Artificial intelligence is showing up in the ways dealerships communicate with customers, from chatbots on websites to automated marketing messages.
As computers take on more tasks that humans can do, such as sorting data and making decisions, the roles humans play are evolving, too, several people who work in the space told me.
AI — the umbrella term that encompasses various technologies, from machine learning to vision and speech recognition tools — is loosely defined and often used to describe computer algorithms that can sort massive amounts of data. In the case of automotive marketing, machine learning can tailor messages to consumers in the market for a vehicle and ready to buy, or deliver coupons for future service visits, based on information it knows about customers.
MotorMindz, an automotive consulting company, says machine learning is one subset of artificial intelligence that uses data to make predictions about customer behavior.
That can help dealerships personalize the user experience and, ultimately, lead to sales.
Still, the adoption of machine learning won't eliminate the need for people to manage ad campaigns or develop the creative messaging that accompanies them, Kelly McNearney, senior automotive retail strategist at Google, told me. Instead, it will free up time for agencies and marketers to focus on more strategic long-term thinking, including tackling profitability.
A Cox Automotive survey released this fall found that nearly three-quarters of responding dealers believed automation and AI could free up dealership employees to focus on other priorities at the store, rather than replace them.
Dream Motor Group, with five dealerships in four states, didn't lay off employees when it hired a company to automate its email marketing, Amy Rothenberger, the group's marketing and business development director, told me. Nor did the group need to hire another employee to handle that marketing. The tool freed up business development center employees to follow up on leads.
"Basically, it takes the place of a person," Rothenberger said. "I don't know if that's good or bad, but in terms of costs and overhead, it's like a super machine."