It was only a matter of time before Google announced expanded use cases for the technology that underlies its Duplex AI. That happened today at the Google Cloud Next 2018 conference, when it announced that it is launching an AI-powered virtual contact center agent called Contact Center AI. Hopefully they will come up with a more human name for it ala Alexa and Siri, but then again, catchy naming has never really been Google’s thing.
Of bigger concern is how human-like customer service agents will be received by the public, given the general lashing that Duplex got once the magic wore off. In case you missed it, Duplex will allow consumers to handle mundane tasks like setting hair appointments and making dinner resos just by telling Google Assistant to do it. Duplex with then place the call, and a not-at-all robotic voice takes care of the reservation for you. The person on the other line may be none the wiser that they were talking to a bot, not Bob. The “none the wiser” part is what got people up in arms, as many thought they should be told that they are talking to a bot.
On the other hand, things will probably be way different when it comes to human consumers placing calls to businesses and talking to a bot. At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with (and annoyed by) navigating interactive voice response systems (IVRs). So talking to a smart bot that actually understands the person on the other line is saying will probably be welcomed by consumers who have grown frustrated by unpolished IVRs.
Here are some more details on Contact Center AI from The Verge:
… Google is also developing an AI customer service agent that can act as the first human-sounding voice a caller interacts with over the phone. Google is calling the product Contact Center AI, and it’s being bundled with its existing Dialogflow package that provides tools to businesses for developing conversational agents.
… A Google spokesperson tells The Verge that while Contact Center AI and Duplex are distinct products, they share some underlying components, but with “distinct technology stacks and aims overall.”
With Contact Center AI, Google is shifting into a territory where callers are more familiar with the notion of interacting with a bot and are doing so of their own volition by contacting customer service proactively. Because of that context, it sounds like this technology will more than likely dominant how call centers operate in the future. Call Center AI first puts a caller into contact with an AI agent, which tries to its solve the problem just like a standard automated customer service bot would, but with much more sophisticated natural language understanding and capabilities. If the caller needs or prefers to talk to a human, the AI shifts to a support role and helps a human call center worker solve the problem by presenting information and solutions relevant to the conversation in real time.
This is pretty exciting news, and an application for Google’s voice technology that should please most any customer who has ever called a large business.