Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

Google Voice is a robust application that enhances your existing phone service. It was introduced in March 2009 and allows free calling and text messaging in the U.S. and Canada. It also offers low rates for international calls.

Despite not being able to place emergency calls, the service has come a long way in the last two years. You can now even make your Google Voice number, which you choose, your actual mobile phone number through a process called "number porting" — an important note: Number porting will terminate your existing carrier contract, and Google charges a $20 one-time fee for this porting service.

Even if you do not utilize number porting, Google Voice has some great features for real estate professionals. Here are 10 tips to customize Google Voice and get the most out of the service.

1. Voice mail notifications. One of the most powerful features of Google Voice is voice mail notifications. Voice mail notifications alert you via email when you have missed a call or have a new voice mail. To enable this feature in Google Voice, click on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Google Voice screen and select "Voice settings," then select "Voicemail & Text," then click on the "Email the message to:" option, and enter your email address. You can also enable alerts to send a text message to your mobile phone.

2. Create a Google Voice label and filter. After enabling voice mail notifications, you can create a label in Gmail (give it a name like "Google Voice" or "voice mail") to manage all of your Google Voice email correspondence. Next, create a filter in Gmail so all of your Google Voice messages are delivered directly to that label. This will not only organize your messages, but also gives you the ability to quickly search your messages.

3. Google Voice player. The Google Voice player is a super cool gadget that allows you to listen to voice mail right from your inbox. To enable this gadget, click on the gear icon and select "Mail settings" (or click on the "Settings" field), then click "Labs," then find the "Google Voice player in mail" tool in the list and click "Enable." Voice mail recordings can play on mobile devices including the iPhone and iPad.

4. Share voice mail. With Google Voice you can forward and share messages. Just log into your account, select the message you would like to share, click "more" and select "Email." If you have enabled notifications, you can also email messages from Gmail. This is a great feature, especially if you want to share an important voice mail with a client or colleague.

5. Voice transcription. Google Voice will transcribe your voice mail to text, allowing you to read voice mail as well as listen to them. Google states that "transcriptions aren’t perfect," and they’re not. However, it’s a handy feature if you’re in a meeting and cannot take a call. You can also search transcriptions just as you would email. To enable this option, select "Voicemail & Text," and click on "Transcribe Voicemails."

6. Call or text from your browser. Google Voice allows you to call or text directly from your browser. Just log in to your account and click on the "Call" and "Text" buttons below the Google Voice logo.

7. Call Widget. The Google Voice Call Widget is a nifty little app that allows visitors to your website or blog to call you. The widget is super easy to enable and embed. Just select "Call Widgets" on the Google Voice "Settings" menu, click "Add a new Call Widget," select the applicable settings, and click "Save changes" when done. You can then copy the snippet of code provided and embed it in your website. A visitor can click the widget and enter a name and number, and Google Voice will connect the call. You can see the Call Widget in action here.

8. Groups. As stated in a Google Voice description, you can customize "a special greeting for your family, or have your co-workers ring separate phones." This is absolutely one of my favorite features of Google Voice. You can easily upload or manually add contacts to Google Voice and organize them into custom groups. You can then record unique voice mail greetings for each group, which is extremely advantageous. Real estate professionals can create groups for buyers, sellers, co-workers, etc., to help optimize communications.

9. Call Screening. Call screening is a valuable feature in Google Voice. To enable this, select "Calls" on the "Settings" menu and select "On" for "Call Screening." Pressing "2" during an incoming call will send the call to voice mail. The best feature of call screening: at any point during the call, you can press "*" to join the call. You can also choose to block any caller as you see fit. In Google Voice, just select the message, and then click "more" and select "Block caller."

10: Record Call. Pressing "4" during a conversation will record the call. The participants on the call are notified that the conversation is being recorded. Recorded conversations are available in your Google Voice inbox on the Web and in your mobile app.

Bonus Tip. To conduct a conference call, press "5" during an incoming call and the participants are added to the call.

Google Voice was "invitation only" for the first year or so of service, but all Google accounts now have access to the application. Also, Google launched a Google Voice iPhone app in November 2010, and it’s extremely slick.

Utilizing the service, I’ve been able to streamline all of my numbers including home, office and mobile. Creating groups and customized greetings has been fantastic … give it a try.

Please leave comments below to let me know about your own experiences using Google Voice.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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