Why Google Decided Phone Calls Are the Key to Google Assistant’s Future Success

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The recent announcement of Google Assistant’s Duplex has consumers and technology experts alike questioning its borderline creepy, human-like capabilities.

For those less familiar, Duplex is a new Google Assistant-powered feature that makes calls to businesses on a human user’s behalf. The technology employs a human-like voice to interact with the business (apparently John Legend’s voice can even make calls for you). Google’s investment in artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating. Duplex’s unveiling is a signal of the company’s intent to leverage its technology to create innovative customer experiences and solutions.

Among all the new AI-driven capabilities Google could’ve bestowed on its powerful Assistant, the company decided to focus on one capability in particular: a phone call. It’s worth stepping back from the creepiness of human-like robots having conversations and consider why making a phone call was worth a significant investment from Google.

Out of everything, why phone calls?

These days, consumers can interact with brands anyway and anywhere they want to, whether that’s through chatbots or on social platforms. Despite the messaging revolution, the interactivity of self-serve websites and distance-eliminating video calls, phone calls remain the preferred way to interact with family, friends, and especially businesses.

And with good reason: Businesses aren’t getting rid of their phones any time soon. By next year, BIA/Kelsey predicts people will make 162 billion calls to businesses from mobile devices alone. Throw voice assistants into the mix, and that number can only go up.

What’s in it for each party?

Google’s push for voice capabilities follows the company’s larger commitment to customer conveniences. As is perhaps to be expected, voice assistants have evolved in alignment with their maker’s visions, and will continue to do so.

Amazon’s goal, for instance, is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company—to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Thus, Alexa has made shopping easier than ever for consumers.

Google is more focused on making our lives easier overall: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Duplex is just another way Google is doing this for consumers, businesses, and the company itself.

    • Consumers: Making phone calls via voice assistants is not exactly new. Currently, Amazon Echo and Google Home offer users the ability to make calls the same ways they would using home speakerphones. And, of course, record numbers of smartphone owners can already call friends, family, and businesses through Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant on their mobile devices.

      But Google Assistant’s Duplex takes hands-free calling to a whole new level. Duplex will save consumers time by taking over scheduling appointments and making reservations. Although the technology will disclose when it’s a Google Assistant calling a business and not a real human, the upgrade nonetheless marks a major efficiency gain for users burdened with routine tasks.
    • Businesses: Duplex will save businesses the trouble of regularly ensuring that their online information is up to date. One phone call made through the assistant can automatically update a business’ online information, including hours, location, and more. This has the added benefit of sparing businesses an overwhelming volume of inbound consumer calls asking for this basic information. For businesses that use phone calls for lead capture, Duplex is also a benefit— anything that makes it more convenient for people to do business over the phone is a win.

      Google offers a similar updating capability with its My Business tools, which help users easily keep their online listings fresh. But Google realizes that many users—especially small-location-based businesses—will never adopt these tools for comprehensive lead capture purposes. These companies prefer (and rely on) simpler solutions that leverage existing their existing technology and sales cycle, which is why Google set it sights on the phone call.
    • Google: Like other features the company’s released, Google’s long-term play for Duplex seems pretty simple: If this takes off for consumers and businesses alike, Google will figure out how to monetize it in some way. It could be with preferential visibility to businesses that are willing to pay Google per new call, or even lower funnel conversions that Google is able to determine from the call conversation itself like a new booking, sale, lead, and so on. Businesses that already use call analytics technology today are well aware of the benefits of conversation analysis from call recordings.

      Wide adoption of Duplex would provide Google the ancillary benefit of data it could use to improve its machines and AI efforts. But to do so successfully, it must keep an eye on that ever-so-important creepy-versus-convenience ratio of public opinion.

Phone calls still matter: now what?

The reality is that consumers still pick up their phones to call businesses directly, whether they’re physically using a dial pad or working with a virtual assistant. If you’re a consumer, Duplex makes this that much easier, especially for scheduling purposes.

If you’re a business, a key component of driving great ROI from voice investments is having the ability to track these calls. Data-driven marketers can’t afford to miss out on valuable insights about the customer journey, including why a customer is calling, how he or she found the business, and more. These insights help brands inform stronger, more seamless customer experiences. Going forward, companies that pursue those insights will have a leg up as new technologies make it easier to call businesses.

Mark Sullivan is director of demand generation for CallRail. He has worked previously on the SEO product at Yodle and later founded Vasolo, a consultancy focused on growth marketing. He speaks and writes frequently about lead tracking, advertising attribution, SEO, marketing technology, call analytics and Google’s updates, making him an expert on both Google and how the phone call is still impacting businesses today.