Valassis Digital’s New Chatbot Offers Car-Buying Support

Typically used to automate the process of answering simple, straightforward questions from customers, most chatbots haven’t yet reached a level where they can provide extensive customer service like a live agent might; they’re typically not associated with large purchases—like that of a car. Valassis Digital is aiming to change that by introducing a chatbot that can provide more in-depth support throughout the car buying process.

The advertising agency debuted a Facebook Messenger chatbot capable of answering customer questions about dealership locations and estimating the trade-in value of users’ existing cars. Plus, it can help book test drives and service appointments and check the inventory at a dealership in real time. What’s more, Valassis Digital has also partnered with TransUnion to enable the chatbot to secure prequalified loans for potential buyers by reviewing their credit history.

Mike Balducci, vice president at Valassis, said in a statement that the chatbot is tapping into consumers’ desire for convenient digital solutions:

“We live in an increasingly digital-first world, where consumer convenience reigns supreme. 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.”

The one thing the chatbot can’t do yet is sell the physical car, and that capability won’t be added anytime soon, according to Balducci—still, the bot can do almost anything but.

Dealers or service agents working at the dealerships can step in at any time and manually chat with customers as well. For example, they can tackle more nuanced service and repair questions that the bot can’t answer—yet. And all these interactions, both bot and manual, happen securely. Dealers only have access to the data that customers and potential buys want to share, and that data is only stored if the user explicitly grants permission during the interaction.

Ultimately, the bot is blurring the line between customer service and marketing. The bot is delivering support and answering customer questions, while driving traffic and getting customers into physical dealerships. According to Feldman Automotive, a dealership that uses the chatbot to engage with 100,000 people every month, customer conversations with the chatbot result in up to 60 car purchases per month.

“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 told Venture Beat.

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