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Consumers increasingly use the Web to search for services. But it is tough to complete the loop and actually order service. In many cases, businesses are either unresponsive to phone calls and e-mails, or their information is inaccurate.

All this was confirmed by an April survey of 5,000 L.A. businesses. Conducted in midday, when businesses ought to be ready for business, the survey couldn’t get through to 64 percent of contacted businesses. They had disconnected numbers, busy signals, did not answer or otherwise did not respond. The survey was conducted by FastCall411, a new service that wants to generate leads and answer the phone for businesses.

FastCall founder Richard Rosen, who formerly worked with Jambo and CallSource, claims the survey shows why “people who use the Internet for local search will almost always go offline for their transaction. To truly satisfy a consumer’s local search – particularly on a mobile device – providers need to deliver merchants who are in business and available. That starts with answering consumers’ phone calls.”

Rosen adds that in this age of pay-per-call, a lot of services might think it is a great deal to pay, for instance, $20 per lead. But if they are only answering their phone half the time, he reminds, they are only receiving $10 of value.

FastCall411’s model is set up for phone, mobile device, directory assistance and the Web. It lets a consumer search for ‘category’ and ‘geography.’ In return, the consumer gets a refined list of relevant local merchants. Each submitted request identifies what the consumer is looking for and enables the available business to accept the current customer. Merchants only accept calls when they are available to service the consumer.

I like this concept, especially for fast-respond categories like taxis. What we’ll watch is whether consumers will gravitate toward a smaller, all-sponsored search, rather than a broader directory listing.

Another model that I find intriguing is from illumiCell, which uses instant message services to search for services by name, category or brand. It then, theoretically, enables an Insta-connect to the business.

IM services have failed in the not-too-recent past, but maybe the time is right. Yellow Pages Group is currently using the service in Canada, and several other major companies are apparently in the works. According to a corporate presentation on illumiCell‘s Web site, the company is set to expand its concept beyond IM to embrace BlackBerry and SMS-enabled versions as well.

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