Ok. Yesterday a client of mine calls and says she wants to send a fax. A what? I did not know fax machines even worked on our souped up digital phone networks. I haven’t sent a fax in years (a quick scan to PDF attachment is my process of choice). Off to the races.
Let me begin by saying that I am as mobile as they come. I swear by my latest porto-box, even if it is a ten pound Dell C840. It has a mini-PCI b/g card, which is as close as I get to the network. I have a broadband connection in the house, that ends in two places – a wireless router for one, and another to a box that supposedly controls a machine called a television. Second device besides fax machines that I need to research someday. My cell is my only phone.
I started checking all the providers out there, and narrowing it down to two that seem to actually provide a service. (I don’t mention names when I have something negative to say – you can figure it out – I will call them ABC and XYZ). Both leave some things to be desired, and I am sure there are a few more that just didn’t make the cut (please let me know, too) but here is my take:
I first signed up for an ABC test account (free inbound, no outbound – just what I needed at the moment). I dialed the ABC number, and hear a fax on the other side. Good. Then I call the client, and give them the number. Five attempts by her later, no fax has gone through. Maybe it was the “handshake” or some other tech glitch, but nonetheless, it didn’t work. I log into my account, looking for some help. I find a lot of links to upgrade my account, but none that actually show any activity. The support section of the site turns up nothing either (except a lot more links to upgrade).
Now, a couple of thoughts. Why would I want to upgrade to a paid account when I cannot even get the free account to do what I need it to? I am certainly not against paying, but for what? The only thing the upgrade offered was outbound faxing I don’t need, and a local number which I also don’t need (all my clients are far and away anyhow). A quick shot at the ABC pricing schedule, and I see no inbound-only plan.
Ok, no worky, no planny, no customer…….goodbye.
Next stop, XYZ. Now XYZ asks you to pay for some service upfront, but they offer the first thirty days for free (yea, whatever…they just bill in advance for service). But, again, as I am not opposed to paying, I sign up. Next thing I know, I have a confirm message on my screen, with a number. Bang…a confirmation email hits my box. Quick dial of the number, and I find a fax alive on the other side. Call the client, and give her the number. Five minutes later, an email arrives in my box with a nice clear PDF attached…..just how I like it.
Now some caveats on XYZ:
1) Their “activation” Outlook COM plug-in file (downloaded from their site) did not work. No care here, as a quick email to tech support (very responsive, by the way) confirms that file only enables outbound faxing from Outlook 2003. Don’t need it, and two, inbound has already proven to work fine without.
2) XYZ offers no inbound-only pricing plan (what I really need).
Questions and conclusions:
Why do these fax services think outbound faxing from email is so important? They force its “need” in their pricing structures, as though it is a world beater. If I have to send a document, why not just email it, instead of using email to fax it?
And why not offer an inbound-only plan? It should actually be cheaper for them to receive faxes, than to send them. Senders bear the cost of the call from the fax machine to the server on the inbound, while the fax service provider bears the cost of the call from the server to the fax machine on the outbound. And even if a service has a POP in every area code in the world, they still have to pay for the last mile, which makes the whole thing a wash.
As far as usefullness, well I am part of a small band, so I favor the inbound. But in a large organization (which I have been a part of in the past) the following dynamic occurs:
People are happy to see their faxes show up at their desk, as they are always wary of who might be reading the fax over at the machine across the hall (or worse yet, scooping up their two page doc along with another twenty page one, and walking off with it). Inbound service certainly solves that problem. Now on the outbound side, if someone needs to send a doc, they would rather save the trip, but if the document is readily faxable from the desktop, then why not just email it? And if the doc required a signature, etc., the person has to make a trip to the fax machine anyway, unless of course, multinational corporations are now providing sheetfeed scanners to every employee…not!
Someone please let me know if a better service exists, or if the “premier” providers get a little farther along.