The noble automobile: Since the first one rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line more than 100 years ago, we’ve never stopped looking for ways to improve it. Every day, it seems cars are getting safer, more environmentally friendly and more technologically advanced – until it’s time to contact the dealer for service.
Service and repair are where auto dealers make most of their money – more than 50% of dealerships’ profits. For example, they make about $300 on the sale of a new car, but over the life of that same car’s four-year warranty, they make about $4,000 on repair, warranty and recall work. So, with all the technology that’s being built into cars these days, where can we implement some of that innovation into the customer experience?
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and other platforms, there are clear opportunities for improvement in a few key areas:
- Smarter call centers
- Better internal communication
- More comprehensive service through augmented reality
Smarter call centers
When repair customers contact their dealership, that call is routed through a business development center (BDC), essentially a basic call center where someone will take the callers’ information and help them make appointments, but isn’t necessarily able to, or expected to, answer specific questions about service or parts, or about the status of a particular customer’s vehicle. It’s quite literally just a room full of people answering phones.
But by implementing AI, we can create a call center that’s not only more efficient but also much smarter by default. About 80% of the service functions handled by typical BDC calls can be automated – whether that’s setting appointments, appointment reminders, status updates or anything else that doesn’t need to be addressed by someone with a particular skill set or knowledge base. The other 20% is where the rubber hits the road, and that’s exactly where the dealership’s resources are best used: putting fewer, but smarter people in place to create a more intelligent call center.
When a dealership gets high-priority calls, it’s crucial that they be directed to the right person – someone who is well-trained, service-oriented and proactive to add value to that phone call for high-value customers. These people will have the training to set appointments based on being in close contact with the sales and service departments to both anticipate and understand what the customers need and walk them through the process. They’re going to be able and empowered to connect with the customers – and make them happy.
Better internal communication
There’s an old joke among dealership service departments: that the service advisors always get their 25,000 daily steps because they spend so much time walking back and forth between the front desk where they interact with the customers, the service department where they check in with the mechanics on the status of a repair project, and the parts department where they make sure the parts needed to complete that repair are in stock.
In just about every other work environment imaginable, there’s some sort of internal communication platform in place to handle these types of interactions, and there’s absolutely no reason that a similar system couldn’t be used to improve internal communication between the different areas of a dealership’s service department. We’ve already created a smarter, more efficient call center staffed by our most elite group of customer service professionals, so the next logical step is to arm them with the communications tools they need and put them at the forefront of this process. Just to be fair, we can always get the service advisor a treadmill.
More comprehensive service through augmented reality
One trend that is going to start becoming more prevalent in the service department is the capturing of the multi-point inspection using smartphones and augmented reality. This will allow the mechanic to take pictures or video of components that can wear down, such as tires, brake pads and fan belts; or measure fluid levels for things such as transmission fluid. In the short term, we’ll be able to point out and circle these areas for the customer remotely to expedite service decisions and generally make things run more efficiently.
But in the long term, the potential exists for the integration of advanced computer vision technology, which is what we call the visual aspect of artificial intelligence. Using this technology, the system can visually detect problems through AI that a human technician might not be able to see, as well as anticipate future problems that might arise 2,000 miles (3,200 km) down the road. So not only are we providing the best and most cutting-edge service to the customer, but we’re also creating a higher level of credibility and trust between that customer and the technician.
Tasso Roumeliotis (pictured above, left) is CEO and co-founder of Numa, an AI-driven software service that automates customer communication via text and voice to ensure businesses never miss a call.