Most of the time when you think of AI phone services, you think of a service like Greet: an automated virtual receptionist that picks up when you call a business. But there’s another category of AI that doesn’t wait for you to call; instead, it calls you.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about robocalls, spammy automated marketing calls that go back decades. Robocalls play a pre-recorded message encouraging you to buy something or, in some cases, promoting a scam.
No, we’re talking about full-fledged AI-powered calls that engage and interact with the person that picks up. The most striking example of this is Google Duplex, which launched a few years ago and is now becoming more widely available.
You may have already received a call from Duplex and not even have known it. Here’s how it works: when a user makes a reservation at a restaurant through Google Assistant, Google may call the restaurant and speak to an employee to make the reservation on the user’s behalf. The AI phone call uses advanced natural language processing technology developed by Google to make the reservation with the employee, which can be a complex process depending on what the restaurant’s availabilities are.
What makes Duplex stunning is how natural the AI sounds. At the initial unveiling, people were astonished to hear the recording of a Duplex conversation and then learn that it was an AI speaking. The voice spoke with natural human intonation, even introducing disfluencies like “er” and “um” to imitate a person. In fact, the reaction was so strong that Google quickly announced that all calls made by Duplex would announce themselves at the beginning as an AI, so as not to mislead the person answering.
So, should you prepare for an onslaught of Google Duplex calls at your business? It turns out that you have some control over whether or not you receive these calls. Google only places Duplex calls to businesses that have a Google My Business page, and have opted in to receiving these calls. You can opt out either in your business’s Google My Business settings, or directly on the phone when you receive a call from Duplex by saying you don’t want to receive any more calls.
The trickier question is should you leave it on or turn it off. Many employees already ignore calls where the caller ID shows up as a company name like Google. It’s an understandable reflex, since companies calling a restaurant are often just selling something. But as a consequence, customers trying to book a reservation through Google Assistant might get frequently cancelled: when they ask Assistant to make the reservation, the customer assumes it’s going to be made, but then Google Duplex fails to actually make confirm the reservation and the customer ends up with an error notification 15 or 30 minutes later saying that the reservation was in fact rejected.
To avoid this situation, you have a few choices: first, train your employees not to ignore calls with Google as the caller ID. Second, turn off Duplex in your Google My Business settings so it doesn’t show as an option to customers. Third, use an online reservation service that integrates with Google, so that when customers make reservations using Google Assistant they use the integration instead of going through Duplex.