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Alexa, Let’s Buy a Car

The questions are fast and snappy: New or used? Flashy or discreet? Party or playground? What do the questions refer to? Buying a car. With Alexa. The Volkswagen brand shortly aims to integrate the digital voice assistant into car purchasing.

Voice assistance in the future

“Voice is the next big thing!” Axel Neuhaus, head of Digital Marketing at Volkswagen Germany, is sure of this: “In my family, with my seven-year-old daughter, I found out for myself how quickly Alexa became a member of the family.” Neuhaus and his team want to understand this technology better – because its significance is increasing exponentially. Voice assistants will be the big thing for purchases in the next few years. That’s why Neuhaus and his team are already working on concise, but also humorous, dialogs.

The questions are fast and snappy: New or used? Flashy or discreet? Party or children’s playground? They all serve the same purpose: buying a car. With Alexa. The Volkswagen brand shortly aims to integrate the digital voice assistant into car purchasing.

Six or 30 questions: Your Choice

The customer chooses to receive a total of either six short or 30 longer questions from Amazon Alexa or Google Home. In our example, the dream car was quickly found: a bright yellow second-hand Scirocco with 50,000 km mileage is standing at a Berlin dealership for 16,500 euros with the desired equipment features.

Voice is the next big thing!

Axel Neuhaus head of Digital Marketing at Volkswagen Germany
44 percent of 14- to 19-year-olds already use voice control today

Batteries, razor blades, coffee capsules, dishwashing detergent, toilet paper – millions of people already order lots of everyday items via Amazon Alexa or Google Home. The global turnover for digital voice assistants in 2017 was 689 million US dollars. The analysis firm Canalys expects 100 million digital assistants around the globe by the end of this year, and three times as many in four years’ time.

In other words, we are facing not an evolution but rather a revolution in global trade. Forty-four percent of 14 to 19-year-olds already regularly use voice control (source: ECC Köln). The other age groups will quickly follow.

Shopping by language becomes the norm

Configuring cars, listening to a brand’s products, purchasing – it will become normal in the future to do all this using speech. This is the conviction of many market researchers, including some in the Volkswagen Group. “The classic touch, type and scroll functions and spoken language will merge with each other,” Neuhaus predicts with confidence. The Alexa or Home dialog will produce an entirely new car purchasing experience, but the digital manager also has other things in mind: “Purely communicative messages are increasingly uninteresting for Generations Y and Z. For these buyers – or potential buyers – there must always be an added benefit.”

When looking for a new car, this benefit may be time saved, entertainment, direct access to a database, or the name and contact details of the nearest car dealership.

That’s because prospective customers are very aware of how much time they have to spend ordering a product or a service – and of the way the corporate group or brand has prepared the product and sales channel.

Neuhaus tells a personal story in connection with this: “I recently opened a new account with an online bank while sitting in Sunday traffic on the A7. Even the authentication worked immediately: I simply photographed the front and back of my ID card with my cell phone camera. The account was set up in three minutes.” Such user journeys and UX experiences, which consistently put the customer at the forefront, will be expected from all brands in the future.  

What Is a Good Dialog?

This presents two big challenges for the movers and shakers in the Volkswagen Group:

  1. What does a good dialog really consist of? Or, to put it another way: How do I pack extensive extra price lists into a shortened dialog?

  2. How do I achieve brand recognition from the start using Alexa’s voice, where the visual element is no longer available?

Shopping from the car thanks to voice control

Neuhaus is convinced that “a good dialog between Volkswagen and its customers is the same as a conversation between two congenial people: it has to feel good”. He is currently honing this dialog with his colleagues and the Berlin agency “Dayone”. Three versions are in the planning: a short dialog with six to seven questions, an extensive conversation with 30 to 40 questions and a version in between. The dialog must be “to the point” – technically perfect, professional, but also humorous. “The short version is the most challenging for us – the advanced level, so to speak,” says Neuhaus. He is sure that they will achieve this.

The second question is more difficult to answer. After all, Alexa talks like Alexa and not like Volkswagen. “Will we manage to integrate our own Volkswagen brand voice layer, familiar from our advertising, into Alexa? Ultimately, all brands are faced with this problem. We will have to talk to Amazon and Google about this.”

Today, customers decide which brands they want to allow into their world

Neuhaus, 44, has a lot of digital experience. He has focused on the automotive industry throughout his professional life, and has often worked for American digital agencies. He has now been in the Volkswagen Group since 2013. He doesn’t know how the discussions with the current top dogs of voice assistance will go. But Neuhaus does know this: “It used to be that brands decided to bring customers to their product and into their brand world. Today, customers decide which brands they want to allow into their world and their lives.”

There is no doubt that voice assistants will take over with unparalleled speed – because, for humans, speech is the most natural form of communication. This technology is far more convenient than all other operating aids. Convenience, speed and being addressed personally are reasons for the rapid growth of voice assistants. For Neuhaus, nothing is better than working on this: “We are currently shaping a piece of the digital future. For our customers, but also for our jobs. What could be better than to be able to shape your future prospects yourself?”

  • What Is a Voice Assistant?

    A voice assistant is a program that carries out actions with the aid of spoken instructions. Popular examples are Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and many others. The application is particularly popular when used on smartphones.

    The voice assistant was first integrated into everyday life predominantly through the development of Siri. Apple introduced this service with iOS 5 and the iPhone 4s. Examples given for its use were checking the weather, setting up telephone connections and saving appointments. Siri quickly became a success. Today, the voice assistant registers around two billion requests per week.

Available assets

Alexa, Let’s Buy a Car (only in German)
Shopping from the car thanks to voice control
2018-09-05