Google Voice has been the subject of controversy for all the wrong reasons since its availability was expanded earlier this year. Even with limited availability, the service has reached almost 1.5 million users, and half of them reportedly use it daily.
The reason for its popularity isn't hard to see. Google Voice provides a plethora of call handling features at a price that can't be beat: free. For small and medium businesses, Google Voice is an opportunity to use advanced call management features typically reserved for expensive voice solutions in larger enterprises.
Large companies have IP-PBX's and dedicated voice administrators to manage it, or they have made the move to unified communications and have a voice environment built around Microsoft or Cisco or some other unified communications vendor. Small and medium businesses don't have the financial or personnel resources for those solutions though. Let's look at how smaller businesses can put Google Voice to work:
1. Simultaneous Ring
Google Voice allows you to have an incoming call to the Google Voice number simultaneously ring on multiple phones. On an individual basis, calls could ring an office desk phone and a mobile phone at the same time to ensure important calls reach you no matter where you are.
Businesses can put this feature to use though as a form of departmental call routing. You can use a Google Voice number for a department, such as sales, or customer service, and have the Google Voice number simultaneously ring the desk phones of all of the people in the department so that customers get an efficient response.
2. Custom Call Greeting and Routing
You can set up Groups in Google Voice and establish unique call management options for each group. A sales department can use this function to set up different groups for each salesperson. Incoming calls that are associated with a sales person's group can be routed to go only to the designated user's desk and mobile phone, and if the call goes to voicemail it can have a custom message from the individual sales person rather than a generic greeting.
Using a Google Voice number in this way, all customers can dial one number to reach the sales department, but existing customers will be routed to their designated sales person, while calls from new and potential customers would be managed using the default settings to simultaneously ring the whole department.
3. Voicemail by E-mail
When a new voicemail is received in Google Voice can send the voicemail to an e-mail address and/or transcribe the audio into the text of an e-mail message. You can configure Google Voice to deliver the voicemail messages to an e-mail group or distribution list address so that all of the members of the department will receive the voicemail.
Having the voicemail sent to email at all will help ensure it is not overlooked entirely, and distributing the message to a group can improve the efficiency with which the department responds to customer inquiries and lead to significantly higher customer satisfaction.
4. Call screening
You can configure Google Voice to announce incoming calls to you before you decide whether or not you want to accept the call. When the phone rings and you answer you are not connected immediately with the caller. Google Voice will identify the source of the call at which point you can choose whether to accept it or pass it to voicemail.
This function can be used by an individual or a team to reduce wasted time and improve productivity. If you are in the middle of a project, important calls can still be taken, while other calls can be sent to voicemail so that you can stay focused on more productive tasks.
Google recently announced a new option, a sort of Google Voice Lite, that allows you to use some Google Voice features while maintaining your existing number, but the functions I listed above require the standard Google Voice account. Google Voice is not available to the general public just yet, but if you know a friend or a friend that has Google Voice you might be able to get an invite.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.
This story, "Google Voice makes small businesses sound bigger" was originally published by PCWorld.