How Your Dealership Can Use AI to Personalize the Consumer Experience – Lori Wittman, VinSolutions

With a tremendous amount of information right at their fingertips, car buyers are doing more research than ever, and they expect dealers to keep up as well. But when customers walk into a store, they often know more about the dealership than the dealership knows about them. Here to tell us how VinSolutions is investing in AI to close this gap is Lori Wittman, senior vice president of dealer software solutions for Cox Automotive.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Thanks very much for joining us, Lori.

Lori Wittman: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Great. So, from your perspective, and you’re over a number of stores, and working with dealers every day, how can dealerships adapt to meet rising customer expectations in the digital era? I mean, that’s really where we’re living now, right?

Lori Wittman: Yeah. And you know, sites like Amazon have caused us all to believe that we’re entitled to a really personalized experience.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s exactly right.

Lori Wittman: Yeah, yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: They kind of set the stage.

Lori Wittman: Yeah. Automotive’s really no different, and so what we have to do is try to figure out a way to help dealers really hone in on that more personalized experience, and with the data we have, it’s pretty easy for us to do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I would imagine.

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh my gosh, you guys are sitting on a vault full of data, right?

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And now, it’s just coming around to where you’re able to utilize that, and the dealers benefit from it.

Lori Wittman: And that’s probably the hardest part. There’s a tremendous amount of work. If you’re going to do it the right way, and if you think about the time that a consumer spends online, we know that consumers spends about 13 hours online, and so the amount of data that’s generated, and coming to a conclusion, sorting through all of that’s really hard. So, what we decided to do was help dealers close the homework gap, and so that when a person comes in to the store, we know what’s taken place online, and we can pull that information together in a really comprehensive way that gives them some conclusions and a point to kind of move forward from.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right, right. And that’s what’s needed. There’s a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. Dealers are still a little weary of the whole artificial intelligence. What does it mean? Is it going to run my dealership one day? Is it going to hurt me or help me? And I think for the most part, everybody’s kind of come around, and saying, no, this is something that’s here to stay, and it’s going to help a dealership succeed. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Lori Wittman: Well, and there’s a lot of conversation about AI, and some of it’s more sizzle than it is steak.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Lori Wittman: What we’ve tried to focus in on was pulling the data together in a way that allows the person in the dealership to be relevant in an instant. That relevancy really helps generate the right type of conversation, makes it so that the process in the dealership is much more efficient for both the dealership personnel and the consumer.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, sure. And I think customers today expect that now, right?

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I mean, they’re really relying on that. It seems as though there’s this whole now generation of millennials, and generation Z that really they’re like, I don’t really need to talk to anybody.

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: If I can do this all in the palm of my hand here with my phone, then I’m better off, right?

Lori Wittman: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think it’s just millennials.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No, I agree. I agree.

Lori Wittman: That’s my expectation, as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Me too, me too.

Lori Wittman: And I think the more that a dealership knows about what’s gone on in the thought process ahead of time, just makes it so much more efficient as you go into the dealership.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, sure. What should dealerships know about AI overall?

Lori Wittman: Well, I think an important thing to realize is that whatever solution you use, it’s only as good as the data you have. And I think that’s one of the things that we’ve been really focused on in the last few years, is making sure that we create an environment where the data is as clean as possible, because then you can come to the right conclusions with it. So, I think that’s one of the most important things about the data feeding into an AI solution. And then, I think from there, I think it’s about figuring out how does it fit within your operation. Everybody does things a little bit different, and you’ve got to figure out how this tool is going to enable your professionals in the dealership to do their job better, and really focus on the people stuff, and not be sorting through data.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s exactly right. One thing, we talk to many dealers, as you know, here at CBT, and over the last 10 years as digital has just been increasing, and it’s just become such a mainstay in retail automotive, dealers are like, when do I sell cars and manage my people? You know, I’m looking at a million different dashboard, and I’ve got to now come up to speed, and I know that you guys at Cox Automotive kind of take that monkey off the back of a dealer, and say let us worry about this, you guys go run your dealership. Is that a fair statement?

Lori Wittman: Yeah, and this AI product specifically has some features that make that possible. One of the things I really like is the sentiment analysis. There’s so much texting, and emailing and communication that goes on between a consumer and the dealership-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I know. It’s incredible.

Lori Wittman: That this feature within this product allows you to focus in on the most important things, and provide coaching, so that you’re focused on the right stuff, versus all of the noise that’s coming in.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s right. And VinSolutions, what is VinSolutions doing to incorporate AI into their products? Because that’s a big, big element there.

Lori Wittman: Yeah. What we’ve tried to do is create features that are just part of the overall use of the CRM, so it’s pretty seamless. One of the products that we’ve got is engagement strength, and it allows the sales person to understand exactly what’s been going on with the consumer heading into the store, so they know what activities happened on Kelly Blue Book, what they’ve looked at on AutoTrader, what types of brands and cars have they looked at on the website, pulling it together in a comprehensive view. So, it’s really pretty seamless. It doesn’t feel like a separate kind of feature that they have to learn and know. It’s part of their dashboard.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. That’s amazing. I mean, that is a huge step in the right direction for dealers, to have that at their fingertips, right?

Lori Wittman: Right. Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I don’t know what your competitors look like in this space, but I know that in anticipation of this conversation here today, we spoke to a couple of your clients, and they were like, wow, this has been a game changer for us.

Lori Wittman: Well, at NADA, we had so many dealers that were very excited to get this in their store. And then, since then, really, it’s been flying off the shelves. Everybody’s very interested in this product, and so we’re really excited, because we think it’s a game changer for dealers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And dealers want to be able to provide all of the necessary digital components and artificial intelligence components to consumers as much as they can, even though a consumer might not use all of it, right? There’s still a factor out there and a market of people that may shy away.

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Not a big market, but there might be.

Lori Wittman: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that we’ve tried to do, and I really like our approach, is that to give dealers options.

So, some consumers want to do more online, some want to do less online, and I think the most important thing that we can do in this space is give everyone options, so they can customize it for their own specific either dealership process or consumer.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Or consumers. I was just going to say all the consumers, to put them in the driver seat, right. So, what does this really mean for dealers moving forward in 2019?

Lori Wittman: I think dealers really need to take advantage of this opportunity to personalize that experience, and I think the most important thing is to figure out how AI fits within your dealership, pull it into your processes, and then use it to create that really great experience for consumers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. And personalization is all the talk right now, right?

Lori Wittman: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So, we heard a lot about it at NADA this year, and this is certainly a step in that right direction, because that’s really, to your point when we started out a little while ago, Amazon has kind of set the stage, haven’t they? Dealers now have to get onboard in a big way.

Lori Wittman: Yeah. We all expect to be able to buy cars the way we want to, and so this just creates ability for them to customize experience, create options and make it easier for them to do the work that they want to do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. Well, Lori Wittman, senior vice president of Dealer Software Solutions for Cox Automotive VinSolutions. That’s a title right there. We’d love to have you back on CBT to follow up and see how things are rolling out.

Lori Wittman: Okay, great. Thanks, Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you.

Thank you for watching the official news source of the retail automotive industry. This has been a JBF Business Media production.