Google shows how chatbot tech is pulling its weight in a crisis

Faced with scattered workforces and a bombardment of customer queries, virtual contact centers are unburdening businesses across industries.
15 April 2020

Virtual contact center assistants can ease the burden on businesses. Source: Shutterstock

  • The Big Four cloud giant has tweaked its Contact Center AI to handle COVID-19 enquiries
  • It can unburden businesses flooded by customer concerns around the various impacts of the outbreak
  • Chatbots and virtual contact centers could ‘have their day’ as businesses realize their value right now

One of the core drivers of any kind of crisis is widespread uncertainty – people need clear communication from leaders and authorities involved. Public broadcasts are one thing, but reaching people and answering questions at an individual level can be an impossible feat. 

With that in mind, Google has tweaked its Contact Center AI – tech that’s usually reserved for companies fielding thousands of customer enquiries each day – to specifically answer questions around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As government agencies, healthcare services and other sectors such as travel, financial services and retail, face a deluge of requests for clarity over the impact of the outbreak, the AI-powered Rapid Response Virtual Agent will allow organizations deploy chatbots to answer questions across voice, social and chat around the clock.  

Google says the tool can be set up within a couple of weeks, or more quickly using a template of curated COVID-19-related information, which includes FAQs and up-to-date guidance from public health authorities.

At a basic level, Google’s Contact Center AI can provide answers to sector-specific questions like ‘should I wear a facemask’ for healthcare & life sciences groups, or ‘have your refund policies changed?’ in the travel industry.

But if users add complex conversational flows and backend integrations over time, the virtual agent can handle advanced interactions related to the specific company – those could be related to changing an individual’s credit limit with a bank, for example, or checking where an order is with a retailer. 

A boon for chatbot tech

The announcement from Google is another example of how certain technologies could find their footing in industries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses across all sectors are faced with an influx enquiries, many of which will require fairly stock responses – other queries may be more complex, but organizations won’t have the people-power to handle all responses individually or in-person, particularly with central call centers now off the cards due to social distancing measures, and those staff now either distributed or reduced. 

Contact center solutions can handle the lion’s share of those enquiries, directing those that need further assistance to agents who can provide a better service to a smaller pool of customers.


As noted by VentureBeat, Node – an AI startup that does work in the customer service space – this month raised US$ 6 million to go towards growing its online support operations and increasing demand from its customers working from home.

A report by the World Economic Forum said chatbots were the “natural choice” for disseminating health information during the coronavirus, particularly as tools like Siri, Alexa and Google Home are part of many consumers’ everyday lives. 

The interactive method of comms helps users gain curated, up-to-date information rapidly, and can be tailored to the circumstances of the user, accessible on whatever device they have to hand.  

The intuitive interface of chatbots presents a low-friction approach to disseminate critical information to vast populations. And Chatbots, like websites, are available 24/7,” it said. 

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have incorporated chatbot technology. 

As users rely on the tech for information and clarity amid a crisis of unprecedented proportions, and ruptured organizations realize its power in keeping them connected with their customer-base, contact center tech specialists could reap the benefits for a long time to come, after the pandemic resides.