Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud.
FRIDAY is a special day in CB’s week, starting as it does with an early, pre-commute trip to the coffee shop for a pastry and a cappuccino.
The staff there are a friendly, multi-lingual bunch. It’s hard to be certain but the nationalities on offer include British, Polish and Portuguese. The one thing they all have in common is near-flawless English and a flair for customer service.
“The usual?” is the customary greeting for early-morning visitors, offered with a warm smile and as a prelude to a polite exchange about the weather or last night’s football or Brexit. But this morning was different. Ahead of CB was an elderly customer getting into a muddle with her purse and cards and cash and trying not to drop anything. Evidently not a regular visitor to this particular shop, she was hoping for an Americano with milk but, crucially, she would like the milk on the side so she could add it herself at her chosen table.
Nothing especially unusual about that request except that she was not making herself at all clear to the barista who had her back turned while she operated the huge espresso machine. “…My own milk…” the customer muttered.
Mishearing, the barista said “Yes, an Americano with milk.” The misunderstanding progressed until – at the point of seeing the milk about to be poured in the coffee – the now highly animated customer hollered, somewhat venomously: “I said I would POUR MY OWN MILK.” The veiled slipped, her eyes narrowed. Stakes raised. As early morning exchanges go it was, at best, a bit rude and, at worst, a declaration of war.
The barista, embarrassed and no doubt irritated by what was proving to be an unusually awkward customer, kept her cool and did the professional thing. She shared a look with her colleague but no more before turning to present the lady with her super-hot black coffee and its little sidecar of semi-skimmed milk, for which she was cordially thanked.
Order restored, payment was exchanged and the Americano-and-milk shuffled away to add the finishing touches to her coffee. Everyone else present heaved a collective sigh of relief that they were mercifully not about to witness an actual fight and CB’s thoughts turned to whether this might at last be the week to push the boat out and go for an almond croissant instead of the regular plain one.
CB also started to wonder about the milk confusion it had just witnessed. Earlier this week, there had been widespread reporting of a demo of the Google Duplex technology. At the tech giant’s annual developer conference in California – held outside incidentally, giving the whole thing a less rowdy U2-at-Red-Rock feel – Google chief executive Sundar Pichai played audio of a strikingly humanistic Google Assistant calling a real hair salon to book a cut for a client.
The process, in short, begins with shouting at the Assistant that you need a trim and when, and then the technology phones a real person to make the booking before adding it to your diary. There was much whooping and backslapping from a totalitarian crowd – much like U2 at Red Rock – when the audio included some authentic “ums” and “ers” from Mr Google. There was even more enthusiasm when Pichai assured the assembly that it could even deal with conversations that did not go as planned. You can watch it here.
Quite why this would be easier than telling your Google Assistant to make an online booking – very common among even the smallest of appointment businesses these days – is unclear. Without referencing projects like Google Glass or self-driving cars, the CEO seemed at pains to assure the audience that this was, like, totally the real deal.
Receiving automated calls is nothing new. Anyone with a mobile phone is familiar with the robotic importuning of an automated PPI call or perhaps the demonic insistence that you have recently had a car accident and that you should absolutely do something about it, even though you have no car.
Now if those calls were responsive, in real-time terms, and more humanistic in character, maybe that would be something of interest to the marketers. But booking an appointment? Hmmm. Pichai pointed out that not all small businesses have online booking systems and, while that may be true, how many consumers who rely on groundbreaking technology to manage their precious time, coordinate online diaries and more, gets their hair done somewhere that doesn’t have online booking?
Come to think of it, when was the last time you scheduled an appointment over the phone because there was no online alternative? It’s pretty uncommon.
Somewhere voice-calling would be valuable would be in territories when online betting is banned but the telephone placement of bets is permitted. But even then it wouldn’t need to be so sophisticated. The basic robotic marketing voice would suffice.
So where will Google’s undeniably seductive technology pop up? You couldn’t use it to book a self-driven (Google-powered) taxi since there is no driver.
Perhaps Pichai will just use it for booking his haircuts. Or ordering his coffee. Until something more enticing is on offer, CB will be pouring its own milk.