Automotive Chatbots: How the Car Industry is Embracing AI
Automotive Chatbots: How the Car Industry is Embracing AI
We’re all familiar with the majestic sight of robots building cars in automated factories around the world. But the wider car industry is taking bots to heart for other uses, like sales and support tools, providing in-car services and preparing consumers for the fully automatic cars of the future.
The global car market, like many others, is in flux with fast-changing automobile industry trends. A range of historic and current factors continue to force makers to change their line-ups, and change how they sell them, and how car showrooms address consumers.
The market continues to evolve due to a number of factors:
- COVID has pummeled global sales, down 29% to 50% in the US depending on the maker.
- Recent generations of models last longer, they are more efficient and owners are less inclined to upgrade for the smaller range of benefits that new models offer.
- On the positive side, the move away from diesel models helps generate sales.
- Also, a desire to buy hybrids or electric models creates new opportunities.
- The dive in SUV sales (Mitsubishi is closing its Pajero plant) is part of a trend that sees many families replacing them with multiple smaller models.
For many people, a car has become another consumer purchase, via lend/lease agreements or cheap loans. But some are still put off by the memories or tropes of hard sales techniques from reps, and buyers remorse after discovering that the vehicle they purchased wasn’t quite as perfect as advertised.
To that end, more potential buyers scan forums and reviews before buying cars, with more people buying a car online or coming armed with a difficult list of questions for reps. One way car sellers can limit the impact is by addressing those questions up front, with a chatbot on the website or app, as consumers investigate the models they are interested in and how they fit their needs.
Efforts at automotive customer engagement can go beyond the usual colour/features and extras queries to a more realistic view. Chatbots can be used to respond to the tougher questions or proactively engage about thorny issues, such as “the first generation of model xyz had issues with brakes/sticky valves/other issues - here’s what’s improved in the new second-generation model.” or “our ENCAP safety rating has improved, let us show you how.” Brands and sales need to acknowledge that customers will have harder questions and use bots to deal with them.
Counter to that approach, there is the opportunity for bots to take a softer approach when it comes to sales, as compared to the harder sell of floor staff. Bots can use imagery and video to sell the lifestyle features of a vehicle better than the sales stuff wading through brochures. Bots can also link to third-party content highlight emissions, positive reviews and other details that salespeople can’t easily access.
Examples of automotive bots
Ford was one of the first brands to invest in a bot with Kate answering service questions for US customers in early years of the 21st century. Vauxhall in the UK recently adopted Apple Business Chat to help customers book test drives with their local dealers.
Independent dealers have been adopting bots too, as part of their contact center solutions, or when building new websites. Bots can provide free agents for independents, that are easy to build and update, helping provide simple touches like the latest opening hours in these post-COVID times and health and safety advice as well as the latest deals and what’s new on the sales floor.
Chatbots and AI can Up the Dealer’s Game
A car dealer chatbot can meet the growing market for online sales, using templates to address the values, benefits and attractions of each class of vehicle they sell. They can be easily updated as new models come onto the forecourt, especially in the transition to hybrid/electric, advising on technologies that the dealership staff may have trouble explaining the details of.
Chatbot advantages for the car industry include the ability to sell 24/7 and to pass qualified leads on to sales reps with a greater knowledge of the customer and a better opportunity to close the sale. Artificial intelligence in bots can also help push the customer to a model better suited to their lifestyle, rather than usual seats/power/feature progress options that many websites still use.
The bot can ask how they use their current car and their changing circumstances to match a future model to meet their future needs. People are now used to being asked quite personal questions by bots in other areas such as banking, insurance and health, so won’t take it badly if a bot asks if they plan to expand their family with children (or pets), or asking if their relatives are a long drive away - all factors that could affect their choice.
Bots can also be used by marketing for the automotive industry, helping to direct them to more personal adverts or marketing. Traditional marketing efforts showing off-road cars, people going surfing or driving into the desert are largely unrealistic to most buyers. Instead, tailored marketing can access a range of scenes (either photos or video, doing the shopping, taking the dogs out, going to sports events) that best match their typical uses - with the added marketing overlay of tailored messages and benefits.
Helping build trust through that realism can improve the opportunity to generate and collect leads, develop and automate lead generation tools, increase customer retention and referrals can all help the sales effort, while saving floor staff efforts to closing those deals, and working with more traditional customers.
As car markets continue to change into the era of smart and eco-friendly cars, bots will move into the vehicle as part of the advisor or entertainment systems of all vehicles, and vendors can add their own content to help build that relationship, while partnering with auto insurers for the best deals at the appropriate time, local garages for MOTs and so on.
As buying cars in the US becomes radically different from buying cars in a post-Brexit Britain and elsewhere, and as more car sales go online, there are many opportunities to use bots that talk in more local and regional ways, overcoming the wider global efforts by big car brands, and independent dealers can use bots to build their own digital voice that is distinct and more friendly.