How is AI transforming automotive retail?

AI Assistant’s Chief Technology Officer, Carl Lightfoot, shares insight into how artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming efficiency, productivity and profitability for automotive retailers.

Why did you get involved with AI Assistant?

My primary goal is to build something that no one has ever built before. Right now, 90 percent of my time is dedicated to the exploration and development of artificial intelligence tool sets and all the interconnectivity for other systems that we've got.

Secondary to that is strategy, which is something I've been involved with quite heavily before - and I mean business strategy and industry strategy as it relates to software.

Finally, there is the corporate governance aspect of it - making sure our solutions are fit for purpose and that we are building a good quality business that's of value to all stakeholders. I understand the relevance of good corporate governance and management on being able to leverage technology at the right time, in the right place to build compelling products for market.

How does AI Assistant make lives easier for automotive retailers?

AI brings efficiencies for our clients. We use it to ease the burden and tackle some of the complexities of undertaking a variety of customer communications as well as managing data.

We can do more with less - leveraging technology to improve accuracy at pace.

This reliable continuous process improves the commercial performance of our customers and they can sleep soundly at night knowing that there is a high-quality platform that sits behind this initiative.

What makes AI Assistant products 'automotive'?

Over the last 30 years I’ve developed a deep understanding of how the automotive industry operates - service and sales - across probably the majority of the world.

I have visited 35 odd countries, worked in lots of them and developed and deployed automotive tech solutions into them - some highly complex.

Yes, it’s fair to say that I like writing code but I could put a suit on and go and run a car dealership. When you combine those two bits of knowledge, you understand deeply how your solutions will impact the people that are operating those automotive businesses.

So, when it comes to assessing AI capabilities, we're constantly asking ourselves if what we are doing will add value to the shareholders and stakeholders in an automotive business.

What effect will it have on the performance of a service advisor or salesperson?

Because I've been in the meetings, I've sat and watched their frustration. So I understand the important role AI can play in helping automotive people do their jobs effectively.

Should we be worried about Artificial Intelligence?

There are complete ends to that spectrum. Some people will say AI is going to kill humanity while, at the other end, there are people saying that there's nothing to worry about. The truth is that it's probably not in either of those camps. It's somewhere else in that and it's hard to articulate.

I think generally we, as a humanity, should be concerned by it but then it comes down to how do we help our clients leverage it safely to give their customers a better experience?

There's a real opportunity to raise the bar in the motor industry (and probably actually many industries) when it comes to ensuring that consumers get what they hope to get from a business.

We've taken important steps in AI Assistant to ensure that we know exactly what the AI is doing. This isn’t about hoping and praying it’s doing a good thing. We know the why, we know the how and there are certain things that you can do from an engineering perspective to ensure that you safeguard yourselves with it, which is vital.

Will dealer staff lose jobs because of AI?

The economics of this will drive the change because, as an economic model, it's a much more efficient way to do some of the current tasks that are being carried out by humans.

However, we don't see this as a net removal of human workers. We see that AI Assistant’s sole purpose is to transform business performance and efficiencies. It’s about giving teams the time and opportunity to have more powerful human connections with customers.

That human element will always be a part of the automotive retail process and, by embracing AI, automotive businesses can liberate their teams to do it to the best of their abilities.

Isn't using AI unethical?

There are two primary goals with AI, particularly how we're deploying it.

Number one is to ensure that consumers get what they ask for in a robust and carefree way.

If you, as a consumer, had the option to talk to this AI engine and know it will respond within a few minutes, take care of everything you've asked it to, reply back to you to say it's done the task and give you useful information at a pace you want to interact with versus interaction with a human who may not deliver all of that, might be delayed and so on, which would you choose?

I would choose to deal with the AI and I think a lot of the people I've spoken to over the last few years would prefer the AI to deal with a request too.

At the end of the day, it's information gathering from a consumer perspective. As a consumer I'm just interested in you telling me you've done something. If that can be done in a polite and humanistic way - but carried out with some degree of automation - I think in most cases, not every one, but in most cases it will be accepted.

The second dimension to this is being able to ensure that those businesses that operate AI technology have a fair opportunity to generate revenue. And, as I've seen over the years with a variety of solutions, the best way to do that, is to improve the interaction between a dealership and a consumer, where often revenue is left on the table.

And I'm talking about good quality revenue - things that the customer would actually have really liked to know about and would have wanted to purchase but unfortunately the business is either too busy or inarticulate to answer specific questions or respond appropriately.

Years ago all you had to do was ask the customer would you like an upgrade to that? And those businesses that did typically made £3000 to £4000 additional profit per month just by asking the question.

Right now, the challenge is that our human sales teams have also got ten other things to think about and the last thing they're going to think about is whether or not they should ask customers that question. It's another thing for them to add into another system and then they may need to log a ticket and so on.

So the way I think about it from an an ethical perspective is that AI can serve a lot of people's interests by creating an environment that's much more conducive for customers to interact with people in a business and the people in that business to interact with customers.

At that point, if that's acknowledged, then the ethical considerations around whether something should be given the appearance of being humanistic, I think, start to fall away.

How quickly will AI be adopted by automotive retailers?

I suppose the challenge to some degree with AI is the complex nature of it.

Adoption typically comes as a result of some degree of understanding what it is you're actually buying but I think AI changes the landscape of that quite significantly.

I think it's almost inevitable that what you'll see as we expand through these AI models is the genuine good quality customer satisfaction will go up. When you couple that with good quality revenues that you wouldn't ordinarily have seen, smiling customers who are getting their needs met, reliably, accurately and on time, then I think you'll see other businesses move quickly to adopt because that is the panacea.

If I can keep my customers happy, I get less complaints, I make more money and my team's more happy then I might not under understand how AI does it, but that's a result and I’m all for it.

For more information about how we can help you embrace AI and automation to boost profits in your dealership, email or call us on 01488 757447.

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