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Dealers remain interested in secure, reliable AI.

CDK’s New Virtual Assistant Aims Not to Goof Up

A chatbot duped into agreeing to sell a ’24 Chevy Tahoe for $1 is a cautionary tale for auto dealers. Yet many of them are interested in AI.

CDK Global’s Barb Edson vows her company’s new AI-driven virtual assistant won’t do anything goofy – like agree to sell a car for $1.

“We want to implement AI responsibly and in a secure way,” the information technology and software company’s chief marketing officer tells WardsAuto.

Edson mentions a vehicle-for-$1 anecdote that made the rounds as something of an artificial intelligence cautionary tale at the recent National Automobile Dealers Assn. show in Las Vegas. 

The story stems from a tech-savvy trickster manipulating a California dealership’s chatbot to agree to sell a ’24 Chevrolet Tahoe (base manufacturer price: $56,200) for $1.

Human intervention killed that deal. But the story illustrates the importance of not brazenly turning the store over to AI.

Citing the car-for-a-buck caper, John Lilly, software provider CarNow’s chief product officer, says a dealership’s AI-driven chatbot “should only respond confidently” in helping humans in sales and service do their jobs.  

Of CDK’s newly offered AI personal assistant called AIVA, Edson says, “We’re careful it’s not going to do something or give out information it shouldn’t.”

Despite the occasional eyebrow-raising stories about AI virtual assistant missteps, many car dealers are interested in using modern technology to improve both dealership performance and customer experiences.     

“We’re still hearing from dealers and consumers that there is a significant need to bring people, processes and technology together to deliver exceptional retail experiences,” says CDK CEO Brian MacDonald.

In a CDK survey of 230 dealership executives and department heads, virtual assistants were the AI applications with the highest level of interest (44%).

Moreover, although some people are wary of AI – especially as it becomes more prolific – the CDK survey indicates dealership people generally are receptive to it.

For example, 76% of polled dealers believe AI has positively impacted their business as an integral part of their operations. And 60% of dealers who plan to use AI anticipate positive outcomes.

Basic AI has been around for a while. But early versions lacked the vast data sets and computing power of today.  

CDK’s virtual assist AIVA – an acronym for artificial intelligence and virtual assistant – takes phone calls, responds to text messages and answers emails.

The company says it provides “hyper-personalized, human-like engagement with the sales and service departments; 24/7 responsiveness; sophisticated conversational lead-handling; consistent long-term follow-up; and automatic appointment scheduling.”

And AIVA is polylingual. It can communicate in 52 different languages. 

“It takes tasks off human capital at your dealership and puts them on AIVA,” Edson says. “But when you need that human, he or she can step in.”

Do customers know they are talking to a machine?

Yes, but it is not robotic at all,” she says. “AI is simply another way we can create better business practices and improve productivity. It’s not valuable unless you have the right set of data to learn from or build the right algorithms to apply to whether it is machine learning or natural language processing or ChatGPT.”

Engaging with virtual assistants is off-putting to some.

But Edson says the systems allow dealership employees “to spend time on strategic conversations with customers. And the consumer is happier because they are getting the engagement they want.”

A positive customer experience is top-of-mind for most dealerships, she adds. CDK research indicates nearly 80% of dealers say they focus on the consumer experience. 

In 2022, Brookfield Business Partners bought CDK for $8.5 billion.

“The dealership franchise model was a huge part of that,” says Edson. “We see so much value in dealerships. All our studies indicate dealerships will be an integral part of car buying, especially among young people.”

Andrew DiFeo is a forward-thinking dealer who expects to use advanced AI, but with “cautious optimism” at his store, Hyundai of St. Augustine, FL.

He “definitely” sees AI as spurring operational efficiencies. That includes a system that learns to answer commonly asked customer questions.  

“It’s the shiniest object we’ve seen in a long time,” DiFeo tells WardsAuto referring to modern AI. “It’s still early in its life cycle, though. We want to make sure what it presents to our guests is relative and accurate.”

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