I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and tonite’s addition of the ability to port your existing phone number into Google Voice convinced me to do it sooner than later. I’ve been a Google Voice user since it was called Grand Central. I got my number way back then, and I’ve still got the same one. I got my first cellphone from Sprint when I was 16, had it for a year, and then switched to SouthwesternBellWireless and got a new number. That SouthwesternBellWireless number is the same phone number I have today, 11 years later.
I don’t get spam phone calls on my real phone number, ever. I don’t have crazy ex-girlfriends calling it, nor do I get unwanted phone calls on that number. Part of that is because I lead a pretty boring life. The other part is because I figured out a long time ago how to effectively use Google Voice to filter and manage my phone calls. Google Voice can be used in a few different ways, but I use it as a throwaway number – it’s the number I give out at stores that want it, to contractors, etc. Basically, I keep my real number private – only family and best friends get it. Everyone else gets my Google Voice number. I’ve done this for several years now, and I figure it’s about time I share my method with everyone else.
First up, you’ll need a Google Voice number – they’re free, so go ahead and set one up. It’s also a good idea to have a smartphone and a Google Voice app to go along with it. You can do this without an app, but it’s considerably more of a hassle, specifically for outgoing communications.
Now, start giving that number out instead of giving your real number out. It takes a bit of practice to start spitting out the right number, so make sure you know it well. You can start by telling anyone you want to manage that you got a new number. Just tell them you had to change your number, and give them the new one. Don’t respond if they text or call the old one, just ignore it (they think that number was disconnected anyways).
Now that you are all setup and rolling, here are a few tricks to really use Google Voice effectively:
1. Block callers – no carrier in the U.S. currently lets you block specific phone numbers from calling you, unfortunately. Google Voice does – just go to your call log on the website, and click the ‘More’ link at the bottom of their bubble. In the pop-up window, choose ‘Block Caller’ – confirm the option and you’re good to go. When that number calls you, it’s automatically given a standard ‘This number is not in service‘ message and then disconnected. It never even rings through to you. This is handy when you get spam phone calls, or if you get a stalker.
2. Use Groups – I synchronized my phone book with my Google account, and setup a ‘Coworkers’ group in my contacts. I can then setup a specific voicemail message that only my coworkers hear, and I can specify whether or not people in that group can get through to me (or get sent straight to voicemail).
3. Free voicemail transcription – you can set your Google Voice number up as your voicemail, bypassing your regular carrier’s offering. This way, you can get an email or text message when you get a new voicemail, along with a text transcription of the message – for free! Note, the transcription isn’t always the best, but it’s usually good enough for me to get the gist of the message.
4. Do Not Disturb – this is really the best part of the whole setup. Since only your closest friends and family have your real number, you can give your Google Voice number out willy-nilly, to anyone who wants it. You can then put your Google Voice account on ‘Do Not Disturb’, so that all calls to that number go straight to voicemail. This way, you can still carry around your cell phone, but you don’t have to worry about being bothered by pesky spam phone calls or other unwanted calls. Just remember to turn this eventually…
1. Send text messages – since you gave your Google Voice number to all your coworkers or new friends, you can use Google Voice to text them, as well – further confirming that this is a ‘legit’ number. You can send a text message through the Google Voice website on your phone or computer, or if you have a supported smartphone, you can use the Google Voice app for your platform (Android/BlackBerry/etc).
2. Make phone calls – again, everyone thinks this is your number, so it should be what shows up on caller ID, shouldn’t it? If you don’t have the app on your phone, you can initiate calls through the mobile website, or simply by calling your Google Voice number from your real number, and then following the prompts to place the call.
If you have an Android-powered smartphone, there is a free app called Voice Plus that lets you setup specific filters that automatically choose the outgoing number. So, for instance, I put everyone at work into a ‘Coworkers’ group in my contacts list. Then I told Voice Plus to automatically use my Google Voice as the outgoing number if I dial anyone from the ‘Coworkers’ group – everyone else sees my normal number, unless I manually specify otherwise.
Using Google Voice this way is totally free, and gives you an easy way to filter and manage who can get ahold of you, and when. The possibilities are endless – I give my Google Voice number to contractors I’m only using temporarily, companies that are coming to install something or deliver a package, or anyone else who needs to get ahold of me, but I’m unsure if they’ll know when to stop calling me.
Have you come up with any other tricks for using Google Voice effectively?