Is "Google Voice" Good for Businesses?
By Dan Baldwin, Telecom Association Founder & Executive Director

The answer to this question depends on the business you're in.

Before considering the "Google Voice question" though, ask the similar "Craigslist question". Is Craigslist good for your business? That answer is certainly "Yes" if you own a business that recruits employees through classified advertisements. The answer is a resounding "No" if you own a newspaper that survives on classified ad revenue.


      
 

Ten years ago the owners of the LA Times & the Chicago Tribune would likely have laughed at the idea of Craig Newmark's Internet "bulletin board" Craigslist.com putting them out of business. If they were laughing then, they're certainly not laughing now.
 

 

Business Telecom Pop-Quiz: Craigslist is to newspaper classified advertising revenue in the same way as Google Voice is to ______________ revenue?

Now Google is set to enter the telephone business with the seemingly innocuous invitation to "do more with your calls ... for free". What does Google want to help the harried business person "do"? Only everything they would probably want to if they a magic wand that works on business telecommunications like:

     1. Have your cell, desk & home office phone all ring at once...
     2. Screen calls like you do with a home answering machine ...
     3. Store all your voice mails (with transcriptions) in your email inbox

     4. Record calls...
     5. Switch phones during a call...
     6. Have conference calls...  And a whole bunch of other stuff ... for free!

"Wait a minute Batman, except for the 'free part', aren't those the same really cool, whiz-bang big business phone features we're supposed to get in that new and expensive VoIP phone system you want for the Bat Cave?

"Why yes, Robin. You're absolutely correct, old friend! Those are the exact new features we've been looking at for some time now and looking to pay really big bucks for at that."

"Something tells me the Joker must be involved in some diabolical phone trick that may just involve the wallet of every business owner in Gotham City. We better get the police chief involved in this right away!"

So the the question of the year for everyone that lives or dies by the amount of money spent on business phone bills (or Bat Cave business phone systems) is, "One really big company is giving away a really useful service for free at the same time a lot of other smaller companies are charging for the same service - what does it all mean?"

"What does it all mean?" indeed! Had the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and all the other newspapers answered the same question better ten years ago they would likely not have the "Craigslist Hammer Headache" that they all have today.

 

Separating the phone number from the phone service enhances phone choice

By historically tying a business owner's phone number to their business phone service, during the term of the business phone service contract, phone companies have always been able to exercise monopoly-like power over both the phone price the business owner pays and the phone service the business owner gets. Sure the business owner can switch at the end of their term, but during the term of the phone contract they pretty much take what the phone company gives them.

(More recently, new VoIP or IP-PBX phone systems provided all the desired fancy phone services but not before a fairly expensive new phone system was installed.)

By being able to finally acquire their phone numbers from one company and their phone service or phone equipment from another, business owners are now able to command commodity-like price freedom over the actual dial tone needed to make and receive phone calls. Even if the dial tone fails that's in between the phone number and the voice mail, communication can still take place via email and back-up dial tone options.

What should  business owners do? 

     1. Let go of the idea that only expensive business phone services or equipment systems can provide for professional and efficient staff communications
     2. Make an "idea list" of the ways your phone service can enhance your profits
     3. Think of phones, phone numbers, dial tone, employees, voice mail, email and job tasks as separate puzzle pieces that can go together any way that promotes profitability
     4. See your business phones not as an "equipment system" that goes on a wall in a closet so much as a "business application" like an accounting package that goes on your local or wide area data network
     4. Decide how much ownership, security and control you need over your employee's phone communications
     5. Piece the phone part puzzle pieces together the way that best serves your business
     6. Find a business telecommunications consultant or broker that will bring together for you the service providers needed to economically bring your custom phone puzzle to reality

 

What should telecom solution and service providers do? 

     1. Assume that business customers both big and small will get sucked into the vacuum created by a legitimate competitor (Google) offering a valuable solution (Google Voice) for free - especially in a down economy. (Craigslist was not a fluke and they are still much smaller than Google!)
     2. As Google is not known for human-to-human customer service (an assumed but diminishing expectation in the phone service business) figure out how to deliver the promise of Google Voice at a reasonable price point but with "nice humans" and customer service that actually works.
     3. Let go of business customers that are happy with the "free, open and easy" telecom solution offered by Google Voice if you have no other solutions to offer
     4. Focus on customers where "free, open and easy" might be a bad thing like in the medical field where HIPAA is always a concern or in a competitive business environment where it's easy for employees to take their "Rolodex" and the business owner's customers out the door when the employee quits or gets fired.
     5. See yourself less as a telecom solutions consultant and more as a business applications consultant
     6. Signup as a Google Voice customer as soon as it's available to better understand how and when it's appropriate to use and recommend. Other similar services you should be familiar with would include toktumi (includes free inbound 800 usage and also sold by Dell & Staples), Phone.com, Onebox, eVoice, my1voice and FreedomVoice.

 

True Business Case Study

Last year I sold a new IP-PBX phone system to a California law firm with nine locations spread throughout California. We sold them an Allworx IP-PBX over a competing Shoretel or Avaya system both of which priced out at least 50% more. After price, their main criteria for buying the new phone system was to have something that tied their nine offices together on one phone system so they could have free location to location calls.

The law firm ended up getting most everything they wanted in the phone system but two interesting things happened during the cut-over which happened at the same time the main office was moving. First, the new dial tone did not show up on time so the 40 law office employees (including 15 attorneys) worked off their cell phones for almost a week. The second thing that happened was the new system did not do that "call announce" feature when outside callers dialed the employees direct numbers.

The lack of the call announce feature (which they had on their old NEC single-location phone system) drove them crazy. If the call did not come through the main office and the live receptionist the law office workers had to rely on caller ID to decide if they wanted to take the call.

Learning Points

The learning points from this law office phone system case study are 1) that even a big office can work off just their cell phones if they need to, and 2) that business people REALLY want to know who's calling and what they want before they invest their valuable time in picking up the phone.

This is a big deal because most of the "technology experts" on the Internet who have reviewed Google Voice have reviewed it from a consumer's point of view and have given Google Voice a rather "ho-hum" review. Within short order I predict that the big adopters of Google Voice will be business users who are using Google Voice in conjunction with or instead of their fancy office phone system.

 

Other Google Voice Reviews

     1. Google Voice Speaks of World Domination, Wired.com 3/12/9 
     2. GrandCentral Reborn as Google Voice, a Suite of VoIP Services, GigaOM.com 3/12/9
     3. Jupiter Broadcasting Review on YouTube, March 2009
     4. NY Times Review of Google Voice, March 2009

Is Google Voice good for your business? Yes!

Maybe not as the specific telecom tool a business owner will use right away so much as the paradigm changer both telecom providers and business owners needed to change the basic expectations they bring to the telecom negotiating table.

Starting this year business owners will feel empowered to say to prospective telecom solution providers, "This is what I want and this is how I want it to work and if Google Voice can do it for free you ought to be able to do it for money and provide decent customer service!"

There's a new telecom hammer in the marketplace. Are you going to get nailed or are you going to be a "better hammer"?

(Note: To license this content for your own distribution contact Dan Baldwin at Dan@TelecomAssociation.com or call 951-251-5155) 

 

 


Questions about this article? 

Please contact Dan Baldwin at Dan@TelecomAssociation.com or 951-251-5155



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