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Around for 50 years, AI is more than a contemporary buzzword, says IBM’s Joanna Batstone.

AI Gets Emotional, Finds Its Way Into Car Dealerships

AI “is not futuristic, not scary, and already real,” says Joe Chura, CEO of Dealer Inspire, a technology and website provider. “It will change the world faster. At dealerships, it can do everyday tasks.”

From its dichotomous-sounding name alone, it seems hard to get emotional over artificial intelligence.

Yet, more and more, AI applications seek to strike an emotional chord – such as in one-on-one marketing – or detect a mood – say, anger or happiness – in interactions with humans.

“It’s a matter of the computer understanding language, tone, emotion and context,” says Joanna Batstone, an IBM vice president involved in the company’s AI-centered Watson project.

AI is a contemporary buzzword, but “it goes back 50 years,” Batstone says at this year’s DrivingSales Executive Summit in Las Vegas. “It’s not just a new tech fad.”

But it has come a long way in a half century.

Today, cognitive computing systems use algorithms and machine learning to teach themselves in a supervised way “and increasingly in an unsupervised way,” she says.

AI is working its way into auto retailing in various ways.

For example, it can expedite auto financing in a quick and “frictionless” way, Batstone says. For dealers, “AI allows you to understand customer sentiments and trends beyond what’s gathered from traditional surveys or call-center interaction.”    

LotLinx, a digital marketing firm, uses machine learning to put vehicles of interest in front of specific shoppers online.

“The last couple of years, we’ve put a lot of focus on AI,” Lance Schafer, LotLinx’s general manager-product technology, says during an AI panel discussion at the DrivingSales conference.

“Recognizing patterns of speech is one element,” he says. “(The system) automatically learns and improves from experience without explicit programming.”

AI “is not futuristic, not scary, and already real,” says Joe Chura, CEO of Dealer Inspire, a technology and website provider. “It will change the world faster. At dealerships, it can do everyday tasks.”

One of those is analyzing inventory to determine which vehicles are more likely to sell, he says.

AI can analyze online car shopping behavior (based on factors such as time on the website and the number of vehicle-detail-page views) to determine whether a website visitor is “a newbie, loyalist, waffler, buyer” or a conquest candidate, Chura says.

He foresees the day “when facial recognition will be used to fill out forms automatically.”

The growing popularity of smart speakers and mobile assistants has changed the way people relate to technology, says Mike Markette, chief technical officer of CallRevu, a firm that uses phone-call monitoring and metrics to improve dealership customer satisfaction.

Businesses are experimenting with leveraging voice and message technologies to create a more seamless customer experience when interacting with AI, he says.

“There is machine learning from telephone calls,” he says. “AI is not competing with humans, but it can provide answers someone wants so we can have a natural conversation with customers.”

Automatic voice systems are getting so good, Markette envisions a time when a car shopper seeking information calls a dealership, “and the receptionist says, ‘Let me transfer you to our bot.’”

AI-driven bots are getting smarter, but there’s a limit to what they can do, says Chura. They are not used to negotiate vehicle prices, because those change. Were a shopper to begin price haggling in a customer-bot conversation, the bot would transfer the call to a human, he says.  

AI helps marketers “understand when to fire the right ad to maximize the outcome,” says Jeremy Anspach, CEO of PureCars, a digital automotive marketer.

“We need AI to master digital marketing,” he says. “There are millions of signals, and AI needs to make decisions. It’s a matter of data-driven insights.”

What does Anspach think is next for AI at dealerships?

“How to predict sales and create audiences and segments. What are they going to buy, and what to show them so they will buy at your dealership.”  

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