Saturday, October 12, 2019

10 reasons to consider switching your company's phone service to Google Voice - TechRepublic

10 reasons to consider switching your company's phone service to Google Voice - TechRepublic


10 reasons to consider switching your company's phone service to Google Voice - TechRepublic

Posted: 15 May 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Google Voice for G Suite is integrated with other G Suite apps. Find out how it might help businesses modernize and consolidate voice communications.

Google has offered Google Voice for personal use since 2009. The service put powerful calling features--such as multi-device ring, browser-based calling, voicemail transcription, and spam filtering--in the hands of consumers.

In April 2019, the company launched Google Voice for G Suite, with the intent to deliver modern calling features to organizations. Google Voice joins Gmail, Hangouts Chat, and Hangouts Meet as an additional G Suite core communication service. At launch, administrators of G Suite customers in 9 countries could select and deploy Google Voice for the enterprise.

SEE: G Suite: Tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Now, an organization can switch from a legacy phone provider to Google Voice for G Suite. For businesses that still use an on-site phone system, the move to a modern, easier-to-manage, cloud-based system, such as Google Voice, makes a great deal of sense. The move may save you money, too, since Google elected to price Google Voice for G Suite quite competitively.

So if your company uses G Suite, take a few minutes to read through the following 10 Google Voice features and compare those to what is offered by your phone provider.

1. Multi-device

Google Voice works on almost any device. Install the Google Voice app on Android or iOS, sign in, and then place or receive calls with your Google Voice number. Or, sign in to Google Voice in Chrome on a laptop or a desktop to handle calls on your computer.

People who prefer a desk phone will be able to choose from a set of devices approved for Google Voice. At Google Next '19, the Poly booth showcased devices compatible with Google Voice--additional partners and devices will be added over time. Desk phone options will be available for Standard and Premier customers.

You control which devices ring when you receive a call; for instance, you can configure calls so that only one device rings or enable every device you've linked to your Google Voice account to ring all at once. There is also the option to enable Do Not Disturb for silence.

2. Transcription

Google Voice makes voicemail messages readable with world-class speech-to-text transcription. Even when you don't answer a call, you can read the transcript, and then choose whether (or how) to respond.

3. Texting

Unlike legacy phone systems, every Google Voice number in the US supports SMS. So people in your organization can text, in addition to talk, from Google Voice web and mobile apps.

4. Spam detection

Google delivers spam detection not only in Gmail, but also in Google Voice. Calls identified as spam get routed to your Google Voice spam folder, which you can review at any time.

5. Administrative management

G Suite administrators can assign or remove a number quickly from the Admin console; additionally, they can manage all of G Suite's communication services, including Gmail, Hangouts Chat, Hangouts Meet, and Google Voice.

6. Text-to-speech auto-attendant

Standard or Premier editions of Google Voice support an auto-attendant. You know the system: "To reach accounting, press 1, for tech support, press 2," and so on. But with G Suite, you don't have to record any of these prompts; instead, you type your automated prompts, and G Suite synthesizes speech in the language you select.

7. G Suite integration

Google Voice integrates with other apps in Google's core enterprise communication suite--for example, Google Voice already handles dial-in and phone services within Hangouts Meet. Although not available as of the April 2019 launch, the Google Voice app will also display in the side panel in Gmail, so you can quickly place a call in response to an email. A similar integration within Hangouts Chat will let you talk to team members.

Each person can also set Google Voice to sync with working and out-of-office hours on Google Calendar. With two separate settings, you may choose to send calls directly to voicemail outside of working hours or when your Calendar shows you're out of the office.

8. Compliance

Organizations that must comply with HIPAA should know that as a core G Suite service, Google Voice for G Suite is covered by Google's business associate's agreement (BAA) with customers. Google Voice complies with telecom regulations wherever the service is available.

9. Price

Google offers three editions of Google Voice: Starter, Standard, and Premier. Organizations that want local numbers within a single country, desktop support, and the auto-attendant will likely want Standard, available at $20 per person per month. Multi-national organizations will require Premier, which is available for $30 per person, per month. Organizations with fewer than 10 people--who also don't need desk phones--may choose the Starter edition at $10 per person per month.

Note: You can't mix-and-match editions for your G Suite domain--you select one edition for your domain, although you only need to purchase licenses for people in your organization that need Google Voice.

10. Number porting

Google Voice supports number porting, which allows an organization to retain phone numbers while switching voice providers. The system uses a Google Sheet, with each person's information in a row, to facilitate batch migration of numbers, as well as to identify any issues with a specific person's service during the porting process.

