While the Web and social media have become an important part of business communications, the phone is still often the first point of contact for current and potential customers. Unfortunately, the phone hasn’t evolved all that much with today’s lifestyles – you essentially still need to either be tethered to a landline, or be “always on” via cell phone if your goal is to provide a constant line of communication.
However, that’s starting to change, thanks to – you guessed it – the Web. In 2007, Google acquired a company called GrandCentral that provides you with a single phone number that can be managed via an online account. Earlier this year, the company re-launched as Google Voice, offering a variety of services that allow you to completely customize the way your phone communications operate. Here are a few of the highlights:
Phone Routing: Google Voice allows you to attach multiple phones to the phone number that it provides you with. In other words, rather than just your main phone line ringing, you can have your business, home, and cell phone ring simultaneously when there is an incoming call.
But more importantly, you can customize which phones ring based on who’s calling. So if you want to give your VIP customers access to all of your phones, you can do so, while continuing to route other calls to only your main business line.
Voicemail Transcription: How inefficient is voicemail? Between calling in, listening, and often replaying so you can jot down important information, it can be a time consuming and frustrating process. Google Voice transcribes your voicemail for you, so you can read it when you login to your account.
The transcription isn’t always perfect, but it can be a big time saver. And if the transcription is way off, you can still just listen to your messages. Additionally, you can forward voicemail messages to other people, making it easy to let your employees deal with a given caller.
Call Screening: While phone routing can help ensure that key contacts can reach you, what about dodging calls you’d rather not take? Google Voice offers call screening, so when an unknown number calls, it asks them to identify themselves. Then, when the call gets through to you, Google Voice announces who’s calling, and you can decide whether to take the call, reject it, or send it to voicemail.
Call Recording: How often do you have to call someone back because you forgot or incorrectly jotted down a piece of information – like a phone number or address – that they gave you over the phone? Google Voice lets you record your conversations and then access those recordings and listen to them through your online account.
There’s a lot more to Google Voice (and demos of all the key features are available on the Google Voice site - video demos of all of these features on the Google Voice site, including the ability to place calls over the Web, create customized greetings based on who’s calling, and the option to switch phones during a call. The service is currently only available to former GrandCentral users and those who have signed up for invites. But Google plans to launch the service to everyone within the next couple months, and it’s definitely something to keep an eye on if you want to re-invent the way your business uses the phone.