Enterprises Looking at Google Duplex for Call Centers
N.B. This article was updated on July 6th to reflect Google’s denial that it is testing Duplex with enterprises.
The Information is reporting (N.B. paywall) today that an insurance company is looking at Google Duplex for application in call centers. Article author Sarah Kuranda notes that software for call centers is very competitive today, but it is growing quickly from an estimated $6.8 billion in 2017 to $20.9 billion in 2022. Kuranda writes:
“Google is betting that Duplex, which is more lifelike and conversational than the competition, represents a big enough advance in technology that it can gain further traction in the crowded field … At least one potential customer, a large insurance company, is looking at ways it can use the technology, according to the person with knowledge of the project, including for call centers where the voice assistant could handle simple and repetitive customer calls while humans step in when the conversations get more complicated.”
However, Google made a statement to Engadget on the evening of July 5th suggesting that the story is untrue.
Google says it isn’t testing Duplex with any enterprise clients, and is instead focusing on getting the consumer version nailed down first…Here’s the full statement from a Google spokesperson:
We’re currently focused on consumer use cases for the Duplex technology and we aren’t testing Duplex with any enterprise clients. As we shared last week, Duplex is designed to operate in very specific use cases, and currently we’re focused on testing with restaurant reservations, hair salon booking, and holiday hours with a limited set of trusted testers. It’s important that we get the experience right and we’re taking a slow and measured approach as we incorporate learnings and feedback from our tests.
What Google Duplex Represents
This denial makes sense. The enterprise use cases are far different than those contemplated thus far for consumers. For example, we have a examples of Google Duplex being used as an agent executing a telephone-based tasks that require conversational interaction around a single objective and narrow set of domains summarized in the table below.
|Hair Salon||Set hair appointment||Calendar entry, hair salon services|
|Restaurant||Make dinner reservation||Calendar entry, dining|
|Retailer||Confirm store hours||Hours of operation|
Confirming store hours is the simplest use case due to a very limited domain. The Google Duplex NLU needs to understand hours and days of the week. It only gets complex if there are multiple stores served through a single phone number and the stores have different hours. However, you are simply looking for information that is a constant and once you have received it, there is no more need for interaction.
Making restaurant reservations is more complex because there are variables involved. What the user wants must be matched with what is available and negotiated if there is not an exact match. There is also the need to state the number of people that will be there and to understand days and times. Beyond that it is also a simple use case because the service is a seat at a table.
Hair salon services have the potential to be much more complex. Google Duplex must match the user preferred time with availability and also select from a variety of services. There is not one seat as a product, but rather a number of services such as hair cut, color and so on. This requires a much broader understanding to properly navigate the call, but remains quite narrow compared to typical enterprise use cases.
In each of the these use cases Google Duplex can accept a task request from a user, make a phone call to a specific business, make a request of the person answering the phone and navigate conversational exchanges around the topic in question. What parts of this might be useful to an enterprise call center? Primarily the natural language processing (NLP) which recognizes the speech and interprets the meaning behind it. This is how Google Duplex navigates a conversation. Secondarily, the synthetic speech generation which responds to the inquiry. This is the humanlike speech delivered during the conversation.
Does Google Duplex Have a Place in the Enterprise?
However, having useful technology is not quite the same as being enterprise-ready. Most enterprise call center applications will be far more complex than even hair salons and Google doesn’t have this packaged into something you can buy today. Any enterprise adopting Google Duplex will need to have it customized and trained on new domains. There is not an ecosystem of service providers in place today that can assist an enterprise buyer with that customization and model training. And, Duplex as implemented today, is on the request side of the conversation and not on the response side. Google Duplex is impressive technology, but it would seem to have a long way to go before it is ready for enterprise applications.
I suspect the future of Google Duplex in the enterprise is augmenting existing solutions. There are many very capable call center technologies that could benefit from adding voice solutions with sophisticated NLP. Given that hypothesis, the more important news will be when an established call-center technology provider commits to integrate Google Duplex into its stack and bring it to directly to existing customers.
Who is Telling the Truth
Could The Information and Google both be correct in their statements? Yes. Google is a big organization. It could be that a salesperson somewhere has discussed the potential for Google Duplex with an insurance company and the discussion simply hadn’t filtered up to the media relations group or senior management. Or, you may simply have an internal group at the insurer brainstorming how they could use Google Duplex technology.
An even more likely scenario is a vendor that is building Google Assistant Actions is claiming to a customer that they can implement a Google Duplex-like solution for their call center. One vendor made such a claim on my LinkedIn post shortly after the original story was published saying, “Bret Kinsella there is one provider who does support creating a customized ‘Google Duplex’ experience for enterprises.” This included a link to a website blog post which had nothing to do with Google Duplex. Of course, Google’s Nick Fox told Gadgets 360 last week that:
For now, Google has no plans to give third-party app developers access to the technology.
Time will tell which story is based in fact. The Information did not reveal their single source behind the article. However, in the meantime, caveat emptor is a good warning to enterprises that have vendors saying they can implement Google Duplex for their call centers.