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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.

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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.

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