Have you found your Google Voice yet?

Situation

Google Voice is an amazing service that could take a dozen pages just to describe. I would like to introduce you to some of the features and benefits of Google Voice and strongly encourage you to learn more about how you can use it to enhance your creativity and productivity.

Because of the extended length of this column, I will skip the “Random Access” feature until next time.

What is it?

Google Voice isn’t a phone service like Skype, but lets you manage all of your phones and their numbers, working with your mobile, desk phones, work phones and VoIP lines.

According to Wikipedia, “Google Voice is a telecommunications service that currently provides free PC-to-phone calling in the U.S., and free PC-to-PC voice and video calling worldwide between users of the Google Voice and Video chat browser plugin available for Windows, Intel-based Mac OS X, and Linux.”

U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, users can place free outbound calls to domestic and international destinations from their cell phone app, from the web-based application, or by dialing their Google Voice (GV) number.

Inexpensive rates for International calls are on the Google Voice website. For incoming calls, you must have a U.S. phone number to activate your free Google Voice number, which could be a mobile, land-line or VoIP connection.

You can then configure your GV and/or additional phone numbers to ring simultaneously when your GV number receives a call via the website.

You can answer the call on any device you have set up. Your free GV U.S. number can be chosen from selected area codes (sorry no 212s) and inbound calls to this number are forwarded to your other phone numbers and calls can even be moved between “configured” phones during a call!

What services are available?

Besides a single Google forwarding number to all of your phones, you can make and receive calls for free, or very inexpensively (starting at about 2 cents per minute) to foreign countries, you get voicemail, free text messaging, text broadcasting up to 5 users, call history, easy to set up conference calling, call screening, blocking of unwanted calls and voice transcription of voicemail messages and sending and receiving messages via gmail. A sample list of about 25 different features is available on-line.

Why would you need it?

Speed, flexibility, privacy, and economy — what else is there?

How can you get it?

Anyone in the U.S. with a Google Account can get a GV number. You can also download mobile phone apps for Android, Blackberry and iPhone devices. Talkatone is free from the Apple App Store for your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. It turns your device into a mobile phone in WiFi areas — works great!

Pros

It’s very straight forward to learn to use and to set up. The videos make it easy to grasp the function and easier still to implement it.

Cons

Some users may be a bit intimidated by all the functionality available. You don’t have to use all its features right from the start, but add on as you get used to using it. I know some users are overwhelmed with calling features on some of the new telephones, but the days of the company switchboard operator calling your line to transfer a call are long gone. You can’t use GV for emergencies — no 911 usage and no easy phone help number. You can get great support via the web page and I don’t believe you should have much difficulty setting it up.

Bottom-line

Google Voice is a wonderful invention! Its appeal is that a single phone number can be associated with you (or your business) instead of the number tied to a location or a device. Conversely, you can give out different numbers (like your business number) and have them all ring to your Google Voice number without the caller knowing it. Also, if you change carriers or phone numbers down the road, your new numbers can still be associated with your Google Voice number. GV services have been evolving over the years and I would expect Google Voice to be as powerful as your physical address or email address in managing your business and personal communications.

For more information, a complete listing of features and benefits, a number of short 40–55 second videos describing the services, how to get started, how to set it up, and creative ways of using the different functions, go to www.google.com and choose Google Voice.

I believe that any business person with more than one phone should at least understand how this free service can improve their business communications in these days of increased competitive pressure and vital customer interaction.