Article

More than live chat: Conversational AI levels up customer service in the automotive industry

Brian Abrams headshot

Brian Abrams

September 10, 2021

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5 minutes

Illustration of buying cars online

There’s hardly an industry out there that hasn’t been affected by advances in digital technology, and the automotive industry is no exception. The traditional way to buy a car — go to a dealership, take a test drive, and sit down with a sales rep to work out a deal — isn’t the only way to buy anymore. 

I recently joined Roadster, the online car selling platform, for a “Roadside Chat” roundtable discussion to address the hot topic of Conversational AI in automotive as it relates to customer service. 

Increasingly, dealers are advertising on platforms beyond their website, such as Facebook Marketplace, and that’s where consumers are doing their shopping as well. Over the course of the roundtable, we discussed the history of how auto brands have leveraged messaging and how it’s evolved to become a key component of the sales process. Here’s a look at insights from the event: 

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What is AI-powered messaging and how has it evolved from live chat?

Messaging is the asynchronous connection between consumers and brands across industries. Before there was AI-powered messaging, there was “live chat,” a synchronous communication experience, usually on a web or mobile site with live agents or basic chatbots. Though dwindling, these experiences are still fairly common but are often limiting due to long wait times, the synchronous nature, or limited use cases.   

AI-powered messaging takes place in channels that consumers already use every day like Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messaging, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and more. Just like texting with family or friends, messaging with brands happens asynchronously, on the consumer’s time. Conversational AI underpins the AI-powered messaging experience, utilizing powerful Natural Language Understanding to build experiences that are personalized, efficient, and valuable across sales, support, and re-engagement. 

Shoppers are not only growing accustomed to messaging with brands, 75% of them say they are more likely to purchase if they can message someone who can help them on their shopping journey. 

75% say they're more likely to purchase if they can message

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Best-in-class service: What does it mean in messaging? 

Auto dealers need to think of messaging as an extension of their sales staff. When live chat was initially introduced, it was simply used as a lead generator. In fact, an offer to chat often led to a form to fill out so that a sales rep could contact them later on channels like voice, email, or even direct mail. Even when a third-party chat agent or chatbot was added to live chat experiences for instant responses, the objective was simply to collect a name and email address so a lead could be turned over to a sales rep. 

Today, we are capable of having richer messaging conversations with consumers, answering specific questions on the spot and handling much more than lead generation.

With the right approach, messaging can help car dealers take the next step and provide exceptional service to their customers in three ways:

<blog-number>01<blog-number> Meeting and exceeding customer expectations

As digital commerce grows, consumers are engaging with and buying from their favorite brands online. Messaging in other industries like entertainment, food, and travel are shaping people’s minds on what to expect from other brands, including car dealers. Continuously raising the bar in service is what drives loyalty. 

That’s why dealers shouldn’t be afraid to work deals directly through live chat or messaging — being direct with price, trade-ins, and other aspects of car buying is possible, just like an in-person interaction on the showroom floor.

<blog-number>02<blog-number> Moving beyond the website

More and more, car dealers are advertising inventory outside of their own web properties on platforms like Facebook Marketplace. This is an effort to meet consumers where they are — but no matter where the consumer discovers your inventory, they should have a consistent, cohesive, and helpful brand experience. By building out a messaging program across properties like web, social, and mobile messaging channels, buyers can receive in-the-moment support in critical moments in the buying journey — a key capability in shepherding consumers to purchase.  

Common questions that we see come through messaging revolve around price, incentives, availability, trim levels, and features. Through open APIs, a bot can find and even provide much of this information. All that vehicle information can be at the agents’ fingertips, too, and they can sort through it very quickly — just like any sales rep on the floor of a dealership talking with a customer.

Keep in mind, one of the key benefits consumers see in online car buying is the transparency and clarity of pricing, taxes, and fees. You can take this desired directness to your messaging program, training your agents and bots alike to deliver information in a clear and concise manner, while leveraging AI tools like Agent Assist to help them quickly find answers they may not have on hand. Between AI, automation, and human support, you can give customers the transparent support they are craving without sacrificing scale.

<blog-number>03<blog-number> More than just a conversation

When a consumer engages through messaging, they’re sharing much more than name, email, and phone number. Because of the conversational nature of messaging, you’re getting verbatim insights as to what they need, in the moment. You’ll understand what they are asking for specifically, where they’ve been already, what is and isn’t important to them, where they are in the buying process, and more. This first-party data can be used to create rich, personalized experiences that build brand loyalty and drive revenue.  Whether that ends in a purchase right there, or gets moved into the CRM for a follow-up, it’s way more than just a lead. 

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At the end of the day, consumers are after information. Messaging allows car dealers to deliver that information right when consumers need it, and that information can result in sales. That’s why automotive brands and dealerships need to be prepared to deliver more than just lead generation through messaging.

Instead, they should strive to be trusted, personalized shopping guides wherever consumers are in their journey. 

Thank you to Roadster for the opportunity to be part of this discussion. We look forward to more conversations on messaging and how it can serve the auto industry and its customers.