The promise of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been known for some time: cheaper phone calls with value-added services that leverage the Web. However, with the failure of Vonage – perhaps the best known name in the space – to turn a profit, it might seem like the VoIP hype was more fiction than reality.
But that’s far from the case, as a host of Web-based services are offering great tools for connecting with your colleagues and customers, better managing your communications, and yes, saving you money. Here’s a look at a number of VoIP-based services that can help your small business:
Jaxtr – This service not only lets you make VoIP calls and send free text messages, but also creates a page and widgets where customers can call, text, or voice message you. To use it, simply create a Jaxtr account and setup your own Jaxtr page at jaxtr.com/yourbusinessname. You’ll also have the option to grab cut and paste code if you’d like to place a widget on your businesses homepage, as well as options to post it directly to social networks if you’d really like to make yourself accessible.
Jajah – This service offers a few interesting VoIP options. For one, it can be used to cheaply make international calls over VoIP by simply connecting two landline or mobile phone numbers over VoIP. Jajah can also generate unique local numbers for all of your contacts, so you can call them via VoIP from anywhere. Finally, Jajah also has a mobile Web site and an application for iPhone, so you can make VoIP calls while on-the-go. Essentially, Jajah can do it all when it comes to reaping the benefits of VoIP without any downloads or subscription plans required.
Angel.com – Do you have a phone system that directs customers to the different departments in your company (i.e. – “press 1 for sales, 2 for support, etc.”)? If so, or even if not, Angel.com is an easier way to manage such a system. The service lets you setup your own Interactive Voice Response system and make changes on-the-fly over the Web. Beyond simple phone trees, Angel.com also lets you manage more complex functions, ranging from customer surveys, store locators, or even connecting to your in-house CRM system. (As a point of disclosure, you should know that I did some work for Angel.com back in 2004.)
Visual Voicemail – Listening to voicemail can be time-consuming. Fortunately, there are now a number of services that will transcribe voice messages for you, and deliver them over SMS, email, or the Web. Jott, YouMail, and PhoneTag are amongst the best-known names in the space, while SpinVox will be powering a voicemail-to-text option for Skype users. These services aren’t free, so if you receive a lot of voicemail, you may want to wait until the pricing comes down.
Skype –You’ve probably heard of Skype – it has more than 400 million members worldwide, and is on track to bring in $400-$500 million of revenue this year for parent company eBay. But, if you were an early user that has since left the service – perhaps because of poor call quality – the latest version of Skype might be worth another look. Version 4.0 of Skype (currently Windows-only) reduces bandwidth usage by up to 50 percent, which should make dropped calls, echoes, and other deficiencies less common than they’ve been in the past. Additionally, there is now full screen video conferencing and a revamped instant messaging system. Meanwhile, calls remain free to other Skype users, with competitive per minute pricing for calls to outside phone numbers.
Even if all of these services aren’t for you, it should be fairly apparent that there is both time and money to be saved by using a variety of Internet telephony products. However, be wary of signing contracts or making long-term commitments – several companies in this space have gone by the wayside, and there are plenty of options that don’t require you to pay anything beyond month-to-month.