Simplify Voicemail and Fax Communications

As an independent technology consultant and writer, I work in a home office. Although I would like to have a full-time assistant and offices in multiple cities, the nature of my business doesn't accommodate such amenities.

As a home-based worker, I hate to deal with certain types of communication—particularly voicemail and faxes. I get a lot of voicemail, and the callers often drone on for minutes before leaving me a phone number. The calls usually are work-related, so I need to listen to the entire message.

Faxes are another story. In many cases, I need outbound faxing capabilities, but inbound faxes are often nothing more than junk advertisements—fax spam, if you will. Dealing with these communications is a challenge for corporate users, too, but is especially vexing to small offices and telecommuting workers.

To deal with voicemail and faxes, I've been using a service called jConnect (http://www.j2.com) since its earliest incarnation (it has undergone a few product name changes). The jConnect service gives me, as a business user, a simpler way to handle voicemail and faxes by delivering them all to my email Inbox.

The service is based on a simple idea: Each service subscriber gets a personal phone number that he or she can distribute as a fax number. The number can be local to the user or, if the user wants to give the impression that he or she is a bigger business, the phone number can be in any of more than 800 geographic locations that jConnect supports. To set up voicemail, you add call forwarding to your current phone number. When the call forwards to the jConnect number, the automated attendant picks up the call as any interactive voice response (IVR) system would. The system records the caller's message and sends it in a proprietary compressed audio format to any email account you've configured (up to three per phone number). The system receives faxes sent to your new fax number and forwards them to your email Inbox.

The jConnect software works fine on every version of Windows I've tried it on—Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 98 Standard Edition (Win98SE)—and you can install it to add outbound faxing and voicemail capabilities to Microsoft Office applications, among other productivity tools. For example, I've also added jConnect to the Eudora Pro email application.

Handling voicemail is easy when the messages arrive as email. I click the email attachment, and it launches the jConnect playback tool. I can stop and start the recorded message, change the volume level, repeat a section again and again, or save the message for future reference. This approach sure beats having to catch a mumbled phone number while fumbling with the telephone headset.

Another advantage of this service is that when I'm traveling, I can get my voicemail when I download my email each day. You can also check voicemail by phone if you have either of the two subscription-based versions of jConnect. I don't have to worry about missing a voicemail while I'm traveling. And if important information I need is in a voicemail, I can copy the voicemail and bring it with me.

The jConnect service comes in three forms: a free service (jConnect Free) and two subscription-based services (jConnect Lite and jConnect Premier) that add additional features and benefits such as Web-initiated conference calling. jConnect offers a 1-month free trial of jConnect Premier, or you can try the jConnect Free service if jConnect Premier gives you more features than you need. jConnect is worth a look if you need a different way to handle fax and voicemail communications.

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