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Just a few years ago, no one would have used a chatbot, because they simply didn’t exist in the capacity that they do now. Until recently, no one would have purchased an item — much less a vehicle — from a robot. Now, suddenly, we find ourselves living with Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana — platforms that are changing the way we see artificial intelligence forever. They aren’t just robots anymore; they have become our personal assistants.

In the automotive world, chatbots are also showing us something we’ve never seen before. Facebook’s chatbots are driving prospects before they ever visit the dealership. Chatbots can point prospects to new inventory and schedule appointments. This marks a major turning point in the evolution of the technology.

What Are Chatbots?

Chatbots are artificial intelligence-powered computer programs that simulate human conversation. The end result is a polished and seamless conversation that prospects can use freely. Chatbots give prospects the answers they are looking for in real time, and there can even allow prospects to request more information or schedule appointments. How cool is that?

When I first mentioned chatbots to the Bryan Honda sales team, they gave me a “deer-in-the-headlights” look. Then I had them try out, a chatbot that operates within Facebook messenger.

I could tell that, within a few clicks, they got it. They saw the potential here. In real time, a prospect could search our entire inventory, schedule an appointment, schedule a service, get in touch with a live person, and even get pre-approval for financing — all without leaving Facebook messenger!

On the dealership’s end, the 100% capture rate is a huge plus. If someone clicks on the messenger app for more information, they are automatically added to that page’s data list. With new and exciting tools like the new Facebook ads campaign for messenger, ads and updates can be sent straight to leads, saving dealers and sales managers a lot of time and money.

Why Are Chatbots Important?

Just as with so many of the other new digital marketing strategies out there, chatbots can create revolutionary change. … Although I should add that chatbots aren’t really “new” at all. Michael Mauldin introduced Verbot in 1994. (He called it a “ChatterBot.”) What is new is their growing presence in the automotive realm. The tide is turning fast, and that’s what I really find remarkable.

To be sure, automotive disruptors are taking advantage of the rise of the new automotive ecommerce. Just check out Carvana, Shift and Vroom. Or take a look at ­AutoNation. American’s largest vehicle retailer is piloting online sales kiosks with CarServer and Walmart. And we can’t forget about TrueCar, the car shopping website that entered into a financing agreement with JPMorgan Chase to streamline the loan process.

It’s easy to see that leading automotive companies are leveraging digital to the fullest and making it work for them. Now it seems that ecommerce tools like chatbots are becoming a necessity as opposed to a luxury. When digital marketers learn the right way to use and market them, the sky is the limit. The bot I mentioned? It was designed to create, customize and train chatbots for dealerships. The first two weeks of beta testing produced more than 200 conversations.

This technology may never take the place of real people. But if you have already dismissed them as a flash in the pan, just take a look around you. Chatbots are here to stay, my friend! 

Rico Glover is chief digital officer at Bryan Honda in Fayetteville, N.C., and a nationally recognized expert in dealership digital marketing. Contact him at [email protected].