Auto Industry Revs Up Customer Experience With Tech

man looking at new cars

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a big role in the future of the automotive industry both inside and outside of the car. Although most of the focus up until now has been focused on autonomous driving, recent developments show that the customer experience in buying and then driving a car is becoming an urgent issue.

“Currently, numerous companies are exploring AI’s potential to enhance their operations,” said Steven Silver, managing director, Automotive, Transportation & Mobility for Publicis Sapient and Publicis Groupe. “Once integrated and scaled, AI is poised to have a profound impact on the mobility industry. However, business leaders must be willing to embrace AI experimentation. It’s important to capture the opportunity now, rather than wait for perfection and mass adoption.”

Silver sees two use cases developing that will improve the customer experience if implemented properly. The first is elevating that experience through predictive maintenance and in-vehicle personalization, and here he tips a hat to the connected economy. As an example, he points out that AI will allow connected vehicles to sense and respond to streaming data. That could transform maintenance schedules as drivers as well as manufacturers can proactively solve vehicle problems before they arise. The second is in removing the friction in the automotive shopping journey. On a general level, AI can give automotive manufacturers and dealers market behavior data based on buying patterns across a collection of data points. That data can turn a one-sided selling process into a collaboration through AI that will improve both the retail and ownership process for customers by creating better, data-driven experiences.

“For example, rather than a customer contacting a dealership when their lease is about to expire, AI will predict the best course of action for the customer and give the dealer multiple opportunities to engage the customer beforehand,” he said. “Rather than waiting for overt signals, marketing teams could engage earlier with messaging about having the vehicle inspected, getting it replaced or offering buying options. AI-enabled recommendation engines can notify a customer (if they are looking for a specific vehicle) that it will be available at a certain location at a certain time. Offers can be tailored for a specific persona, such as the car enthusiast looking for a fully loaded vehicle. As AI gets smarter, it will get even better at customizing offers and communications.”

One of the companies leading the customer experience drive is Stella Automotive AI. It operates a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that integrates with dealerships and service providers to automate repetitive customer service tasks, expedite and improve communication with customers, and connect experts to those who need help. Last week it launched a partnership with FordDirect to launch a curated online shopping platform called The Shop. FordDirect is a joint venture between Ford, Lincoln and its dealers that uses AI in advancing data analytics and digital marketing campaigns. By granting access to FordDirect, approved partners with pre-negotiated prices for essential products and services, The Shop offers solutions to dealers that the company claims will streamline dealership operations and allow them to focus on their core activities and navigate the new automotive retail landscape with increased effectiveness.

What do consumers think? They want personalization, and that need also points out the need for better AI-driven analytics. A survey by Acxiom shows that only about half (55%) of car owners in the U.S. feel the experience they had visiting an automotive manufacturer’s website the last time they purchased a vehicle was personalized. Fifty-four percent thought their experience on the automotive dealership’s website was very or somewhat personalized; 55% say the overall digital experience with the dealership was personalized; and 41% said their time on third-party websites shopping for a vehicle was personalized.

According to a ZenDesk trends report, roughly 50% of customers will switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience. That number jumps to 80% on the second bad experience. Jim Roche, CEO of warranty processing platform WarrCloud, believes that Generative AI can revolutionize customer support functions, enhancing customer satisfaction and fostering higher retention rates. He writes in WardsAuto that dealers will use AI for customer service with the dual objective of optimizing resources for maximum business impact and elevating overall response times.

“2024 marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of automotive dealerships,” he wrote. “After several years of turbulence through vehicle shortages, higher prices, rising interest rates and the evolution to electrification, we’re just on the cusp of the transformation of this industry, and AI is going to be an integral part of that transformation.”