At Jay Wolfe Automotive Group in Kansas City, Mo., customers sometimes come in and ask for Olivia. And though a few women named Olivia work at the dealerships, the customers are looking for someone else.
They want to meet with a virtual assistant the dealerships use to respond to email inquiries. Olivia and other dealership virtual assistants — a more sophisticated version of the traditional chatbot — have been asked out for coffee and, in one instance, even received a bouquet of flowers delivered to a dealership as a thank you.
"Because she has all the information about a particular person and is able to customize the interaction with them, they start to feel a bond with her," said Jill Whitehead, senior vice president at Dominion Dealer Solutions, a retail technology company in Norfolk, Va., that offers the Olivia technology to dealerships.
Olivia tells her suitors she's too busy selling cars to meet for a coffee date. But the offers happen because advances in artificial intelligence mean virtual assistants are getting better at responding to queries. Dave Marod, general manager of retail for Conversica, a Foster City, Calif., company that offers the technology to dealerships, has seen customers send messages such as this: "At first I thought maybe you were a chatbot. Obviously, you're real. Sorry I haven't responded and thank you for your persistence."
At dealerships in 2019, these virtual assistants, powered by AI technology, are often working in the background — by listening to calls and reading through emails, for example — to offer more personalized sales and service experience to customers. They can improve dealership operations by weeding out dead leads, intervening when a salesperson responds too slowly and even assessing customer emotions to let dealers know when they should try smoothing over upset feelings. On the other hand, if the virtual assistant makes a misstep, it can embarrass the dealership — if it even discovers the mistake happened.
While it might seem like a positive for customers to make a connection with Olivia, Craig Misak, Jay Wolfe Automotive's director of dealer services, considers it a failure if someone comes in asking for her.
That's because Olivia steps in if a sales rep fails to answer a customer within an appropriate time frame. Working closely with Olivia signals that the salesperson didn't respond to the customer quickly enough, Misak said.