Google Voice is the new “single phone number” services application that leverages VoIP telephone services and “integrates communications channels”. GV is offering a variety of very convenient and functional features for purposes of mobility and managing a network of partners all with their own “stand alone” POTS/PSTN (plain old telephone service/public switched telephone service) telephones, computers, texting devices and other messaging applications. Currently Google Voice is FREE, you simply send you email address through their “Request an Invite” button. It’s probably better to send a Gmail account for priority consideration (hint hint).
There is an extensive and broad background on this “feature type” of telephony technology, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible in what has lead us to this point today. In the early 90’s, the cellular phone industry was trying to come to mutually agreed upon telephony standards for what was called “single number services”. These single number services would enable routing of calls to a single point of contact number through a software enabled and enhanced dashboard interface. This never happened. Routing of calls became easier over the Internet using “porting” instead, thus VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol emerged. Closer to the Holy Grail of “single number services” in the last decade has been VoIP through companies that are now public corporations, like Vonage or through other players more recently that have been “gobbled up” by Google (SIPphone and Gizmo5 are two of these), but all are personal and small business VoIP telephone service providers. Yours truly happens to have an advanced Vonage set up currently that routes incoming calls to a single line out to my “softphone” (computer installed software application that looks, feels and works like a “virtual” hand held telephone), home phone and cellular number. There are also companies offering PBX style and Enterprise wide VoIP for large companies, institutions or organizations with decentralized locations locally, domestically or internationally, but these are outside this discussion here. There is also Skype (owned by eBay) that is a major privately held player in VoIP services for “in network” free calling like SIPphone and Gizmo5 used to be; and Skype charges to place a call “off network” domestically and internationally. Enter Google Voice, the perfect application for the New Ombuds small practice “single member” owner or two member partnership with small support staff. GV pulls together all landlines, Skype, VoIP or even satellite phones into one manageable “back up” virtual location while leaving subscribers free to answer their existing communications lines.
With that said, let’s get to some of the key features and benefits as to why this application “works” for the SOHO (small office home office) crowd.
- Call Widgets: you don’t have to be an “open systems developer” to use Google Voice Widgets. Once you send your invite and are accepted, you get to select your phone number and then generate and use a Call Me widget (you have to log into Google account to view this) or the Google Voice Connect , which is demonstrated on MacLitigator’s Blog. The Call Me widget is for embedding on your blog or website and enables people to call you at home, office or cell through the Google Voice number without disclosing the private number(s) actually taking the call. As calls come in from the public to your website caller ID and message screening are “on” and you can accept or reject calls.
- Google Voice Groups: this is for setting up your address book and contacts for personal, professional associates or colleagues, clients and others. Each Group can be routed and handled differently to ring through Google Voice number, for example Clients Group, can go to your office and/or cell phone and skip the home phone. Voice Messages can be customized for each Group, friendly and personal for family and friends or professional greetings for incoming new client calls.
- SMS to Email: I personally prefer a SMS or Short Message Service if in a meeting or out in the field. This lets me return the call when I “can talk” versus being interrupted or leaving to hear the message just left. This is the same as Text Messaging on a cellular phone service. Incoming messages read like email and you use your computer email (gmail.com) or Email cellphone application to reply and best of all, it’s free as it by passes those 10 cents per message fees from your cellular service provider. Probably the best thing is you can “sms blast” a message out to a maximum of 5 people in your contacts and groups at one time, again, perfect for the small office to alert and call a conference call or physical meeting giving an out of office location. More safe and secure than Tweeting.
- Call Screening: you can listen to incoming calls to your home, office or cell phone through Google Voice and let the call go to voice mail or hit the star key to take the call at any point as the caller leaves their voice message.
- Mobile Apps: these are not to be confused with Google Voice Widgets. Google Voice Apps are for mobility and are standard on the iPhone and Google Android, which give complete and full control over all Google Voice dashboard functions. As usual, Google Voice is an “open application” and developers are working for similar api interface for SMART phones in general.
- Conference Calls: this is probably the best feature as FREE conference calls with up to 5 group members or contacts can be set up as calls come into your Google Voice number at a set time OR you can call out, connect, and then add callers to the conference call. For e-mediation this means you can meet with “both sides” on their speaker phone and you should wear a headset to conduct the session.
- Voicemail Transcription: another handy tool is when you let calls go to voicemail or decline an incoming call, voice message come over as a transcription in Email. All those times you wanted to get the “statement in writing” this is one way to do it. The “engine” is still in development and so the actual .wav recording will need to be checked for accuracy against the “transcribed Email”.
- Voice Recording: If you want to capture a conference call, ADR session or one-to-one discussion simply hit 4 to begin recording the call and hit 4 again to stop recording. Very handy for those board meetings too and best practice governance when participants are in remote areas of the country and not able to attend every meeting in person.