In 2018, Google changed the future of relationship businesses when it introduced Duplex, a consumer-facing AI capable of speech nearly indistinguishable from humans. To demonstrate, Google CEO Sundar Pichai played two demos to an amphitheater filled with cheers and jeers at I/O 2018, one of a call to a restaurant and the other of a call to a salon, both of which used Duplex as a personal assistant for a client. The demos were impressive, boasting casual back and forth exchanges between an AI and an oblivious representative on the other end of the call. Articles about the demo and subsequent rollout poured onto websites like CNET and Venture Beat, some excitedly championing the accomplishment, others lamenting the creation of an eerily life-like AI voice. Many felt a wave of excitement for consumers, but few stopped to ask what it meant for business owners. Somewhere in the middle of this conversation lies a simple truth: Google Duplex is ultimately a good thing for professionals with relationship businesses, despite how it muddies the waters.
Industry • Best Practice
Lessons From the Best in Tech: Google Duplex on AI for Relationship Businesses
Google Duplex changed the future of relationship businesses, but not in the negative ways that some have assumed.
How Google Duplex and AI are changing booking
Beauty biz professionals have a deep understanding of forging connections. Whether it’s with clients, partners, or distributors, many of a beauty professional’s core responsibilities are within the orbit of building rapport. Adding an AI layer between you and the customer might not seem like it will help make a strong connection, but that isn’t exactly the case. Most of the time, Duplex is acting as an advanced auto-fill for online bookings, rather than the human-sounding calls that you hear in the Google I/O demo.
For a better example, let’s take a step back and look at Duplex’s impact on restaurants, where it seems to have made a much bigger splash from clients using it to book tables. When Duplex attempts to book a reservation, it will first try to use a service like Open Table to get the job done. If that isn’t an option, it will make a call to the restaurant. It’s a convenient feature for people who don’t have the time or energy to book a reservation themselves, extending further when considering how automated calls can help people with phone anxiety, which has become a common affliction.
Automated booking is the purest example of Google’s platform operating as a bona fide assistant, and working with assistants isn’t uncommon for appointment booking in the first place. If anything, removing a phone call barrier may even encourage more people to book with you, simply because of how easy it is. Humans will naturally choose the path of least resistance and feel rewarded when that path turns out well. The real challenge Google Duplex faces lies on the opposite end of the phone, where business owners have been less than enthusiastic about Duplex despite the benefits it brings.
Google Duplex’s unfortunate hurdle
A 2019 report from The Verge documented the tepid response that restaurants had to Google Duplex, many citing it as confusing. We live in a world dominated by robocalls, which bog down already busy lines. When Duplex makes a call, the Caller ID simply reads “Google,” a name that many are apt to decline for fear of wasted time. Even if Duplex makes it through, it introduces itself as an AI assistant — and many people are inclined to hang up.
Put yourself in the shoes of a client. You’ve asked a digital assistant to book a reservation, it makes the call, and then it informs you that it couldn’t seal the deal because the salon didn’t pick up the phone. If that happens enough, your salon could earn a bad reputation, or at least book fewer appointments than it otherwise could. For forward-thinking salon owners, there’s a lesson to be learned here: embrace the technology that’s saving your clients time and meet it with technology that will save you time in return.
Google Duplex fits a beauty industry filled with innovators
The beauty industry thrives on innovation. Thought leaders have helped revolutionize the perception of what it means to be a pillar of the industry, with concepts like “try on” technology changing how beauty professionals view customer engagement. Boulevard partner TrueLark is one example of how booking platforms have evolved, automating features to help with customer retention, appointment scheduling, and more. Google Duplex is a consumer-facing version of this same idea, and it goes to show how the concept isn’t that novel. Yes, Google has cobbled together an impressively realistic voice, but the technology is essentially a consumer-facing version of automated booking software.
Things get interesting when these two worlds collide. In an industry built on relationships, what does it mean when AI is handling both ends of booking? It means beauty owners have more time for the people right in front of them. Rather than engaging with someone over the phone, they can focus the entirety of their attention on the customers they’re working with physically. Without sacrificing new bookings, beauty biz pros can build healthier, richer relationships with their custoers. The benefits of cutting down on distractions run deep, helping maintain the flow state and keep focus. In this state of mind, you’ll perform better, offer better recommendations, and impress your clients. Google Duplex is here to stay, and its service area has expanded exponentially in the last few years. It’s best to meet it head-on with automation of your own, rather than fall behind the curve. If you want to make that process as easy as possible, Boulevard is here to help.
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