Real-world experience using Google Voice

To get some sense of how the system actually works in practice, I spoke with Ryan Bass of Portland State University (PSU), where about 100 people--most of whom are members of the IT team--participated in a pilot of Google Voice for G Suite. His take was that the trial was both easy to roll out and working well.

Bass said that "voicemail transcription is fantastic" and that support for "Do Not Disturb integration with Google Calendar's working and out-of-office hours is really nice." But more importantly, "Google Voice lets people make calls using their PSU phone identity, which means people don't have to reveal their personal mobile number when making calls on the go."

In the long-term, Bass said, a transition to Google Voice at PSU could potentially mean a move of about 4,300 lines. Users who are often on the go, such as admissions professionals or adjunct faculty, would likely opt-in to Google Voice first, due to the nature of their work. Additional deployment won't mean the removal of all copper lines, since (as of May 2019) Google Voice can't yet replace fax or elevator lines, for example. Bass also noted that many people liked to "not have a handset on their desk," since they could instead handle all calls with a headset and an app.

Your experience?

If you've already deployed Google Voice for G Suite, what was your experience? If you're considering the move, what questions or concerns do you have? Let me know your thoughts--either in the comments below, or on Twitter (@awolber).

Also see

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Image: TechRepublic/Andy Wolber

Voice Enables Local Businesses To Compete With Amazon 10/11/2019 - MediaPost Communications

Posted: 11 Oct 2019 11:59 AM PDT

Ashwin Ramesh, CEO at Synup, believes voice search and services are increasingly and rapidly becoming an important part of selecting a local retailer. This is based on data that company analyzed.

Search Insider highlighted some of the numbers in The State of Retail 2019 report earlier this week, but I wanted to know more about how voice contributes to the consumer's relationship with local retailers and businesses.

Search Insider:  Why do you think 35% say voice search is an important part of selecting a local retailer?

Ramesh: Voice search is growing considerably as an important source of information about local retailers due to a few reasons. First, it's increasingly a part of our lives as voice-enabled digital assistants and their corresponding devices are becoming commonplace in U.S. households. Fifty-five percent of U.S. households will own a smart speaker, with a digital assistant, by 2022.   

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As the report makes clear, smart device saturation is really driving a lot of this growth, and most smart devices are now equipped with a digital assistant -- from Siri to Alexa, Cortana to Google Assistant. The availability of voice search is becoming ubiquitous. 

While smartphones are the most critical device for finding and choosing local retailers, about 25% of people think smartwatches, 31% of smart TVs, 34% of smart speakers, and 37% of connected cars are highly important to store selection. All of these are largely dependent on voice search.

Respondents also made it clear that they expect fast, accurate and relevant information about a business in their immediate vicinity. This information often needs to be delivered in a hands-free environment such as when a person is walking, taking a train, multitasking or driving.  

The AI powering these voice-search results has significantly improved in the last few years, which makes the use of this service more reliable. Reliability of voice search results is building trust and driving greater usage among consumers. And with AI, the more you use it, the smarter it gets, so we expected adoption of voice search to increase dramatically in the new couple of years.

SI:  Despite the growth of ecommerce, 56% of consumers still report they frequently shop at local retailers. Why is this important?

Ramesh: It's important for multi-location retail brands to understand there are ways to counter the growing influence and market share of ecommerce. It's a real threat backed by some of the most powerful organizations in the world. Retail brands need to adapt to how people find, learn about and choose retailers at the local level.  

People require instant gratification with relevant and engaging business information and content across a wide range of devices and media channels. They treat retail business selection like they treat social media profiles. They judge and choose retailers based on their local digital identity. That digital identity increasingly defined by digital profiles across search engines, voice search, social media, as well as review, travel and map apps.  

If local retailers can more effectively curate, optimize and deliver the local business content they are showing people when they are found across these channels, they're much more likely to get them to come into their stores, coming the local business rather than ecommerce retailers. Some 85% prefer to shop at physical stores vs. online, according to the study's findings.  

Local brick-and-mortar retailers need to engage with consumers, then convert them immediately. That requires becoming much more sophisticated in how the retailer delivers a relevant experience to shoppers. The report shows real-time feeds of available products in-store, along with a host of other content like photos, reviews and coupons, are critical to customer acquisition. 

Do this and retailers will be able to more effectively compete with Amazon.

SI:  About 77% of consumers say they place significant weight on retailers' visibility and accuracy across search media channels. What does this say about the way consumers search online to find local retailers?

Ramesh:  If you aren't visible, as a retailer, across these media with accurate, relevant and engaging business content, consumers are going to look the other way.

