Retail Offensive Part 5: “I, Robot“ in dealerships – Implications of artificial intelligence on automotive retail

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Artificial intelligence changes our everyday lives – but are we also ready to interact with robots and artificial intelligence in automotive retail?

As early as 1950, Isaac Asimov dealt with the future coexistence of humans and robots in his science fiction story “I, Robot”. For better cooperation, he has defined “basic rules of robot service”, which regulate the supporting role of robots in the execution of work. 67 years later, this image is slowly becoming reality when it comes to providing self-learning systems with guidelines for action.

For this reason, hardly a day goes by without discussing topics such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). On the one hand, there can be so-called software robots in the context of “Robotic Process Automation” (RPA), which independently processes structured data, so that it can perform simple administrative tasks and accelerate their process.

On the other hand, AI-based systems can capture unstructured data, in a self-learning manner, and solve problems that initially required human intelligence. Especially in the latter case, prototypes are already being tested in direct contact with customers, such as SoftBank’s humanoid robot “Pepper”.

Artificial intelligence and RPA shape the customer service of the future

Companies across all industries are constantly striving to reshape themselves in the digital world, validate and deploy new technologies, as well as fully exploit their optimization potential. While the use of RPA has been going on for years in industries with a large number of back-office processes (such as banks, insurance companies or fashion retail), the adaptation of customer-related processes is somewhat slower. Self-service communities have not been able to gain widespread acceptance and live chats have also fallen far short of expectations, in terms of both distribution and acceptance.

So how is AI supposed to overcome precisely these hurdles in the shortest possible time? Countless examples of applications from our everyday life such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon Echo show us that our efforts not only reflect the growing importance of AI in customer service, but also indicate that we are becoming more and more accustomed to these technologies, and that we need to meet the associated service requirements.

 Change of the customer experience – not only in the vehicle, but also in the car dealership

We are not only car customers, but also customers at Apple, Google, banks or retailers. Accordingly, it will be essential for car dealers, in the future, to offer their customers the same service experience that they already receive from other sectors. Looking at the manufacturers’ side, for example, all automakers are more than willing to invest in AI when developing autonomous vehicles. This is reflected in the expansion of various collaborations with chip manufacturers and online map services.

However, it is still difficult for many OEMs to place the topic of AI in the context of “automotive retail”. For this reason, the question arises; to what extent can AI-based technologies be used effectively in car dealerships without posing a direct threat to existing jobs?

In the near future, it is not so much a question of regarding AI as a human replacement, but rather as an additional component to meet growing customer requirements. In automotive retail, in particular, people are and will remain the most effective communication channel when it comes to direct sales and service.

However, dealers have less and less time to deal with customer inquiries. Customers expect real time, round-the-clock responses and personalized approaches – both digital and physical. In this context, rudimentary software robots at OEM and retail level allow us to handle more and more tasks and requests automatically. The automation or robotization of routine processes is nowadays one of the most important tasks of a company. Data can be processed and stored more quickly, enabling customers to be served more efficiently. This makes it easier for employees, who do not have to perform tedious administrative tasks, and therefore can devote their time to value-adding, customer-oriented activities.

For the partial use of self-learning systems, the fact that these requirements are difficult to cover, especially in medium-sized and small car dealerships, makes it a major challenge. The algorithms of these systems, such as IBM Watson, recognize semantic patterns in customer correspondence and can categorize and answer customer concerns strategically. Chatbots or other future service robots can help sales staff to act more purposefully and minimize the time spent with dealing with a customer’s initial requirements.

A look into the future

Welcome to 2030: A comprehensive service experience can work most effectively when people and machines are intelligently combined. Exactly this possibility offers the employment of AI, with whose assistance in the car dealership, has take over a substantial part of customer communication and routine inquiries over E-Mail, Chat and Website. Meanwhile, AI technologies are effectively using large amounts of data and giving customers a more specific profile. Due to the increasing number of data records that are being generated in this context, Software Robots (RPA) are being used in automotive retail for internal business processes, such as master data maintenance, duplicate cleansing, etc. This enables an almost 100% data quality response and a better customer approach.

Also, direct customer processes are now robot-supported. During my visit at the car dealership, a concierge robot called “Ellie” welcomes me by name, shows me the waiting area and offers me a glass of water. At the same time, my service person receives a real-time message on his smart watch about my arrival. After a personal conversation, in which I address my poor availability, he highlights that I can hand in my car for inspection around the clock and the acceptance process is carried out after 7 pm by a digital service assistant.

The following evening, I use the video screen and speech recognition at the dealer car parking lot to simply and easily inform the digital service assistant “Max” about my service wishes for the upcoming inspection and receive an appointment to pick up my vehicle.

Car manufacturers must encourage dealers to use artificial intelligence

Not only in the vehicle, but also in the car dealership, AI will play a decisive role for efficiency and customer experience in the future. In addition to the increasing orientation of digital processes towards the customer, automotive retail must make the best of the online and offline world available to the customer – and this means not only new retail formats and digital tools, but also the use of AI. It is important to give predefined action guidelines on AI-based technologies.

Such technologies add value to the customer experience by complementing and supporting the sales and service processes within the customer journey. Thus, cooperation between OEM and dealers is indispensable. Although manufacturers are driving the issue in the field of vehicle development, they must not ignore the opportunities in physical contact at dealership level. For this reason, it makes sense for the manufacturer to initiate the use of AI and to pass the idea and process on to the dealer.

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