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See what's new with Google Voice

Google Voice can offer solid advantages for business users. Find out what's new with this free service and how it can help you do your job more effectively.

Google Voice has been covered in the past here on the Google in the Enterprise blog. Kevin Purdy provided some tips on the benefits of Google Voice in October of 2011. Adam Metz also discussed it in December of 2011. At the time Adam felt maybe 10% of enterprise businesses he'd come across were using Voice, but not in an organized or integrated fashion.

Why should I use Google Voice?

Google's "About Google Voice" help page looks a bit underwhelming at first glance - and frankly, some of the details about the offerings are ambiguous at best. These basic features are touted on their site:

  • Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones.
  • Google Voice isn't a phone service, but it lets you manage all of your phones.
  • Google Voice will let you define which phones ring.

Google really needs a "But wait, there's more!" interjection here (with a nod to Ron Popeil). Upon reading their page you might very well think: "Well, I've already got a mobile number with plenty of features, and since Voice isn't a phone service why should I use it?" It's important to wade through the details to see where the benefits lie. Here's a list of some of the major features:

  • A single phone number that will ring any or all of your other phones (also known as single number reach); this number is not dependent on a device which gives you much more flexibility
  • Ability to configure how and when calls flow to your other phone numbers (e.g. route calls to a work number only during weekday business hours)
  • Customized ring tones and voice mail greetings based on caller
  • Free calls/text messages to the U.S. and Canada
  • Voice mail transcription (transcribed messages are delivered to your Voice Inbox)
  • Voice mails and text messages can be sent to and kept in Google Voice or Gmail
  • Ability to make calls using the Google Voice site, Gmail, mobile apps, and even by calling your own Google Voice number
  • Ability to share voicemails with other people
  • Ability to switch phones in the middle of a call (note: only for your received calls)
  • Ability to block callers (hint: annoying telemarketers)
  • Ability to screen callers - by requiring them to speak their names - so you can then decide whether to take the call. Great idea for those "unknown numbers" in caller ID
  • Ability to listen on voice messages (using a feature called "ListenIn") as they are being left
  • Conference calling
  • Mobile apps for Android and iPhone (disclosure: less favorable ratings of the iPhone app compared to the Android app)
  • Google Voice Lite option which doesn't involve a dedicated Google number but gives you some advanced greetings/voicemail options for your existing numbers as well as international calling
The Google Voice interface is easy to navigate and should be quite comfortable for Gmail users. (Figure A)

Figure A

There are also some fee-based features such as international dialing and call recording. Google provides a series of instructional videos which describe some of the popular components of Voice.

Drawbacks to Google Voice

The documentation can be confusing for people with limited phone experience and/or knowledge.

The concepts can create an intimidating sense of complexity. You need to keep track of settings and configurations you've implemented. If you're just into one phone, no logistics, and no hassle, then it may not be the right idea for you.

It doesn't replace the enterprise phone system. Google clearly states that "it is not advised that you use Google Voice services for your business as we do not provide enterprise support. Use at your own discretion."

You still need a phone carrier, so it doesn't erase your monthly bill (though it can lower some charges associated with your carrier, such as texting).

It is only available in the U.S. (however, Google states that "Users outside of the US can use Call Phone in Gmail to make international calls at our affordable rates.")

Privacy concerns about Google collecting, storing and possibly misusing data - typical for any Google product.

Google Voice cannot receive calls from inmates in correctional institutions. Neither collect calls, nor calls made from prepaid inmate accounts will work with Google Voice. Many would consider this a benefit, however.

So, what's new with Google Voice?