You need to provide increasingly personalized information based on people's search behavior, the ultimate indicator of intent and purchase consideration, to compete in this new retail environment.

Retailers must do this whether or not they are an ecommerce retailer or a multi-location brick-and-mortar brand. 

OpenPhone gives you a separate business line for $10 per month - The Verge

Posted: 03 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

If you're a creative or other freelancer work, at some point you may start thinking twice about giving out your personal phone number to your clients or business contacts. Besides the possible privacy issues, do you really want your business connections to be able to call you at any hour of the day or night — and on the same number you give your family and friends? A new service called OpenPhone says it can solve that problem by providing cloud-based business numbers for $10 per month.

There are, of course, several cloud-based services that provide secondary phone numbers which can be used alongside your primary carrier-based number. To begin with, there is Google Voice, probably the best-known such service, which gives you a phone number that is associated your Google account. Voice has been available from Google since 2009 (when the original service, GrandCentral, was acquired), and is still free; however, it hasn't undergone a whole lot of updating since. Other services, such as Hushed and Burner, also provide separate phone numbers for reasonably low fees; they market themselves as alternatives for users who want temporary, easily deleted numbers.

OpenPhone, on the other hand, is pushing itself as a resource for independent workers or small businesses that want to separate their business and personal calls and texts. It distinguishes itself from Google Voice by touting its customer support, the availability of toll-free numbers, and the ability to have more than one number per phone. It is currently only available in the US and Canada.

How to register for OpenPhone

You can sign up either on the web or on your phone (if you choose to download the Android or iOS app first); I signed up on the web.

To begin with, you get to choose a phone number. You can select any US or Canada area code; be aware that some codes will offer more choices than others. You can also, if you want, choose a toll-free number, or even try to find a number with a word embedded in it — I was able to find a number that had "0GYM" as its last four characters.

Once you've chosen a phone number, you create an account, and verify it with your phone's carrier number (you can't use another VoIP number, such as Google Voice). You then have the option of providing your company name, number of employees and which industry you're in. (If you're just registering as an individual, you can skip this step.)

OpenPhone offers a seven-day free trial, although you do have to provide your credit card data in order to sign up. After the trial, OpenPhone costs $10 per month for an Individual account. A Team account, which costs $15 a month, adds a dedicated account manager and priority support.

And then, if you haven't already, you download the app to your phone, and you're ready to go.

A nicely simple UI

The interface is almost Spartan in its simplicity. The home page lists your recently-used contacts. If the person you want to contact isn't there, you can swipe left to tap in the phone number, or swipe right for the features list, which includes access to your contact list.

OpenPhone has its own contact list, which you can sync with your phone's. Once you've chosen the person you want to contact, you simply use the field at the bottom of the screen to send a text or the phone icon on the upper right to make a call. Records of phone calls and text messages for each contact are all on the same screen, making it simple to see all your previous conversations. You can also (via a menu) copy the number, block it or delete the conversation.

The apps has several nice options. One is the ability to set business hours; calls that come outside of your set hours will go straight to voicemail, and you can record a separate voicemail for those hours (such as "Our office is currently closed, but leave a message, and someone will call you back in the morning"). You can also forward calls to another number if, for example, you are going on vacation and want someone else to get the calls. A "Do Not Disturb" feature lets you temporarily mute calls.

You can have as many as five phone numbers associated with your carrier number (Google Voice only allows one). It's very easy to request another number straight from the features menu, but be aware that you'll pay $9.99 for each additional number.

I tried out OpenPhone and found that service worked perfectly well. In fact, the quality of the voice calls, using an internet connection, was better on my end than my usual Google Voice calls.

Can still be glitchy

Anyone trying out this service should be aware that it is still very new, and this shows. To begin with, the feature set is still a bit tentative. One example: OpenPhone boasts that it lets you you can link your OpenPhone number to your phone carrier rather than Wi-Fi or your data plan. However, there are still so many restrictions attached to this method that it's not really viable: you can't make outgoing calls, you can't attach more than one number to your carrier number, and it's only available for iOS phones.

In addition, there were a few coding glitches that popped up here and there. After my couple of calls, the names of the two contacts I had recently contacted were garbled together on the main page. Once I closed and opened the app, that resolved itself; still, something like that is a sign of an app still in development.

There are other cloud-based business solutions out there with more features, but they tend to charge $30 / month per user or more. For freelancers and startups, OpenPhone could be a good way to provide yourself with a separate business line. Just be aware that, since it's a startup, there could be an occasional hiccup along the way.

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