Chatbots: the latest buzzword in the automotive industry. Effective solution or hype?
As all this talk about chatbots comes to the forefront of our lives, we need to take a hard look at reality versus science fiction. Right now, the machine- learning industry is the driving force of the chatbot ecosystem, while the technology world works toward the world of real artificial intelligence (AI).
It’s funny because, as I was writing this article, I stumbled upon this Tweet:
Let me preface this article by stating that I’m not “raging against the machines”; I love the idea of chatbot technology. But, bots are still infants that need to grow up before we can depend on them to help our shoppers in a way that genuinely delivers powerful sales results.
If we’re going to rely on chatbots to relay more than just business hours to customers, we need to look at their pros and cons objectively.
Chatbots: Short-Term Benefits (1-4 Years)
Based on what we know about today’s consumers, they prefer and expect:
• Quick answers to simple questions, like hours of operation, product features, etc.
• 24-hour customer service, because shoppers don’t stick to business hours.
• Approachable interactions and set the pace of conversations.
Today, chatbots can complete 1 to 15 percent of conversation questions without human intervention. Customer questions, like “When do you close today?” and “Where are you located?” don’t need the assistance of a person — which leads to higher efficiency online.
And machine learning is advancing at an exponential rate. In three to five years, we’ll see bots completing 50 percent of conversations without needing human help. As businesses continue to identify where technology can solve consumer issues faster than humans, chatbots will help dealers improve the customer experience in a more scalable, sustainable way.
Humans: Short-Term Benefits
At the moment, however, there’s really no contest between the power of humans and chatbots. Today’s bots can’t “read the room” and understand the unspoken needs of your shoppers. They don’t possess the strategic intelligence to move your inventory or increase your repair order hours — only people can.
Having a real person interacting with your consumers online today allows you to:
• Have established processes in place: Case-by-case scenarios, such as escalating situations, transferring conversations and resolving issues still requires a human touch.
• Interact based on a deep understanding of human interaction: For now, only people are fully equipped to have conversations based on context and natural language nuances.
• Rely on tangible results in lead generation and shopper satisfaction: In a data-driven industry, we need to take a look at the data — and live support from real people is what generates dealership results.
Chatbots: Long-Term Benefits (5-10 Years)
As we look into the future, I see many exciting opportunities in the adoption of chatbots. Eventually, bots will reduce the cognitive load we put into the mechanics of starting a conversation and will allow people to focus on generating a sale. In the next decade, bots will:
• Convey advanced product knowledge: As vehicle technology continues to get more complex, so will the consumer’s need to understand it. I foresee chatbots will be able to explain advanced in-car technology in the future. For now, however, let’s leave it to the humans.
• Cut costs associated with lead development: Chatbots will continue to “get smarter” and perfect the art of collecting consumer information. And when they do, I see cost-per-clicks getting smaller and marketing return increasing.
• Offer consistent follow-up processes with every shopper: As bots begin to house customer data and better integrate with CRMs, they will be able to offer more personalized experiences to prospective and returning customers.
Humans: Long-Term Benefits
I’m a firm believer that buying a car is very much a human experience, at least in the foreseeable future. Gripping your hands on the wheel, feeling the comfort of new seats, watching the road pass quietly beneath you — it’s no surprise buying a car is one of the most emotional purchases a person will make in a lifetime.
For that reason alone, one of the most valuable long-term benefits of having real people chat with your customers is their innate human ability to establish trust during conversations. That intangible connection people can make by building good rapport and relationships is still very much an essential part of the consumer’s buying journey.
Chatbots vs. Humans, or…
Before we decide to invest significant amounts of time and effort into chatbots, we need to bridge the gap of the bot/human experience. How?
Have bots and people work together; think of it almost like bolting an exoskeleton on humans to make them stronger, faster and more efficient. Insert your chatbots into real conversations, but give chat representatives the opportunity to enrich and personalize the interaction by using what the chatbot wants to say or something that might be more attuned to the shopper at that moment. For a chatbot to do more than starting a dialogue, it will need to quantum compute millions of real human conversations.
Once the chatbot is perfected, we won’t need salespeople — am I right?
Just kidding. I say that mostly tongue in cheek, but once we are genuinely ready to unleash chatbots onto shoppers, it is only a matter of time before we arrive at a salesperson-free environment. How long that will take is any person’s guess, but the second we started this journey, an expiration stamp was placed on every salesperson in every dealership across America. And, we as an industry, must look at this possibility both philosophically as well as objectively.