Google Floats all Boats

Over the past week and a half, Google Voice has prompted an exciting increase in the volume of discussions about Voice 2.0 and the evolution of telephony from a facility based to an Internet based service. This evolution will free millions of businesses from the limited features provided by their local telephone company.

For some background on the impact of Google Voice I recommend reading the excellent posts from Andy Abramson, Wired.com, Gigaom, and Jon Arnold.

Once you have caught up on the industries first reactions think about the following. We are experiencing a dramatic revolution in telecommunications driven by the disaggregation of telecommunications transport from telecommunications features or applications. In the pre-voice 2.0 days, just a few of years ago, a business would call “the telephone company” and lease a telephone line with a set of features. These features might include call waiting, three way calling, voice mail, etc. While you were able to select a long distance carrier that was different from the telephony company providing you with dial tone, to gain access to additional features you had to install a key system or PBX in your business.

Unfortunately the installation of an in house telephone system often locked your business into a fix or very slowly improving set of features. Try upgrading your traditional TDM or POTS based small business key system. It often can’t be done.

Now that many alternatives exist for telephone transport, that is to say, dial tone, a business is no longer limited to the features provided by their dial-tone provider. You might choose to purchase your business lines from AT&T and then use your Google Voice telephone number as your public facing number. When a customer calls, Google will ring both your cell phone and your AT&T landline. In essence you now have three telephone companies. AT&T for outbound calls from your desk, your cell phone carrier for out bound calls from your cell and Google for inbound calls.

This works well since advanced features such as enhanced voice mail and find me are triggered based on an inbound call. The introduction of the trusted and innovative Google brand into the telecommunications landscape will hasten the acceptance of using multiple telephone providers for your business communications needs.

However, Google Voice is just the beginning. Once a business tastes the benefits of enhanced telephone applications they rapidly want more. That’s where companies like Ifbyphone come in. Google has demonstrated proficiency in deploying applications such as search and email where customer service and a consultative relationship are not required. Businesses requiring and willing to pay for a more direct partnership will find the Google approach unacceptable for critical business telephone services. Put more simply, businesses want the ability to pick up their telephone and talk to someone about their telephone application needs.

Additionally, Google Voice is currently limited to a very narrow range of telephone applications. Since Google applications are built for extremely large user communities they leave a wide berth of opportunity for innovative and more narrowly focused organizations.

At Ifbyphone we provide a complete suite of hosted telephone application services focused on the needs of small to medium sized business. We support these services with real people who spend thousands of hours a week consulting with new and existing customers.

While our entry-level services include unified telephone number support and overlap with Google Voice they extend into sophisticated sales, marketing and service delivery solutions. The power of Ifbyphone derives from our instant on-demand IVR services that are available to any web site initiated, in bound or outbound scheduled telephone call. Our customers see our services as toll free and local telephone number call routing, call queuing, interactive voice response, click to call and voice broadcasting.

In conclusion, I believe Google Voice will rapidly become the wave that floats all of the Voice 2.0 boats. While Google does the heavy lifting of educating businesses about the power of utilizing multiple telephone solution vendors for your business, Ifbyphone will focus on the delivery of innovation IVR based solutions that begin where the Google Voice technologies end.


Is Google good for Small and Medium Sized Business (SMB)?

Only if it gets them a phone call. Why? Because the majority of SMBs will never have a website with a shopping cart. Not because they're behind the times, but because they aren't selling things that can go in a shopping cart. Think about plumbers, lawyers and chiropractors. Now, think about that phone call.

Twenty years ago, when you needed a plumber, let's say in Chicago, you looked in the Yellow Pages. The number of listings was manageable and they were all local. You picked one, called and spoke with a human being. You made the deal at the moment when you wanted a plumber. The Yellow Pages were designed for making phone calls. Google isn't.

Googling "plumbers Chicago," returns an overwhelming mess of listings, including some for Tucson plumbers with "Chicago" somewhere on their website. You can only see one page at a time, making it hard to compare or return to a prior listing that seemed interesting. If you do settle on one, you'll probably have to navigate through the website for a phone number. And when you finally call, it's likely you have to navigate another menu. In the meantime, your wife got the neighbor to fix the toilet and one Chicago plumber missed a job.

It's simple human nature. We buy from people we feel connected to. Just browsing a web site we don't feel connected. Even using a pop-up text chat box, we don't feel connected. However, talking on the telephone we feel connected. The more human contact we have with a business the more likely we will buy their product or service. Googling "plumbers" is about as impersonal as you can get. The personal relationship is what drives sales more than any other factor. In fact, 75 percent of sales are closed in person and on phone calls, against an anemically small segment for Web site, e-mail, and chat orders, all of which create instant distance between seller and buyer.


It's not magic: the more callers, the more business.

Adding click-to-call to a website brings back the Yellow Pages Effect, bypassing that sales-chilling period of time between needing something and calling to order it. Click-to-call marries the intimacy and immediacy of the phone to the flexibility of the Web so business can have the power of both.

If click-to-call is so valuable, why aren't more SMBs using it? The answer until recently was cost.

Just a few of years ago, click-to-call was only available with costly interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Costing thousands of dollars and requiring highly specialized technicians, complex custom programming, and costly infrastructure upgrades, IVR systems were out of reach for all but the largest companies.

Today, the model of delivering business applications and services over the Internet, SaaS (Software as a Service) and mature VoIP technology (Voice over Internet Protocol) can bring advanced IVR capabilities to any business with a website. It's Communications as a Service and, if you think about it, it's what the phone company has been doing for over a century. In this model, service providers invest in the infrastructure and specialized skills ( shielding customers from the underlying complexity. All customers need to know is how to use the phone and a browser. Payment is as-you-go ( the same as your home phone.

And now that it's simple and affordable, the benefits are huge. Click-to-call gives businesses a measurable market advantage, according to industry analyst iMedia Connection*:

  • A 22 to 25 percent reduction in website abandonment from website pages with click-to-call services
  • As much as a 100 percent increase in transaction conversions from click-to-call users versus toll-free callers
  • 88 percent of click-to-call users say they are more likely to contact a company that offers a click-to-call service than one that does not.

Not only does click-to-call make it easier for customers to call while the impulse to buy is hot, it also makes sure their calls are answered and directed to the right place.

For example, a car dealer can route callers needing repairs to the service department and callers inquiring about fleet purchases to the sales department. You can also integrate click-to-call into email campaigns. However you use click-to-call, you always know exactly where a call is coming from. The bottom line: People buy from people. Even more so, from people they know. Thus phone calls build the relationships that build sales. And while Google is surely here to stay, click-to-call will make it better by connecting the SMB to their prospects the old fashioned way. By phone. Just like the Yellow Pages did.

Irv Shapiro

CEO

Ifbyphone, Inc.

*http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/8524.asp