Felipe Smolka, LeasePlan USA: Welcome Elle, the fleet management chatbot
With 1.8mn vehicles under management in over 30 countries, international car-as-a service company LeasePlan certainly needs to keep abreast with the latest technologies, something that artificial intelligence (AI) and connected vehicle expert Felipe Smolka is doing for the Amsterdam based company.
In my latest talk with Mr. Smolka who is the executive vice president for transformation for LeasePlan USA, we discussed "Elle", the new voice-enabled chatbot now supporting fleet managers in the United States.
Could you tell me a little about your background and how it is helping you at your current job at LeasePlan?
Smolka: I have been working in the automotive space for a number of years now. Much of that time has been focused on searching for and exploring technologies that yield the potential to create significant and meaningful experiences between drivers and the automotive industry at large.
In my previous role of helping IBM to grow its global connected and intelligent vehicles business, I was able to get first-hand experience in an array of new tech and possibilities, as well as new business model frontiers in the connected vehicles domain. I am very excited that we are now exploring this at LeasePlan.
What is the coverage area of the MyLeasePlan mobile app and how many users are benefiting from it?
Smolka: Several countries within LeasePlan have the MyLeasePlan app. However, our version which includes Elle is only available in the USA. At present, usership on MyLeasePlan could be improved.
We believe in mobility and "Elle" is part of a new ambition to put our app at the heart of the fleet driver’s daily life so that we can better connect with them. We want more relevant and meaningful exchanges. Ask me the same question next year!
LeasePlan USA headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia (source: LeasePlan USA)
Could you explain what the Elle virtual assistant is, and highlight its main benefits for fleet managers and drivers?
Smolka: Elle is a voice-enabled chatbot, powered by AI, a feature of the MyLeasePlan app. Chatbots are new to fleet sector. Elle works with Natural Language Understanding (NLU) which takes the driver’s input and infers the intent and needs behind each question.
Elle’s purpose is very specific – she answers the questions fleet drivers can ask fleet managers each and every day like:
- Where can I get my vehicle serviced?
- Can my spouse drive my company car?
- What’s my fuel card pin?
- How do I report an accident?
The value for fleet drivers is that they have immediate answers to everyday and vital questions, keeping them on the go, so they can focus on getting the job done. The value for fleet managers is a happier, and a more productive and efficient fleet.
They also don’t have to try to be in several places at once, answering multiple calls at the same time.
Do you see Elle being expanded to countries other than the United States in the near future? If so, where?
Smolka: Right now, we’re focusing on the US rollout, and on developing to address our US market needs. We are a global company though, and many other countries have been very positive about Elle so who knows what the future holds. I am bullish about Elle becoming a global asset.
What new and innovative technologies do you see coming to the fleet management or automotive industry within the next two years?
Smolka: Everyone’s talking about autonomous vehicles right now. I’ve worked on autonomous vehicle projects, and there’s no doubt about it, they’re cool, and they are coming! However, I don’t think they’re what’s next, or imminent, in our sector, at least not in the next two years.
But without giving our secrets away (no can't do that…), LeasePlan US is in the process of putting big data to work for real. Truth to be told, few companies know how to make big data work. This isn’t only about adding telematics as data is merely an ingredient to building visibility and profiles.
Think about the ability to deliver real-time relevant news as well as ‘calls to action’ to drivers and fleet managers at the right time through a truly unique platform of innovation, one that is centered around scalable communications systems like MyLeasePlan and Elle. That’s cool.
We will aim at a much higher level of engagement with our drivers and clients by unlocking a first of its kind multidisciplinary approach which will push us to a leading role in customer satisfaction for the entire fleet industry. Call it ambitious. I call it "easy."