Directory services have evolved at a fantastic rate as the old traditional yellow pages and white pages have morphed into embedded information that empowers other communication services. Directories are now online, on the television set, on smartphones and will soon be in personal head-up displays (a clear display that shows data without having to look away from the viewpoint). As services become integrated, directory services are set to develop into the essential framework for mobile communications.
Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan recently published a case study, Pushing the Boundaries of Directory Services, which examines consumer directory expectations and how to deliver electronic directories correctly.
In a Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan survey it is apparent that printed directories are a thing of the past. More than 25 percent of respondents noted that they obtain at least part of their directory information over their cell phones. This is significant and indicates a sea change in the perception of directory information as an enabler of mobility. What is more interesting is the relative importance that directory services have when compared to other Internet activities. Both shopping-related research and navigation are traditional functions of conventional directories as interpreted in the survey which also found the percentage of use to be 56 percent for shopping-related research and 62 percent for navigation information.
For directory publishers, going electronic presents a number of problems; not the least of which is to develop sufficiently compelling applications that consumers choose to use over competing offerings. In particular, the mobile market has been challenging. Smartphones now allow access to online directories from many competing providers, as well as providing downloadable applications that enable direct access to specific directory services.
"Many of these directory applications seem hastily patched together," said Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan Research Program Manager Mike Jude, Ph.D. "The most glaring flaw for many of these applications is that they integrate poorly across various delivery and access media."
With few directory publishers having downloadable applications to provide comprehensive directory information that is well integrated with other consumer communication services, the proper implementation of a common directory across all of the networks and devices that a consumer might use is imperative.
"Consumers appreciate a common interface, regardless of device or access method," adds Jude. "A service that looks the same and operates the same wherever the consumer accesses it contributes to stickinessóthat is, once the consumer invests the time to learn the conventions and process for using the service, the more unlikely they are to switch to a competing service."
This study analyzes the value of having directory service providers focus on integration and interfaces to ensure the service is available everywhere, looks the same and, most importantly, operates the same. Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan identified Verizon Communications Inc.ís (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ) Visual 411 as an excellent example of a common platform approach to directory services. Visual 411 is a free, feature rich local/national directory assistance search application, available to consumers via their smartphone, PC, or FiOS TV. With a common platform across all three mediums, it provides customers with a consistent and superior user experience. Visual 411 for the smartphone, in particular, extends the Visual 411 experience to the mobile space, and enables information exchange with directory access activities on FiOS television and the PC.
A compelling feature of Verizonís Visual 411 is the converged solution of offering not only business phone number look-ups, but also coupons offered by local businesses, directions, weather, maps and more. The ability to provide consumers with a green solution to coupon redemption is another feature, allowing users to merely show their phone display to the retailer or restaurant. Consumers who are travelling or who left home without traditional coupons will appreciate this convenience.
Smartphone users will undoubtedly appreciate the convenience of one app delivering the features formerly only available from single-service apps Jude concludes "Verizon has set a new standard for integrated directory services. Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan believes that other directory publishers will need to emulate what Verizon is doing in order to stay relevant in the market."
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