Google announced that Pixel phone users can now use Duplex via the Google Assistant to book restaurant reservations over the phone. Google said it was available in 43 states in the U.S.

Duplex is an AI-powered phone based-system for booking appointments with local businesses that don’t have online scheduling. It was first demonstrated at Google’s developer conference in May 2018. The demo, though controlled, was impressive and very “natural language” sounding.

Request a reservation, get a notification. Here’s Google’s description of the process (also shown in the video below):

Just ask the Assistant on your phone, “Book a table for four people at [restaurant name] tomorrow night.” The Assistant will then call the restaurant to see if it can accommodate your request. Once your reservation is successfully made, you’ll receive a notification on your phone, an email update and a calendar invite so you don’t forget.

Google says it will be rolling out Duplex restaurant booking via the Assistant on other Android and iOS devices in the coming weeks.

Hello, I’m a bot. Duplex is intended to mimic the cadence and sound of natural human speech. In the video the hypothetical exchange clearly discloses that Google Assistant (a machine) is on the other end and that the call will be recorded. The disclosure is mandated by a new California law. And many states require disclosures when calls are being recorded.

In November Google started asking SMBs whether they’d be willing to accept calls from the Google Assistant. It was an opt-out in GMB rather than opt-in, so it’s not clear how many local restaurants will notice. For many, the first time they may become aware of the capability is when they receive their first calls from Google Assistant.

Why you should care. Google is testing this technology in the restaurant vertical but expect the company, if it’s successful, to expand to more industries (salons, dentists, etc.) — any business that books appointments. For consumers it could represent a great tool and help avoid lots of scheduling-related aggravation. And it could help businesses that don’t use Reserve with Google or online scheduling capture more customer bookings. (It’s less clear how it will handle IVR systems.)

It’s also a differentiator for Google Assistant vs. Siri and Alexa.

There are many other sales and marketing implications arising from Duplex, as well as ethical issues. However, Google is being relatively transparent about the whole process in this limited context.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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