Raise Your Voice

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Web-surfing and e-mailing seem to be the order of the day, with so much business communications taking place via computer. You might think the old telephone is falling behind in practicality, usefulness, and popularity.

Hardly. Not everyone can be near a desktop computer system all the time, as you well know, and laptops have to be opened, turned on, and plugged in. Cell phones are popular (partly because they’re more affordable than ever), and deregulation in the telecomm industry means that there are many service providers vying for your business.

And face it, voice is fast, precise, and personal. For quick messages between a central office and a mobile worker, or for quick updates to a customer or colleague, a message sent by voice can do the job better than almost anything else.

But what if voice and e-mail could work together? Not by clumsily typing messages on a cellphone’s tiny keypad, but by sending and recieving e-mail messages via voice? That happy scenario is not only possible, it’s available and affordable.

Tel-e-Trieval from Toronto-based Voice-Link (www.voxxcorp.com) lets you access your e-mail using any telephone (landline or wireless). The service uses computerized text-to-speech software to enable users to retrieve and send messages, as well as manage an e-mail account with a user-defined address book, filters, priority settings, and so on. By phone, the user can read message headers and subject lines, listen to messages (or choose to skip them), reply using one of four canned responses or a customizable response, or respond by voice, which ends up going to the recipient as a voice file. The service works right across North America, with no changes required to the user’s e-mail account.

It’s probably not going to replace doing intensive messaging on a desktop or laptop system (and, according to the folks at Voice-Link, it’s not meant to). But it makes a great supplement to computer-based e-mailing, especially for people who are on the road a lot, and who don’t have the time nor the inclination to pull over to the side of the road, fire up the computer, dial up the ISP, and tap away at a keyboard. With a cell phone and a hands-free set, and text-to-speech software working at the other end, retrieving and responding to e-mail is a breeze.

Voice-Link’s Tele-e-Trieval is only one example of a resurgence of interest in voice-based systems that marry the ease and ubiquity of voice to the power of computer networks. That’s because people now use various combinations of voice, fax, and e-mail for their business correspondence, depending on what they’re sending and who they’re sending it to.

The reality is, however, that the modern business person can’t dictate how people will communicate. So combining different messaging media into a unified messaging technology and service makes lots of sense to lots of users. In fact, revenues for the Canadian messaging industry alone are expected to more than double in the next five years, going from $450 million to $1.2 billion.

Voice-Link, which was established in 1986 as one of Canada’s first voice mail service bureaus, also offers other voice-based services, such as a voicemail box with a phone number, a national messaging service that allows large groups of corporate users to communicate with each other efficiently and effectively anytime, anywhere. Other services include equipmentless voicemail for small offices, follow-me fax, fax-on-demand, audiotext information lines, and combinations of the above.

These days, people are inundated with messages that can’t be ignored. Making it easy to pick up all your messages from one source-anytime, in any place, and using whatever method you’re most comfortable with-is what will bring voice back to a prominence it hasn’t known for years.

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