Enhancing customer service with Google Now and Actions in your Gmail inbox

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
15 Nov 2013

If you use an Android tablet or smartphone, the chances are that you’re familiar with the Google Now app. It’s part personal organiser and part mobile news service. Tell it what you’re interested in and the application will display ‘cards’ updating you on everything that’s new. Including interesting things around you when you’re out and about.

Google Now also reminds you of your appointments and will integrate with Google’s other services to give you directions, weather, travel updates, sports scores and a host of other local information that Google has worked out you’re interested in from your search history. Google Now has also recently become available on iOS devices so that Apple users can share the same experience although it’s not quite so integrated as on Android devices.

Here’s the sort of thing that’s possible with Google Now. I was in London for the eCommerce Expo last month. From the hotel confirmation in my Gmail inbox (which had arrived a month earlier), Google Now knew when and where I was staying. On the day it gave me directions to my hotel (from Taunton in Somerset) with no input from me, including traffic updates along the way. Amazing!

It’s worth mentioning at this point for anyone keen keeping everything private in their inbox, it’s an opt in feature to grant Google Now access to read your emails. Even with access granted it’s only searching for certain markup for these actions (more on that shortly).

What’s really exciting for eCommerce developers is the capacity to use Google Now and Google’s ‘Actions in the Inbox’ to improve the service provided to online shoppers.

It’s now possible to add specific markup to emails you send to customers so that Google can extract information for display in their Google Now cards. Gmail can also display ‘action’ cards in the Inbox based on the email content, allowing customers to perform relevant actions from within Gmail. Google’s intention is to automate the sharing of information across all Google services (or the Google experience as they like to call it), to make life more convenient and efficient.

Google Now information

Google Now for eCommerce

Let’s look at the information side of things first. The sort of information that can be extracted could include hotel, restaurant or flight reservations, as well as order confirmations and delivery schedules for products bought online from enrolled stores. When you add the relevant tags to emails, Google can automatically extract the data it needs to display in the cards.

The benefit for users is that they don’t need to do anything, the information they need is automatically displayed without any action on their part. If it’s a restaurant reservation or cinema booking, information on the cards will remind them when it is and tell them how long it’s going to take to get there - even down to when they need to leave based on current traffic conditions.

For the function to work fully, customers need to use a Gmail address as their contact email. Most people with an Android device will have one of these in order to access other Google services.  There’s a tricky issue about the best way to encourage people with Gmail addresses to use them (most of us have accounts with multiple service providers), without putting off other customers or making them think they are getting an inferior service.

Hopefully (and I’m sure it’s what Google hopes) people will increasingly use of their Gmail address when buying online in case the eCommerce business is using the markup in its emails. They’ll probably soon get to remember which sites use it too.

Actions in the Inbox

The email markup is based on an open standard called schema.org. A further advantage of using the markup in your customer emails is that it can allow them to perform related actions from within your Gmail inbox.

Actions that can be performed with the inbox are categorised as follows:

  • RSVP Action for events and meetings
  • Review Action for restaurants, movies, products and services
  • One-click Action
  • Go-to Action for more complex interactions
  • Flight interactive cards

For example, you could send an email notifying a customer of a scheduled delivery. Gmail would display a card alongside the email with the option to accept the appointment or ask for a different one. That’s all your customer has to do - they don’t have to visit your site or call your customer service desk.

It would also be possible to renew subscription services directly from the email reminder, again, without your customer having to visit your site. Where the action required is genuinely more complex the Go-to action would have to be used to take users to a different site.

Product reviews

We’ve started integrating the service into sites to make it much easier and quicker for users get information on the products they’ve bought. 

Google is currently testing the ability to get customers to review products they’ve purchased from within an email in their Gmail inbox, no need to even visit your site. You can be sure that as soon as this is publically available it’ll be rolling out onto our sites, an example of this can be seen below:

Google Now eCommerce Product Review Cards

We are really excited about the potential of adding so much to the customer experience just through a relatively simple process of marking up emails. I’m fascinated to see how all of this develops.  What are your thoughts on how integrating customer emails with Google Now and Actions in the Inbox could help improve customer service?

New Google Now Cards