Tech Vision is LSA’s series that spotlights emerging tech. Running semi-weekly, it reports on new technologies that LSA analysts track, including strategic implications for local commerce. See the full series here.
SMBs are famously time-strapped, as they juggle being chefs, dentists and roofers while also wearing the hat of business operator. That makes simplicity and time-savings the name of the game for marketing tools. This is well-recognized but under-executed in the SMB marketing world.
In fairness, the challenge is finding the sweet spot on the sliding scale of feature richness (thus maximum addressable market) versus single-function simplicity. The latest product rollout from Google’s Area 120 skunkworks looks to strike that balance by easing a primary SMB pain point.
Known as CallJoy, the already-existing product announced new features this week including deeper automation (more on that in a bit). For those unfamiliar, CallJoy is a virtual customer service agent that offloads a portion of incoming calls that are rote and devour SMB resources.
This makes it a sort of first line of defense that screens incoming calls and handles things that can be answered in an automated way (think: hours of operation). It can also weed out spam and solicitations, or conversely detect intent and send links to callers to book appointments.
Moreover, it can identify more complex queries to be re-routed for human attention. Sort of like Google Voice, proprietors are given a Gmail-like dashboard to rule over these options and route calls to any phone number that meets their preferences for inbound interest.
SMBs can also tag calls in the dashboard to then generate analytics or a daily email push that reports things like call volume, peak call times and caller intent. This is meant to draw out insights that inform SMB decisions like staffing or even product and service availability.
As for this week’s updates, CallJoy is adding more front-end features to infuse a conversational UX. This starts with CallJoy asking callers “Can I help you?” The answer to that question then prompts pre-defined actions or direct answers such as “yes, we offer vegetarian options.”
This would seem at first to employ lots of Google’s machine learning, but it’s also reliant on SMBs’ manual work to customize dialogues based on their product nuances. This gets the system started as a sort of training set for AI to then take it the rest of the distance.
This manual/training component goes back to the balance between features and simplicity. The value proposition is compelling, but the wild card is SMBs’ time, aptitude and patience to set up and manage these features. This is what I like to call the “dilemma of activation energy.”
As Visicalc inventor Dan Bricklin says, the benefit for activating new tools needs to be two orders of magnitude (100x) greater than the current paradigm. That’s a high bar: CallJoy’s true test will likely be if activation energy is offset by resulting time savings by an undefined but significant margin.
If it’s anything like Google Voice (speaking as an SMB operator), the juice is worth the squeeze. That’s admittedly anecdotal so CallJoy’s traction will have to be proven among widely-varied and sometimes logic-defying SMB proclivities. It will at least resonate with tech-savvy SMB subsets.
Ultimately, it hits the marks for potential traction, and the price is right at a flat $39 per month. Beyond that theoretical assessment, there’s some evidence of appeal already. Since the invite-only launch in May, it’s signed up “thousands” of SMBs. That’s telling but doesn’t yet prove scale.
We’ll watch closely for signs of penetration and give it a test run. Meanwhile, let us know if you’ve had any experience with CallJoy, and check out the video below for more color.
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