The auto repair industry is a latecomer to technology-driven customer service. An industry dominated by smaller shops and owner-operated franchises, customer service tends to revolve around customers phoning in or walking into a shop and talking to a live, but often overworked human who has no idea what could be wrong with your car based on your description of “My car’s making a zinga-zinga-zoom sound, then it goes ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk and the windshield wiper fluid starts to spray out by itself.” You walk into the shop with absolutely no idea what it’s going to cost, how long it will take, or whether or not the shop’s ultimate diagnosis will be anywhere near correct. All you know is that it sounds expensive.
But as AI-driven smart car technology continues to grow, self-diagnostic apps get downloaded onto smartphones, and the prospect of self-driving cars with IoT technology built in taking care of themselves, that’s all about to change.
“Technology will make it so that you never have to deal with the difficult parts of car ownership, such as scheduling maintenance or having to take in your car for service,” said Yinon Weiss, CEO and founder of CarDash.com. “Connected cars will know what they need before problems happen and will be able to schedule their own appointments for you, or even drive themselves to be maintained during non-peak hours.”
The mechanic in greasy overalls will soon be replaced with a technician behind a computer screen. Auto repair will become an IT function. Diagnosing a car by “listening” to the engine and trying out three or four things before you find what’s wrong with it, is being replaced with a user interface which can tell you immediately what’s wrong and what needs to be replaced. On the customer service side, the person on the phone or behind the counter is going to be equipped with a lot more information from the very beginning, and better able to provide answers much sooner in the repair cycle.
The end result of this technology being driven by auto manufacturers, is that the auto repair industry’s entire customer service model will change over the next decade. “The future of cars with artificial intelligence could include several new developments,” said Rohit Talwar, global futurist and CEO of Fast Future. “we might also observe in the future self-owning, self-monitoring, self-diagnosing cars that use peer networks of other smart vehicles to self-insure.”
Steve Wells, COO of Fast Future, said “Artificial intelligence will radically change car servicing in the future. Components will be continuously monitored against increasingly large and sophisticated data sets; both in the way the vehicle is driven and the service history of the components in other vehicles. Analysis of the data will provide the opportunity to replace a component before breakdown; thus reducing costs and the inefficiency of withdrawing the vehicle from service. While this is of course helpful to all vehicle owners, the advantages to fleet and commercial operators would be significant. Autonomous vehicles could even be set up to drive themselves to the service center for component replacement.”
“The nature of customer service in the auto repair and servicing industry is already changing to accommodate the shift in the type of services required,” said David Gauze, Advertising Manager of AutoBodyToolMart, which has been supplying equipment, paint booths and other items to auto shops for 30 years. “Auto body repairs will decrease as driver assist technology becomes more sophisticated and prevents crashes and fender-benders. Customers walking into the shop will be equipped with better information, so that repairs can be made more quickly and efficiently, without wasteful trial-and-error. What this means to repair shop customer service is that the initial interaction can be made through the car’s user interface rather than a walk-in. While there will always be a place for person-to-person customer service in this and other industries, customers will ultimately be better serviced, repairs will be faster and more efficient, and most importantly to customers, they will know in advance what to expect in terms of costs because the diagnosis will have already been done by the time they walk in the door.”
The goal of customer service is not about smiling faces and greeting customers with phony slogans, it’s about providing timely and accurate information as early in the sales cycle as possible. But when that smiling face tells you, “Leave it here overnight and we’ll let you know some time tomorrow,” you leave the shop frustrated and anxious. Newer smart car technology – when the car and all of its components are part of the Internet of Things – will let that smiling face behind the counter call up the car’s interface on the computer screen, and give you an accurate estimate right away, before the mechanic even opens the hood.