Could Google Duplex replace human interaction between businesses and their customers? It sounds scary, but it might just be what the successful customer service system of the future looks like. Currently booking appointments and making table reservations, Duplex might eventually be able to update your GMB account automatically. Contributor Dev Basu shares his thoughts on the future of customer service and the impact of Google Duplex on local businesses.

To understand the future of customer service, we need to begin where it all started, in 1951.

Alan Turing, the creator of modern computing, established the Turing Test — a test for intelligence in a computer, requiring that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both.

And for a long time, Voice AI that emulated human natural language was clunky and difficult to work with. That was until Google arguably beat the Turing Test in 2018 with Google Duplex.

Duplex is currently available for consumer use cases in over 43 states in the US, where the most common use case is making a reservation at select restaurants, or booking an appointment at a hair salon.

How Does Google Duplex Work?

As a user, you ask your Google Assistant (via your smartphone or Google Home speaker) to make you a reservation, and Duplex proceeds to ask you a few questions about your parameters.

There’s nothing special of note until you realize that it then proceeds to call the restaurant and have a completely human-sounding conversation with the restaurant staff, complete with fillers like “ums” and voice inflection to humanize the conversation.

If your client is the local shop down the street, there’s zero change involved in how they pick up and answer the phone for the most common types of customer requests, because Duplex adapts to the answering party. This means that restaurants or other small businesses accepting calls from Duplex don’t have to train their staff in a specific manner.

Because Google Duplex is powered by a recurrent neural network (essentially an ever-evolving brain that is always learning) it keeps getting better every time a customer uses it to book a table or make an appointment.

It’s clear that Google Duplex taps into the same knowledge graph of local search data that powers Google My Business, so local search optimization efforts that rank businesses locally should, in theory, assist with Google Duplex becoming an additional discovery channel for your clients.

What Does Duplex Mean for your Clients’ Businesses?

If you work with local business owners, the biggest impact your clients will face is their calls being recorded, without their explicit consent.

When a business receives a call from Google Duplex, the call is answered with a greeting that includes some level of disclosure. While Google is constantly testing metrics on call answer and engagement rates, here’s what Duplex says to begin the conversation:

Hi, I’m calling to make a reservation for a client. I’m calling from Google, so the call may be recorded.

It’s unclear whether a businesses’ response rates or engagement with the voice assistant on the phone has any impact on its ability to be discovered by consumers.

Of course, if your client chooses to disconnect on the premise that they don’t want their staff to interact with a bot, they’ll lose out on a growing share of reservations or appointments as Google Duplex adoption picks up with consumers.

In the short to mid-term, spanning across the next few years, it’ll be interesting to see how the narrow-band of consumer applications grows to other types of consumer use cases.

Like many Google products, gathering a large corpus of data from consumers is part of Google’s gambit to create a robust commercial solution in the long run. Just think of how Gmail gained wide consumer adoption before it was robust enough to become a commercial offering through GSuite.

The Future of Customer Service

As Google Duplex adds more functionality and becomes a two-way service between customers and business owners, we’ll start to see better coordination for appointment bookings and reminders, which will reduce no-shows.

I also predict that Duplex will create better data accuracy in the Local Search Ecosystem by ensuring up-to-date data on Google My Business profiles. For example, Duplex might be able to update business hours of operation on weekends or holidays by calling the store automatically, obtaining up-to-date information from store staff, and then updating Google My Business to benefit searchers.

If you’re an agency that works with franchisees or multiple locations that constantly update their store data, this may come as a welcome relief to prevent downstream customer complaints or lower star ratings and reviews.

And if your client’s business serves customers that are multi-lingual, future evolutions in Duplex may allow customers to interact with Google Assistant in their native language, and adapt the autonomous call to your client in their primary language. This would greatly eliminate friction in the customer service experience, and improve efficiency for clients and their teams.

Last but not least, stores lose a percentage of potential reservations and bookings because real humans aren’t available 24/7 to answer the phone. Duplex can likely solve that by offering customers support related to common queries that could normally only be answered by a human staffer.

National Local Search Applications

At scale, future applications of Google Duplex won’t impact independent local businesses as much as they will impact large retail enterprises with heavy call center usage.

Just like the rise of online chatbots to power discovery answers to common customer questions and issues, the biggest application of something like Google Duplex will be simplifying clunky interactive voice response (IVR) call menus for large corporations.

Call centers are often seen as major cost centers by most corporations, and there’s no love lost for them by customers either. Long wait times and terrible hold music all lead to irate customers who provide lower customer satisfaction and net promoter scores.

With the right implementation of Google Duplex in the enterprise, everybody wins. Customers get low to no wait time and can have natural language conversations with Voice AI that doesn’t feel like a bot, and corporations can win by delivering better and faster customer service.

In fact, Google is beginning to test its human-sounding chatbot, Duplex, with at least one customer running a large contact center, based on reports from The Information.

Contact centers represent a large, mostly untapped market for Google. Analysts estimate the cloud-based contact center market will grow to $21 billion by 2022 — up from $6.8 billion in 2017.

Preparing for The Future

As an SEO practitioner, it’s still too early to optimize in any meaningful way specifically for Google Duplex. As always, nailing the fundamentals is most important because this ensures that the corpus of data that Google Assistant (and therefore Duplex) derives store discovery is solid.

Have you had clients or staff ask you about Google Duplex? What are your thoughts on AI-powered customer service? Let me know in the comments below.