“We are continuously trying to see if we are able to understand the needs of the customers,” says Partho Banerjee, Executive Director, Service at Maruti Suzuki
Partho Banerjee talks about increased digitisation and the new Maruti Suzuki S-Assist featureMaruti Suzuki

“We are continuously trying to see if we are able to understand the needs of the customers,” says Partho Banerjee, Executive Director, Service at Maruti Suzuki

We speak to Partho about the increased digitisation in the aftersales experience and the new S-Assist feature

The Maruti Suzuki S-Assist feature is a digital assistant that allows Nexa customers to troubleshoot and find solutions to simple problems they may be having with their car. This feature is AI enabled, and uses AI to identify problems that customers can share through photos, voice notes or text and then serve up solutions as well. We caught up with Partho Banerjee, Executive Director, Service at Maruti Suzuki to understand the technology and the role of AI in aftersales better.

Aatish Mishra: How many people are using Maruti Suzuki digital services and why Nexa first?

Partho Banerjee: When the Nexa channel was introduced, we found clearly that the customers of Nexa were digitally savvy. They want to get everything done through digital modes. So when you ask me why have you started Nexa first? The idea was that the customers of Nexa are the ones who very quickly adapt to all of the new initiatives and other things. In Arena, we generally see that the customer from a rural profile generally take some time. So if you ask me about Nexa, all the customers are using it. Just to give you an example of the DIY concept of the job cards, I would say that 89.3 per cent of customers are using the Online Customer Approval system. Today, suppose a Nexa customer's vehicle is going for servicing and we found that something more which needs to be replaced, we have this Online Customer Approval system. In this, we send the video to the customer along with an estimate and 89.3 per cent of customers are able to give their 'go ahead' whether they are interested or not through a digital mode. In fact, 36 per cent of our customers today prefer to open their own job cards through DIY Concept. So, you can understand that the digitization thing is catching up very fast. In fact, today people are more interested in their things digitally than to talk actually.

AAM: My next question is actually related to this. How are you educating these customers of Nexa that this S-Assist feature is now available?

PB: We have a service marketing team and they keep on connecting with the customer entirely through the digital mode. In car servicing, we don't come with ads or anything. What we try to do is to connect with the customers only through the digital mode via Facebook, email, and other social media platforms for example.

AAM: Now coming to the AI on the S-Assist function, what is the AI trying to learn over time to improve with services?

PB: Today, for example, even the post services follow-up are done through the voice bot. So we are trying to make the AI learn about the different types of questions that come in. And as more and more questions filter it, through machine learning, we are able to do improvements. Also, the AI is trying to help us not only through the voice bot but through the chatbot. Languages also. Even the way we speak, we are trying to ensure that our voice bot is also able to communicate on the same sort of way. So we are continuously trying to see if we are able to understand the needs of the customers and keep on making our system learn about it, over a period of time it will happen that the voice bot will be able to do everything for us. And we will be there only to work on the new things and the concepts.

AAM: Is there any sort of data that you are looking to extract from this service that can help you develop future services for customers?

PB: From all of the data, the first thing we are looking for is the time of engagement with the customer. See, in earlier times we were never sure if the customer was there or not but through this platform, if the customer is saying 'call me after 9 pm,' our voice bot is able to do that. So we are trying to create more and more conveniences by seeing what the customer is trying to do. Other than the convenience point of view, we don't have anything else in our mind at present.

AAM: Can you share a timeline by which we can expect it for the whole Maruti range?

PB: I will just tell you actually that right now the voice bot is in the English language. And what we are expecting to develop the other vernacular languages also in the voice bot. So the team is working on it and maybe very soon we are going to invite you again to have a session to share the new developments.

AAM: Where do you think the future is going with respect to AI and machine learning and say something as niche as car servicing. What is the next step? Can we see Indian cars that can learn from a cloud and then pre-diagnose the problems? What is the future going to look like?

PB: This is a very tough question you have asked me. Predicting the future! One thing is very sure that what you are saying right now, I will not say it is not doable. It is very much doable. Maybe five or six years back did anyone think that the IT hardware will go for a toss and everything will be on the cloud? But one thing is very clear, for the servicing, the interaction with the customers will now be more through the digital method and not through the voice. So today, if the customer has some concerns, although he is speaking verbally, we are capturing that digitally in the form of text. In times to come, I think the convenience part will be covered more and more. Maybe the customer AI vehicle will be there. Or the 'service on wheels' goes to the customer's house in the nighttime, services the car, and comes back. The service charges will be debited from the account automatically. Everything is possible. More interaction is required and everything will be done someday. That day is not far away.

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