Since later 2011, these features have been added to Google Voice:

  • Integration with Sprint, allowing Sprint customers to use their Sprint number with Google Voice or their Google Voice number on their Sprint phone
  • Integration with your Gmail contacts to place calls (you will need the voice and video chat plugin Install the voice and video chat to call phones from Gmail)
  • Ability to implement controls for callers in your Google+ Circles, or callers not in your address book
  • Ability to view/listen to voicemails directly from the call log of Android phone (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • Number porting capability (for a $20 fee, paid through Google Wallet); not without some significant stipulations however
  • Google Voice Chrome add-on to integrate the function more tightly into your browser
With these updates in mind, here is the current breakdown of the available Google Voice accounts and features for each. (Figure B)

Figure B

As you can see above, the Sprint integration feature seems a bit overblown. It doesn't add any features you can't get by default and in fact you lose Google Voicemail capability if you opt to use your Sprint number. Porting your number to Google seems like the better bet since you keep the voicemail functions (but you'll wind up having to get a new number from your carrier which you have to configure in Google Voice). However, the simplicity and convenience of a single Google Voice number on your Sprint phone, where applicable, is compelling and there are no added charges or contract entanglements.

What are some real world examples of using Google Voice?

I find it easier to process data using examples. About a month ago I wrote an article describing "A day in the life of a work-from-home Google Apps admin." This involved a play-by-play analysis of the tasks performed by my protagonist, Dan. Let's look at what Dan (or someone like him) might do with Google Voice on a day to day basis, assuming he has a Sprint phone with a Google number:

  • Give out his Google Voice number at a trade show then route calls from vendors he's interested in hearing from to his work number while blocking salespeople who turn out to be overly pushy. Whether you work in IT or not, this option is HUGE.
  • Change jobs, mobile carriers or even move to another state without having to worry about notifying contacts of his new number, nor updating his email signatures or business card.
  • Set up one voicemail greeting to play to his boss ("Sorry, I'm working on another problem right now") another for his wife ("On my way back home now; should be there by 6.")
  • Review voicemail transcriptions on his Android device, which turns a two-minute audio playback into a twenty-second reading experience (Dan's a fast reader and lots of voice mails are full of "uh" and "um").
  • Use unlimited texting without worrying about usage charges or the dreaded "you have exceeded your monthly limit" notification. For system administrators who may receive dozens of SMS messages per day from their system monitors this can be a real boon.
  • Carry on a conversation with a client who called him near the end of the day by switching the call from his work phone to his mobile, letting him walk to his car while talking.
  • Record details of a call involving a problematic tech support situation, then listen to the recording later to document the resolution process (always inform the other parties that the call is being recorded).
  • Route calls from the needy user who always calls at lunchtime over to another technician's line, while still allowing friends to call to let him know when they'll be at the café.

How to get started

Access Google's Voice "Choose your Google number" page for information and links on how to get started at http://www.google.com/voice.

You will be presented with the following box (Figure C) upon your first visit to your Voice page.

Figure C

Once you accept the terms you can proceed. (Figure D)

Figure D

If you click "I want a new number," the process is as easy as clicking "Get a Voice Number" then entering a Home/Work/Mobile number which Google will call so you can enter the verification code displayed on the screen. You can then choose from available phone numbers based on your area, zip code or city.

If you click "I want to use my mobile number" you will be prompted to enter this number to check for available options. (Figure E)

Figure E

In the above example, I entered my Verizon Wireless mobile number (actual number blocked out so I can avoid phone calls from the pushy salespeople I referenced above) and found that I can either port this to Google Voice or use Google Voice lite. If you're not a Sprint customer, these are going to be your only choices. Don't forget to review the details about number porting if you're interested in this option.

Google also provides a "Google Voice forum" for Q/A about this feature. To stay abreast of changes, keep an eye on the Google Voice blog for updates.

Also read:

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

17 comments
rm6565
rm6565

You can set Google Voice up as a stand alone, traditional, phone service but it is a process especially if you want to retain your current land line phone number. After buying an adapter, you can port your current land line number to a mobile provider first (I used Page Plus) then port it to Google Voice. Once everything is complete, you can use your phones at home like you always have with no furthur cost! It has been working great for us for the past several months. Here is the adapter and a brief description of how it works... http://news.cnet.com/8301-13845_3-57561577-58/get-free-google-voice-home-phone-service-with-$40-adapter/

patchrhythm
patchrhythm

I love google voice, wish I could use as a stand alone cell service. Currently, I used it on top of my verizon service and wish I could send multimedia messages using google voice. It's my only complaint. Text messages work great since they fixed it a few months ago.

