Most telephone companies (fixed line and wireless) provide a pretty basic (read: lame) voice mail interface that hasn’t changed much in over a decade.
You can easily replace your telco voice mail with a third party unified messaging service. UM services take voice mail a step further by providing enhanced features such as:
- Voicemail to Email Forwarding (incoming voice mail is sent to your email account as an audio file)
- Voice Email - send and reply to incoming email messages by voice, outgoing messages are sent via email as audio attachments
- Voice SMS - the voice mail system sends an SMS/text message that provides caller details and links back to the message for immediate playback
- Email Readback - although less necessary now that handheld devices can download text email, some UM services allow you to listen to your incoming email (and spam) by phone
Unified messaging service is available from a number of vendors, including: J2, uReach, and others. The service usually costs a few dollars per month, and includes a direct-dial local telephone number that caller’s dial to leave a message.
Once you have activated your UM account, simply configure your cellular phone’s busy/no answer/no service forwarding settings to route calls to this secondary phone number if your phone is busy, unanswered or out of the coverage area. This is especially easy to do on GSM phones, as this is a standard GSM setting. On other types of cellular networks, you may be able to set this from the telephone, or you may need to call the telephone company to request this change (this is often the case with fixed line telephone companies, and often involves an additional fee… beware of this, as it can be a ripoff).
Once this is set, calls will no longer go into your telco voice mail, and will instead go to the unified messaging number, where you’ll be able to retrieve incoming voice mail via telephone, via the web, or via email, whichever is easiest for you at the moment.
NOTE: your cellular company may charge you a metered rate for forwarded telephone calls. Read the fine print on your contract. If forwarded calls are simply deducted from your monthly airtime allotment, it shouldn’t make a big difference in your bill. If they charge you a retail per minute rate, 20-40 cents/minute, you can get dinged pretty badly on surplus airtime charges.
Do you use a unified messaging service with your fixed line or mobile phone? If so, share your tips and recommendations here.