When an Ontario dealership group wanted a new communication platform to improve customer service and efficiency at its stores, it set out to develop exactly what was needed. But doing so yielded an unexpected result: The software was spun off to be sold to other dealerships.
Policaro Group worked with developers to create ACE (Automotive Communication Ecosystem) Marketplace, which was rolled out to its Toronto-area Acura, BMW, Lexus and Porsche stores last fall. The group recently purchased Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar stores in Waterloo, about 100 kilometres west of Toronto.
The technology simplified virtually every sales and service interaction with customers, said Francesco A. Policaro, co-founder of ACE and vice-president of operations at the group.
ACE grew out of the company’s desire to develop a suite of digital tools to speed transactions and integrate communication between departments and with customers, Policaro said.
“These tools were designed out of a need to fill gaps in process and, more importantly, improve our customer experience. This is our vision of a smarter, frictionless customer experience.”
Powered by artificial intelligence, the technology makes it easier for automakers, dealers and dealership groups to offer services, such as booking appointments and loaner vehicles for customers, under one platform, Policaro said.
Texting is a component of the platform that connects the telematics inside the car to the dealership.
Consider Amazon, Policaro said. Customers typically never talk with a human. Instead, they order a product by interacting with an artificial intelligence (AI) system programmed to respond to the customer’s input. That’s essentially how ACE Marktplace software operates, Policaro said.
NOT SOME GUY, BUT AI
AI helps customers connect with a dealership’s sales and service teams. Features include intelligent booking, which uses a computer program to find the optimum date and time for service or sales appointments. It can arrange connections to shuttles, loaner vehicles, valet and delivery services for customers.
ACE Marktplace also coordinates shuttle and valet tasks, completes service loaner management and crunches the data to provide insights into, for example, how often a customer uses a shuttle, loaner or rental vehicle.
The platform caught the attention of Kimoby from Quebec, a cloudbased business instant-messaging company that purchased ACE Marktplace in February. Financial details were not disclosed.
Kimoby said it will refine and offer the platform via subscription to dealerships across the country. The Policaro Group will serve as its innovation partner, providing a test bed for product development.
A team of 12 people and two third-party software companies were involved at various stages of ACE’s evolution, said Dan Robinson, who steered design of the platform.
“They put a lot into this,” said Robinson, who left the Policaro Group in February to become Kimoby’s senior vice-president of strategic partnerships in North America.
SURVEYS: TOOLS ARE COOL
Results of satisfaction surveys conducted by the manufacturers and provided to the dealership group, as well as customers’ comments about the ease and convenience of the service, indicate that the tool was an instant success, Robinson said.
Text-based systems that enable customers to arrange services, learn when their car is ready or determine when a vehicle on order will arrive at a dealership are particularly helpful to address customers’ expectations as dealers face ongoing supply challenges, Chris Sutton, vice-president of automotive retail at J.D. Power, said in its March Customer Service Index (CSI) study.
“Proactive communication with customers is one solution for dealerships to mitigate a disruptively tough situation. Simply implementing text or email alerts can greatly improve customer satisfaction.”
The Policaro team, in consultation with software developers, decided that customers wouldn’t want another app on their phones. Instead, the group’s dealerships receive customers’ service requests through the automakers’ apps, such as Porsche Connect or BMW ConnectedDrive, Robinson said.
The Policaro Group is seeing “thousands and thousands” of dollars in cost recoveries, Robinson said. For example, highway tolls and fuel charges accrued when a customer is test driving a car or using a loaner are tracked and quickly recovered from the driver, whereas it was more difficult to do so in the past.
The Porsche dealership recovered $6,500 in one month alone, primarily in tolls and fuel costs, Robinson said.
The ACE Marktplace also makes it easier to manage car rentals in-house and has the potential to find more efficiencies, such as creating a pool of drivers for a group of dealerships, thereby cutting the overall number required, Robinson said.
Under Kimoby, the introductory ACE Marktplace product is a valet service called ACE mobility. Kimoby is refining other services before rolling them out in the coming months, said Robinson, adding, “We want dealers to be blown away when they see this.”
Pricing for ACE Marktplace will be announced in May and be scaled so that any size dealership can afford it, he said.