Kia's Bot At Forefront Of New Competitive Battlefield

The year 2017 will be that of the AI-powered bot, predicts David Schoonover, senior manager and head of digital, social, CRM and .com at Kia Motors America. 

Important for Schoonover to say because Kia just introduced a bot for its new hybrid subcompact crossover the NiroSUV. The bot is available to the 1 billion+ monthly users of Facebook Messenger. 

We took the bot for a test run and found it to be prompt on the factual answers to questions such as: “How wide is the vehicle?” Answer: “I'd say I'm just the right size. Here's my L x W x H (in inches): 171.5 x 70.9 x 60.4.”

The bot, which was built by agency Ansible, also produced links to web pages showing when and where the vehicle will be available. The personality is a bit snarky. Ask it who will win the election and the reply is “Niro 2020” followed by an American flag emoji. 



When it had no answer or couldn’t interpret a question:  “I’m sorry but I didn’t quite get that. It’s hard being a bot.” 

Schoonover talked about the recent launch of Niro and other trends transforming the customer experience through search at MediaPost’s recent Search Insider Summit. 

He cited research indicating 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience as well as a Forrester-reported compound average revenue growth rate of 17% from 2010 to 2015, for CX leaders compared to 3% over the same period for CX laggards. 

Shoonover outlined the progression of search from ask to command to conversation. 

“Marketers are all experience designers,” he said. “Think of that as a paradigm shift. From a customer standpoint,  the customer experience really is the new competitive battlefield … so everything is an experience now and should be designed accordingly.” 

By 2017, he added, 89% of marketers believe experience will be their key differentiator. 

Using  Starbucks as an example, he said it’s not the quality of the coffee, it’s the consistency of experience that makes it superior.

“You know you can trust you’ll get what you want when you want and where you want it and that’s comforting,” he said. “You can trust it. You bought into that trust experience.” 

Schoonover advocated a shift from content-first to customer-first. He cited the prevalence of editorial calendars that seek to find outlets for predetermined topics rather than starting with the audience, what it wants and then starting at that point to create the content.

“We get so focused on content that the customer experience gets to be an afterthought,” he cautioned. “The best companies think of the customer first and then think of channels,” he said. Ask yourself: “Do we really have the budget and manpower to carpet-bomb all the channels? You have to pick and choose. You center on the customer and where they’re spending time.”

Research shows consumers are willing to pay more if they believe they’ll get a greater experience. Once you get into the luxury category, it’s all about experience, he noted. 

“Our challenge for Kia as a brand,” he said, “is, in reality, it’s ranked #1 in quality by J.D. Power and regularly lauded with words like safety and reliability. The perception of the brand is significantly further down the scale. 

Kia is also experimenting with click to text search ads using the Google SMS ad extension beta to connect live chat to the search. In search engine results, you can go straight into a chat from the search, he explained. This saves steps and time, and Kia did it because they saw millennial customers, in particular, preferred to engage with SMS to ask questions for immediate gratification. 

The rise of voice search is staggering, he noted. Since the launch of the iPhone, there’s been a 35-fold increase in the use of voice search with 55% of teens and 47% of adults using it more than once a day. 

Voice search leads to longer queries with 10 keywords or more and this is changing the customer experience as chat bots combine with audience data to yield answers.  And instead of just where can I get pizza, it’s a question of where can I get pizza delivered to my home at 4 p.m. on a Sunday? 

What’s more, he said, the search engine is now asking the searcher questions in an AI-enabled bot experience. The first week it launched its NiroBot, Kia got more than 70,000 messages and about 4,000 unique terms it could use to create answers and train the bot. 

It continues to add questions and answers as real-world feedback emerges. The bot is also a tool for dealers on the showroom because it has been trained with the entire owner’s manual and every detail of the product guide. 

Maintenance is really important post-launch, he said. “What you never want to do is fire and forget. You always want a post-launch plan once you put it in a live environment.” 

As for data, Schoonover said there are probably 10 data points out of 100 that actually move the business needle. Intent is a critical element because the purchase cycle averages 4.5 years. Knowing someone is in the market is critical data.

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