As I visit travel agent forums around the Internet, I see several topics repeated over and over. One such topic involves telecommunications and how it can be done more cost effectively. I recently hit upon a solution that works for me, and it provides me with some great benefits, too!
You may have heard of Skype, the VoIP program (Voice over Internet Protocol) that allows you to communicate with people all around the world for free, or for a low cost. Skype has improved a lot since its early days, and offers many benefits to the independent travel agent community. For starters, you can use it to make or receive voice calls with other Skype users for free. Even better, you can make video calls which join together webcam video feeds with the VoIP protocol. Skype also has the ability to allow you to make calls to land lines or mobile lines for a small fee. You can “pay as you go” using Skype Credit, or purchase a subscription that includes unlimited calling to certain world regions. Skype also offers a slew of other benefits, including voicemail and a feature called Skype Out. Skype Out is a fee service that allows you to receive calls on Skype from a land line or mobile line – without Skype Out, you can only receive calls from other Skype users. Use of Skype Out requires the purchase (at a discounted rate, if you purchase a subscription) of a custom telephone number that is linked to your account.
I purchased a monthly subscription for the US & Canada world region, along with a custom number and the Skype Out service. All told, I spent less than $40.00 for my initial investment, and my only recurring costs is $3.00 each month when my subscription renews, plus a maintenance fee every so often for my custom telephone number. When compared to the cost of telephone service from a “traditional” telecom provider plus long distance calling rates, the savings is hard to ignore. I have enjoyed the call quality I have received from Skype – many people have commented that I sound clearer than usual, and I have enjoyed being able to make and receive calls on my laptop while I am away from home. One other benefit – I have to use a headset microphone when using Skype to keep call quality as high as I can. This has benefited me by allowing me to keep my hands free while I am on a call.
Yet, Skype really didn’t do enough for me – it came close, but not quite. Then, I discovered Google Voice. Google Voice has been quite popular because of its features and its cost: ZERO. Using Google Voice, I can get a custom number in my area code (like with Skype), but their voicemail service is much more dependable. One nifty thing about Google Voice: the voicemail is transcribed and emailed to me. Sometimes the transcription works pretty well, other times it is rather comical. But, it’s proven to be very valuable to me in business. Using Google Voice, you can set it to ring your office phone, your cell phone, or any other phone you want, and your customer will only have to remember your Google Voice number.
Here’s my set up: I distribute my Google Voice number. It rings to my Skype number, which allows me to answer the call on my laptop. If I miss the call or cannot accept it at that time, Google Voice takes a voicemail and emails it to me (both the transcription and an audio file of the voicemail). I can then return the call at my convenience.
What if you don’t want to receive your calls on your computer? No problem – Skype has special phones that will make and receive Skype calls as if it was a regular phone service. You can find details at www.Skype.com. If you use your computer for Skype calls, I recommend that you invest in a good set of headphones with a microphone to improve call quality. You can expect to spend around $40-$60 for a decent set.
You can learn more about Google Voice at www.google.com/voice. Currently it is an invitation-only service . You can request an invite from the Google Voice website (which may not result in an instant invitation), or from a current Google Voice user.
I am happy to answer questions about Google Voice, Skype, or using them together for business. If you would like to give me a call to see how they work, send me an email and we’ll schedule a “call appointment!”
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a four-year industry veteran affiliated with Sunnyland Tours & Travel in Springfield, MO. He holds Lifestyle Specialist designations in Luxury Travel and is known for specializing in cruises, Western European tours, group travel, and culinary-themed travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com