Hidden Gems #15: Skype functions for business
You may well have heard of Skype – it was the first mass-market VoIP phone/video service (VoIP simply means making calls over the internet).
But did you know that Skype is now part of the Microsoft family?
The logic of VoIP is that we generally pay a flat fee for our internet connection, so making calls using an online service often cuts out those niggly per-minute charges, and allows you to do smart things like audio- and video-conferencing from your laptop or tablet.
The Target: Skype
Whereabouts: Completely free, at http://beta.skype.com/en/
Modus Operandi: Audio and video calls, messaging and file sharing with anyone, anywhere and all from one piece of uncomplicated software on any device.
The basics of Skype are very simple: the answer is almost always “Yes”:
You can use Skype software on your PC, laptop, tablet and mobile. If the office is actually your sofa, that’s no problem. You can use Skype on many home phones, internet-enabled TVs and games consoles, too.
With Skype, you can make free PC-to-PC phone calls and video calls; and instant messaging and file sharing are also included. Calls to standard landlines and text messaging across the globe are on offer at very business-friendly rates. And for ninja-grade users, Skype has a wealth of nifty extras which make it as attractive to business users as a fully installed professional phone system. It’s these tools we’re going to look at here.
You can create new accounts and switch paid features on and off for individual users, so your salesperson can make that big call to Beijing whilst Bernie in the warehouse won’t be able to spend hours online to his Mum in Australia. You’ll get real-time usage reports, and, as your company grows, you can set up departmental groups, too.
One of the attractions of VoIP is that numbers maybe become a thing of the past. Rather like Instant Messenger, it’s nice to contact people by selecting their name from a contact list: ‘Bob Jones’ rather than 020 7123 4567. But there are good reasons to keep numbers alive. For starters, not everyone is using VoIP services yet, and in any case, what happens when nobody knows your contact name? Plus, whilst there’s only one Engelbert Humperdink,
there are plenty of Bob Joneses, and that can make for confusion with ordinary consumers. Numbers are here to stay for a good while yet, so Skype offers numbers on tap – customised to whichever country and area code will make your customers happy. Unlike a landline, though, your Skype number can follow you wherever you go: home or office, PC or phone.
Free Group Messaging
You would expect a tool which can handle audio and video calls to support Instant Messaging too, and of course Skype does. Messaging is completely free, and includes Group Messaging – the ideal way to bring whole teams together, wherever they may happen to be.
Incidentally, if you already use Windows Live Messenger, the granddaddy of Messenger tools, you can easily import your contacts from that platform into Skype by hitting Contacts > Import Contacts.
Voicemail and Call Forwarding
Skype includes free, business-grade voicemail, too. To set up voicemail, change settings, or leave your outgoing message (ideally done using a phone rather than a PC – the audio quality is better), select Manage Features > Voice Messages. Currently, Skype does not support emailing voicemail files to you; but you can be alerted to a voicemail by email, completely free. Look for Voice Message Alert Options.
On the rare occasions you can’t be near anything Skype-compatible (a holiday home on a far-flung island, perhaps), Call Forwarding converts your Skype calls back into old-fashioned landline conversations. There’s a low per-minute charge, as you would expect with a service which feeds into traditional phone lines, but it does mean you’ll never be out of touch. Hit Tools > Options > Calls > Call
Under the magnifying glass...
So much for the functions. But Skype has a new hidden ace up its sleeve – it can actually bring you business. “Skype in the Workspace” is a sort of phone book for the 21st Century – and like the old phone book, it’s perfect for small and growing companies. The principle is simple: promote your services, to a global audience if appropriate, with a simple and easily formatted promo page.
That’s where the similarity with the phone book ends: the key differentiator is a Skype button which allows browsing customers to call you with a single click, for a predefined 5, 10 or 15-minute consultation, to which you can switch your commitment on or off anytime. This allows even the smallest business to become a consultancy, it changes prospecting for business into problem-solving for self-selecting customers. Plus, the system also supports testimonials, so helpful consultations are rewarded with gold stars all round.
Incidentally, if some of the above sounds like the sort of business networking you’d expect to find on LinkedIn, you can even use your LinkedIn ID to log in to Skype in the Workspace.
The target exposed
Find out more:
We, at Microsoft, are happy to announce ‘Talking Business’ to help entrepreneurs and business owners’ succeed. We believe in your ability to innovate and in the ability of technology to help, so to support ‘Talking Business’ we have many resources available for businesses like you. We have an informative newsletter, blog posts by people in the industry, and a community looking to help small business succeed.
Follow us on twitter - @MicrosoftSB, or use the hashtag #TalkingBusiness to find out more information.