Getty Images

Getty Images

Artificial intelligence has risen from the realm of science fiction to real-world applicability, and the road ahead is filled with innovation, automation and transformation of data into useful day-to-day application. The auto industry is a prime candidate for AI because of our vast stores of data, our sincere focus on the customer experience, and the complexity of our production and distribution systems.

Let’s discuss how early adopters are using AI today and the potential it holds for our future. Here are the three things you need to know right now:

1. AI Is Already Driving Sales and Service 

Chatbots are enhancing dealer and OEM websites by creating a more responsive customer experience while reducing human involvement in the initial sales and service process.

This year, Mercedes-Benz launched a Facebook Messenger chatbot to interact with consumers around the 50-year anniversary of AMG. Though its initial use case was intended to be more promotional than practical from a sales and customer service perspective, the initiative showed a recognition that AI is becoming a key component of the brand experience.

Another AI tool working behind the scenes is speech analytics. It’s a key component of advanced inbound phone calls to franchised dealerships, where the phone is still a primary driver of appointments and sales. Speech analytics solutions use machine learning and natural language. But they do more than record what a customer is saying during a call. They are designed to understand the content of that conversation, the intent of the consumer, the skills of the sales associate, and, ultimately, the outcome of the interaction — whether that’s a sale, an appointment, or a missed opportunity.

By analyzing call volumes in scale, manufacturers and dealerships are gaining deeper insights into BDC and scripts that map to the consumer’s desired experience. Audio analysis can shed light on sales staff performance. Forward-looking dealers can use that data to prospect for sales when new incentives are announced or sales objectives are falling short.

2. AI Will Improve Targeting for Marketers

Sales teams were once considered to be the profit center of the dealership. Today, marketers — in the auto industry and beyond — are relied upon to drive growth. They are in a constant battle to prove their ROI. AI stands to emerge as a killer app that will help marketers generate more leads for less.

Similar to the use of speech analytics in sales and operations, analytics can help auto marketers better understand where their target customers are and get content directly in front of them. After all, phone calls are key, but a car buyers still rely on research, reviews and input from friends on social media when choosing a make or model.

It’s important to understand these digital components of the customer journey while developing an understanding of how they map back to offline interactions like phone calls. Processing call audio in scale is beginning to inform how marketing can extend the customer conversation.

For example, manufacturers are in the early stages of utilizing vast amounts of inbound call data paired with vehicle-delivery records to automate audience segmentation and retargeting, “automagically” stopping the marketing push once the prospect has made their purchase. As AI becomes more sophisticated, the picture of the customer and their path to purchase will become clearer.

3. Car Buyers Have Much to Gain From AI

We are entering an era of hyperpersonalization. Artificial intelligence — and, in turn, sales and marketing teams — will know what car buyers want, sometimes before they know it themselves. This is huge.

My wife is shopping for a car right now. She has been interacting with Siri to ask nuanced questions about products she’s interested in to understand how a car will fit her lifestyle. Admittedly, the tech still has a long way to go. Interacting with Siri or Amazon Alexa is fun but often unhelpful. But these virtual assistants have the potential to become the most successful sales agents in any industry.

How? By leveraging data from our purchase history, our online activity, the connected devices we use, and internet-of-things touchpoints to get a holistic view of who we are as consumers. AI will make recommendations for cars that are highly relevant to our lives, because it will already know what’s important to us. AI will enable you to serve up suggestions that move consumers toward purchase more rapidly.

AI will also help you determine how to present that information. Some car ads are sentimental. Some are focused on performance or safety. Which message will resonate with this car buyer?

Ultimately, artificial intelligence should augment, not eliminate, the human connection. AI has much to offer the auto industry in terms of personalizing digital interactions between dealers, manufacturers and customers, but even the most in-depth data won’t replace the human connection that is crucial to earning consumers’ trust.

AI will grease the skids to purchase, but the instore experience will ultimately complete the sale. The industry will need to strike a careful balance, seeking opportunities for meaningful, person-to-person interactions that solidify confidence in the purchase decision.

Matt Muilenburg is senior vice president of operations for Marchex and has expertise in operations and business development with a focus on the automotive industry. Email him at [email protected].