n.smutz
n.smutz

Maybe it's better lately, but I don't know how many opportunities I've missed when a text message didn't push through in a reasonable time. Some wifi router settings mess with push notifications, but voice seems to fail where gmail keeps updating.

greg
greg

I did the Sprint integration and it was not very good. Caller ID of calls I originated did not show good info and everyone screened me out. Texting was very deficient with no mms and id again confused anyone receiving. Got a lot of "Who the H*** are you?" The voice mail transcription was terrible and about half of them made no sense and had to listen anyway. The services on my phone were far superior so I went back to using the Sprint #. I still use the GV # to give out to outsiders I want to screen and for filling out apps etc. Its got some good uses but very inferior for full-time use.

ProfQuill
ProfQuill

I've been using a pretty simple setup of Google Voice for some time now, mostly just a new GV number ringing both my home landline and cell phone. That way, I can give out just one number to people and pick up wherever I'm at, avoiding needless cell time expense if I'm home. Of course, the free outgoing calling via my landline is invaluable. I set up an acquaintance with GV who is NOT computer literate, she can make free outgoing calls just by calling her own GV number (just a speed dial button anyway). Recently I added the gmail connection so can make free outgoing calls with a computer anywhere there's internet access, no phone line/cell phone needed. My BIG concern is that we'll get so dependent on all this and someday it won't be free. I do have to wonder about Google's business model, where's the profit (other than some international call income)? There's no advertising either. I hope Google doesn't get all evil someday.

JacquelineGarner
JacquelineGarner

One thing I noticed, you state that if you use your sprint number you lose your google voicemail capability. I have had Google Voice Enabled Sprint for nearly 2 years now and all my voicemails come through Google Voice. http://www.google.com/googlevoice/sprint/ Beyond that I love Google voice. I have my entire family plan set up on it. Great way of keeping an eye on your kid's usage and texts. My husband and I own a business that uses his cell # as the main line so setting up voicemail greetings for call groups is also very beneficial. Great product!

rstoeber
rstoeber

As a small business owner I really appreciate the flexibility offered by Google Voice. The ability to schedule when different callers can reach me, or go directly to voice mail, is probably the most important feature to me. For example, my wife and children always ring to my cell while most clients go to voice mail between 6pm and 7am. However, I can designate a priority client to always get through to me. The transcription feature lets me handle multiple client requests at once - if I'm on a long conference call, or in a meeting, and a different client leaves a voice mail message I can read the message and, if necessary, either respond with a discreet text or email message, or excuse myself to call back if it's a real emergency. The Sprint integration only works with personal (non-business) Sprint accounts. I can't imagine why that is, but I've tried several times. It's not clear from the article, but you can also use Google Talk as a "phone" endpoint for placing and receiving calls. So at your desk, or a desk at a hotel with Wi-Fi, there's no actual phone required and no cell phone minutes used. The only real complaint I have is the way incoming caller ID is handled. For example, if my cell phone rings I see the caller ID, but I don't know whether the person called my Google Voice number (in which case my GV settings for screening are in effect) or if that person called my actual cell phone number (in which case an annoying robocaller could get through). There is an option to display my own GV number as the caller ID for ALL calls coming in through Google Voice, but that defeats the purpose of caller ID. I would LOVE an option to see the caller's caller ID for everyone in my contact list, and my GV number for all other calls coming from Google Voice. That way I either know the caller, or I know that it's an unknown number coming in through GV. Any other calls that appear on my cell must have dialed my cell number directly and I wouldn't answer.

