Rise of the chat bot

We consider the use of artificial intelligence in motor retail

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Whilst the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) may seem somewhat futuristic in the business world, most of us have personal AI assistants already, in the shape of Apple’s ‘Siri’, Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ or Windows Live Messenger, for example. Such ‘chat bots’ are highly developed computer algorithms, designed to mimic human response and even behaviour, using increasingly powerful software to create a form of artificial intelligence.

All these programmes have at least two things in common. Firstly, their objective is to make life easier for us humans by acting as an information gatherer and support service, much like an automated concierge. Secondly, their range of application and potential for use in industry is growing massively.

In regard to convenience, the beauty of a chat bot is that it is always awaiting a command, which has significant potential to eliminate the bane of telephone queuing, as response parameters become more sophisticated. As consumers become more used to conversing with computers, it follows that increased familiarity should pave the way for greater trust. Research has shown that the majority of people would consider talking to a chat bot in preference to a human in order to get an instant response to a question. However, on the issue of making a purchase using AI, confidence is still some way off. According to research by HubSpot, based on a wide sample of international consumers including those in the UK, its study found that only 47% of people would commit to a purchase via a chat bot.

When it comes to the motor retail sector, speed of service and accuracy of information are crucial factors in satisfying customer expectation, which is why the use of chat bots has considerable potential. Dealership footfall is at an all-time low with consumers preferring to assimilate all the information they need from the comfort of their own home, before visiting the shortlisted showrooms.

Research has shown that the majority of people would consider talking to a chat bot in preference to a human

By using chat bots, manufacturers and dealerships could reduce the number of simple, high volume enquiries customer service agents have to deal with, freeing them up to provide more nuanced services that require a human touch.

At the moment, chat bots can only imitate human understanding. They’re unable to handle complex enquiries, or engage in detailed conversations. But, by integrating the technology with Artificial Intelligence (AI), there’s scope for a more ‘conversational’ chat bot, that could undertake complex speech and recognise user intentions, even down to the tone of their language.

This sort of automated support could complement existing customer service staff, who would continue to take care of more complicated issues and be available to help customers face-to-face. Practical trials have already taken place in Germany, where chat bots were found to be particularly well suited to answering a large volume of low-level technical queries. Developers believe they could respond to enquiries of increasingly complexity, such as stock checking, arranging a test drive or booking a service.

It follows that by enabling quicker and more efficient interaction with customers, a business will have competitive advantage. Similarly, engaging them via the use of technology will have particular appeal to the younger generation of car buyers, in a rapidly evolving market. As highlighted in ‘Getting to grips with the digital world‘, digitalisation in the motor industry is expected to transform from digital services to car as a service and then to mobility as a service with the car becoming a key element of ‘connected living’ by 2030.

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