We’re all looking for a better deal. And as technology progresses, consumers don’t have to look for a better deal, they can create a better deal. In the Great Tome of Internet History, there are countless examples of consumer ingenuity taking on The Man, if for only a brief moment– companies like Napster, Kazaa, Limewire and Pirate Bay gave (and continue to give either directly or indirectly) the entertainment industry the run-around with free movie, music and TV show downloading.
What does this have to do with voice? Glad you asked! Because voice technology is following a path similar to other media when they were first introduced to the Internet (minus a lot of the legal turmoil). VoIP technology didn’t reach the mass market until 2004, so it’s still relatively young in Internet years. That means hobbyists, start-ups and other folk are just beginning to tinker with the technology and, as in most industries, “cheaper, faster, stronger” is the motivating force.
The smartphone invasion, combined with low customer satisfaction rates for major service providers, has expedited innovation. The result has been a flurry of free voice apps that enable Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G calling. Skype, Google Voice, Talkatone and GrooVe IP are some of the big ones that come to mind. They may serve some individuals well, but when it comes to business, their value is very limited.
As I see it, there are three major pitfalls with free voice apps for business:
Phone numbers – The lowly phone number is still the most universal form of addressing in the communications world. Think about how you want your business represented to the public. Are you going to put your Skype ID on a billboard? You would be drastically limiting your response rate if you did.
Support – You get what you pay for. Free service means the support burden is fully on the user in order to solve the problem. That translates to time spent searching user forums and FAQs for possible solutions to your problem. This is a big issue when you consider the fact that these apps are in a constant state of flux with upgrades and development. Features or integration capabilities that worked one month may not the next.
Systems integration/unified communications – Want that phone number on the billboard to feed into a larger CRM platform? Want your employees to be able to use their business number everywhere? This functionality is rare with free voice apps. Any CRM integration or network integration capabilities that do exist are limited and most likely not robust enough to support any business with aspirations to grow.
As the technology improves, free voice apps may carve out a niche in the consumer market, but history tells us the pricing models and functionality that exist now won’t be the ones in place in a few years. These apps certainly won’t replace cost-effective business phone services because they aren’t, by nature, built to compete. So when it comes to business, paid voice is still the smart play.