Alex Gerulaitis
Alex Gerulaitis

There are more drawbacks unfortunately, than listed: - no CNAM (Caller ID Name) support in logs or outgoing calls. There is a pass-through support for it , i.e. a phone ringing on GV that supports CNAM, will display/log it. Google Voice on its own - doesn't. No outgoing CNAM is also a nuisance. - no texting to non-US numbers. (Why not? International calling - available, texting - isn't?) - no MMS (multimedia messaging service) I, too, have been using GV since Grand Central for personal and business use, and have nothing but high praise for it. It's tremendously helpful to people with hearing loss as it allows to answer calls on phones with best audio quality; transcription helps understand voice messages better. It makes texting a breeze since you can type them on a regular keyboard. It's ability to mark calls as spam and customize behavior based on a contact type, can be also very helpful. There is only one number to give to people without worrying about changing your home, cell or business numbers or providers. On the negative side, problems can be hard to trace due to lack of responsive customer service. Some callers complain that only hear silence when they call, or even that the number has been disconnected (when it's clearly not). Overall, I am extremely happy with it; only wish there was a reasonably priced business-class support option for it, and a VoIP device that is as integrated with it as an Android phone.

slowgeezer
slowgeezer

If you are someone that forgets your password, Google Voice is not for you! GV is associated and managed with a Gmail account. If you forget your password and can no longer log in, you CAN NO LONGER MANAGE your GV number. No way to update your greeting, no way to change the forwarded number, no way to get your voicemail. I have a friend who implemented GV for his business. He created a Gmail account for this purpose, but has lost his password. He is now stuck. Beware: there is no such thing as customer support. He has no way to reset his password. He has no way to associate his GV to a different Gmail account. He has even gone through the online "support" option that charges his CC in order to verify his identity - all to no avail. There seems to be no way whatsoever to contact a human to resolve the issue. Frankly, if you are a business, consider the potential consequences first. You may ultimately have to change your published number if the unfortunate happens. I also have not found a way to port the GV number to an alternative service if you want out for any reason, such as if Google were to start charging for the service.

Glenn Castle
Glenn Castle

I use VOIP provider Callcentric, which will give you a free phone number (other VOIP providers may do the same), which means all incoming and outgoing GV calls are free, and no monthly or usage charges. You could do the same with any VOIP provider and ipkall, which also gives you a free number. The area code of the free number doesn't matter, since you'll be using the Google number. To make it completely simple, I use an Obitalk device which you can directly configure to make and receive GV calls using your own phone, no computer required. Bottom line is you don't need to pay a phone carrier for a phone number. Most will have a cell phone anyway, but you don't NEED one to use GV.

TNT
TNT

I have my changed my voice mail number from my carriers to Google Voice's number just for the transcript service. I rarely need to actually listen to messages any longer, I read it and much more quickly -- especially with people who tend to ramble. I rarely use the phone number itself, except for when I have to provide a phone to sign up for a service or to anyone else I don't trust giving my "real" phone number to.

Regulus
Regulus

I've been using Google Voice since it was known as 'Grand Central ' and not associated with Google. I can't say that I'm a heavy user, but it is quite convenient to have as an 'extra' line. And, ....Thanks !

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you using Google Voice? What do you think of it? What do you like and what do you dislike?

Luke G.
Luke G.

I've had issues as well with: 1) timing on texts coming in, 2) texts duplicating coming in when they are delivered to my SMS # (3+ times), 3) texts come in an unusual order (1st part, 3rd part, 2nd part, etc) Wish it was more trustworthy, so I could rely on it more. :/

Luke G.
Luke G.

Sorry, but if you are a business and can't keep track of passwords, then there are larger issues than the 'potential consequences' of using GV. :) There's no reason on-site (or remote, consulted) tech support can't provide a solution for an enterprise to manage their passwords. Issues of that sort are completely outside the GV discussion. After all, what would be done if they can't remember the Exchange server password? Format it and reinstall? Not a disadvantage to GV specifically.

lesleybergemann
lesleybergemann

Google Voice can be set up to ring a computer. So not only can I place a call from Gmail on my computer, I can also specify that incoming calls first try ringing my computer (and will ring if Gmail is open, even if it is minimized), then the call forwards to my cell phone. The sound quality of calls is awesome. I try to make all my voice calls with Google Voice on the computer just for the clarity - so much better than a cell phone connection.

Luke G.
Luke G.

Sending and receiving texts from my browser is so liberating! :) Not to mention the laughs I get from unusual voicemail transcriptions (like my father calling to tell me that he had died). I gladly put up with the occasional anomalies because while it's not perfect it does work well enough to keep me happy!

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