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In the market for a new car? You’re not the only one. Roughly 17.2 million people in the U.S. bought new rides in 2017, according to Autodata, slightly down from 2016 but coming off a record seven-year sales streak. That’s despite the fact that, for the most part, the car-buying experience hasn’t become noticeably easier than it used to be.
Livonia, Michigan-based advertising agency Valassis Digital hopes to shake things up a bit. Today, it launched a Facebook Messenger chatbot designed to help buyers find cars without having to spend hours on a lot.
“We live in an increasingly digital-first world, where consumer convenience reigns supreme,” Mike Balducci, vice president at Valassis, said in a statement. “From auto dealers to grocery stores, brands are constantly innovating to better blend the physical and digital realms and improve the customer experience. Artificial intelligence, like chatbots, is a prime example of this effort. It provides cost-effective solutions that alleviate brand and consumer pain points, drives brick-and-mortar traffic, and bolsters employee functions.”
You can’t buy cars through the chatbot, and that feature isn’t coming down the pipeline anytime soon. But the bot can show nearby dealerships and their respective inventories, estimate the trade-in value of a car, and set up test drive and service appointments.
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In addition, thanks to a partnership with TransUnion, the automotive chatbot can secure a prequalified loan by checking your credit history.
On the backend, dealers get access to a wealth of information about potential customers, including monthly performance reports and email updates with information on bot conversations. They can answer outstanding questions manually if they so choose and see live interactions within Facebook Messenger as they’re taking place.
Balducci stresses that dealers only see the information users choose to share. Data is only stored once a user engages with the bot or explicitly grants permission.
So how effective is the bot? Feldman Automotive, which serves about 100,000 people each month with Valassis’ chatbot, said it sees 50 to 60 car purchases tied back to customers’ conversations with it.
“We have piloted the solution with a few dozen dealers thus far and have definitely seen Messenger user engagements that ultimately result in vehicle purchases,” Balducci said via email. “This validates that Messenger is a compelling new channel for dealers to provide consumers with an engaging experience on their path to vehicle purchase. The plan for the future is to continue to develop new channels and user experiences that make it even easier for consumers to engage dealers in their preferred communication channel.”
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