Artificial intelligence is here. It’s hard to miss, when you see how many Americans utilize personal assistants like Siri and Alexa on a daily basis. The recommendations offered to us on websites like Amazon and Netflix are all powered by AI. As with any revolutionary technology, though, with new developments comes new controversy. Supporters of AI staunchly defend their belief that it will only help us in becoming more productive, efficient, and effective. Others, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, warn the risks of hyper-intelligent computers, and their ability to outsmart their human creators. Some people go so far as to speak about an imminent robot apocalypse.
One of the biggest arguments against the recent developments in AI stems from the fear that machines will eventually become so advanced that they will actually put people out of their jobs. With every advancement made, factory workers, customer service representatives, and even taxi drivers worry about their future employment. If a chatbot can respond to the vast majority of customer questions and complaints, is there really any reason for a company to pay hundreds of employees to do the same thing? It is exactly this type of thinking that is causing some panic.
The auto industry is not immune to these fears. Dealerships have already begun to use computers to perform some of the tasks that their staff used to be responsible for, and the trend only seems to be growing. What does this all mean for our future?
Your staff and your computers
It’s hard to deny that computers do certain things better than humans can. This has been true for as long as technology has existed: obviously doing math with a calculator is easier than doing it by hand. In the same way, CRMs are much more effective at tracking all of your leads and customers than the older pen and paper model. Quickly disseminating information via an automated email is easier and more cost-effective than contacting each person individually, whether by email or phone call, or sending a mailer.
You might not even realize it, but by maintaining a website and social media presence, your dealership has already shifted responsibilities from human to computer. So much of your customers’ buying processes take place online. One study found that 60% of the total time spent buying a new car is now online. This means that human employees only become relevant once a customer has already taken the time to read reviews, compare vehicles, peruse the inventory of several dealerships, and receive an estimate of their vehicle. In the past, a shopper would have needed to speak to a person to receive this information– now, it is all online. Appointments are set, trade-in values are provided, and offers are made without any input from your staff.
Your staff and your robots?
AI is the next step in this trend. By integrating automated processes into your dealership and website, computers will play an even greater role in pushing your customers down the funnel. So the question on everyone’s mind is: is your staff doomed to be replaced by a computer?
In simple terms, the answer is no. Instead of competing against machines and the latest advances in AI, your staff can actually begin working together with them, to do their jobs even more effectively and close more sales.
The most obvious way AI will help your dealership staff is in saving them time. Many of the tasks that AI can perform instead of your staff, like responding to basic questions via a chatbot, targeting shoppers with relevant offers based on their preferences and interests, and sending mass, automated emails, are pretty tedious, mundane, and time-consuming. These types of jobs are important to your dealership, but they can also be a huge drain on your staff’s limited time and resources. By “outsourcing” these tasks to machines, your human staff can focus on the more labor-intensive and human-centric jobs, like maintaining a high-quality blog, responding to customers who are further along in the buying process, and identifying areas for improvement. These are the types of jobs that AI cannot come close to doing as well as your staff members. Your salespeople will be able to spend more time on the showroom floor, interacting with customers, because they have fewer tasks to accomplish “behind the scenes.”
Get those creative juices pumping
Computers might technically be smarter than humans, but they are severely lacking in the area of creativity. What this means is that an AI-powered tool might be able to compile thousands of pages of data for you, and even understand it, but it cannot then take that information and identify ways to utilize it. Take, for example, microtargeting marketing campaigns. AI can build an audience of shoppers and identify trends within it, but your staff members are going to need to be the ones to determine the type of marketing campaign that will speak to and reach those people. Leave the data collection to the computer, and encourage your team to formulate ideas and strategies based on what was found.
Speak to your customers
Computers are just not humans. It sounds obvious, but in the 21st century where a robot can be granted citizenship, it bears repeating. Car shoppers want personalized attention from their salespeople– if they are interested in one specific model, they do not want to hear about other types of vehicles. This is one area where AI and your human staff can work together most effectively. By tracking every website interaction and learning about a website visitor, for example, AI can inform your salesperson of the type of shopper they are about to meet, and what they might appreciate. Your staff can then take that information and interact with the shopper in a more helpful and valuable way.
Customers will appreciate the attention they receive, and your salesperson will have an easier time closing the sale. When you introduce a new AI tool to your dealership, speak to your staff about what it does and how it can help them. Ensure that they are fully comfortable with the technology, and understand what it is trying to accomplish. Encourage them to identify ways in which AI can add to the dealership. In this way, instead of fearing that their jobs are at risk, your staff will embrace the new technology and become even more effective.
Even if AI does further enter the auto industry and begin performing more tasks in your dealership, it will probably be a while before you have robots walking around your showroom helping customers. Your sales will depend upon your shoppers’ early interactions with your dealership, on your website and with AI-powered tools, as well as the experience they have in your store, with your salespeople. Perhaps it’s time to start treating AI as an additional member of your team that can assist your staff in doing their jobs better, and not instead of them.
Author: Miriam Slonimczyk
Miriam Slonimczyk is the Head of Customer Success at AutoLeadStar. With years of experience in client services and account management, Miriam is passionate about using tools to cultivate and nurture strong relationships with customers. Feel free to be in touch with Miriam at firstname.lastname@example.org.