t initially, Google is adding new numbers constantly.  You can get a number close to your area code then change later for a $10 fee per phone change.

    Once you have your new number, you can setup all of your land-line and cell phone numbers on Google Voice so that your incoming calls to the Google Voice number rings all or a handful of these other phones.  This sounds confusing, but it’s not.  Let’s assume you have an office number, a home number, a cell number, and a client-assigned phone number at the client site.  You register all phone numbers with Google Voice and setup so that all phones ring when someone calls your Google Voice number.  Whichever phone you answer is where the call gets transferred to.  Neat, right?
  • Free SMS: send, receive & store text messages online
    You may or may not have a cell phone plan with text message support, technically known as SMS.  If you don’t, you can use this service and avoid paying your cell phone provider for the service.  With the Google Voice for Mobile, you can even send SMS directly from your cell.  If you already have SMS service on your phone, you can now track and archive all of your messages by using the Google Voice version.  What’s more, you can send and receive unlimited message.  You can even forward them as an email.
  • Block calls: send unwanted callers straight to voicemail
    This features is like an email spam filter, but for your voice calls.  You can mark phone numbers or contacts as those whose calls you don’t want to take.  You can send the blocked callers directly to your voice mail or spam folder.
  • Record calls: record phone calls and store them online
    If you need to record a call for legal purposes, or just for good record keeping, you can do that too.  The beauty of this feature is that the callers will all be warned that the call is being recorded before the recording process starts. 
  • NOTE: Check with your legal department before you do this too.

  • Conference calls: join several people into a single call
    The brief description says it all, except that you don’t have to be limited to just three people on a call, as is the case with conference calls on most cell phones.
  • Screen callers: hear who is calling before you pick up
    Do you wish you had a secretary that would tell you who’s calling before you decide whether to take a call?  You get that through caller ID for the most part, but what if you’re driving and pickup the phone, unable to focus properly on the screen to see the caller ID?  This feature asks the caller to record their name and it announces it to you before you decide whether to take the call.  You then decide to take the call, screen it, send it to voicemail, or answer and record it.

Not bad for a free service, eh?  Once you switch over to Google Voice, be sure to give one last call to your answering service and thank them for all of their services, BEFORE you let them down gently!

What Do You Think?

Have you tried Google Voice or a similar service?  Then you should let us know what you think of these services by sharing your thoughts below.

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Photo Credits: Google Voice logo is the property of Google Voice.