AI can run lead generation, troubleshoot training, even optimize pricing.
Business management solutions and software already allow HVAC contractors to automate a number of tasks: manage service requests and appointments, optimize scheduling and dispatching, and reduce wait times for customers while cutting their own costs, saving time, and putting themselves in a better position to grow revenue.
When introducing artificial intelligence (AI) into this space, the capabilities of business management software and solutions only increase. When HVAC contractors take the time to choose an AI program that easily and effectively flows into the day-to-day business management software they are already using, they can grow their top line, build trust with customers, and make their business that much more efficient.
A Myriad of Uses
There are a number of different ways that AI can be used in the business management solution and software space. Business software captures a lot of data, and the capabilities that AI has when it comes to analyzing that data are only increasing. What contractors can then do with that data is up to them.
“Whether we’re talking about financial data, or customer data, employee data — you could gather that data into a repository into the database and allow AI to extract insights, maybe on which customers are most likely to need to replace the product, or which customers are most likely to be in the market for an upgrade … or on the employee side, being able to track performance and suggest training for certain employees,” said Lee Bridges, senior director of product at XOi Technologies.
Some of the ways AI can be used in this space are:
Adapting Training to AI’s Findings
With the data that AI provides, HVAC contractors can focus in on their employees’ strengths or weaknesses.
“If we can build the tools the right way with AI to get [technicians] those insights sooner and have them do less work on the jobsite to have to figure out what’s going on or what happened in the past … have them digging for information less often, then that will mean they can fix or maintain the equipment faster,” Bridges said.
Command and Control
Contractors are busy running their business and don’t necessarily have the time to allocate towards trying to effectively find, on a day-to-day basis, what they should tactically do different today than they did yesterday, or what financial partner to go with. Not only can AI be used for increasing top line revenue growth and overall efficiency (things like cutting costs or creating margins), but the command and control element it provides can be extremely useful to HVAC contractors, especially those with small or medium-size businesses, according to Anmol Bhasin, chief technology officer of ServiceTitan.
When contractors utilize AI effectively in their business management solutions and software, not only will they grow revenue and profits, but they also won’t get caught up with micro-optimizing things that data and AI could do for them, he said.
“And then over a period of time, when contractors start to build trust in the system, then they can let go,” he said. For example, prices could be set to dynamically change — without the business owner having to make that decision.
Resolving Potential Issues within Data
Currently, without AI, there’s a lot of data for an HVAC contractor to comb through in order to find any potential issues and then decide how to resolve them. However, this is something AI will be able to do, according to Yukon Palmer, president of FieldLogix. AI can provide insights or recommendations based on its findings, troubleshoot them, and automatically trigger processes to resolve issues.
An example of this would be identifying when a technician is at risk of resigning from the company.
“AI could analyze a technician’s work performance, absenteeism, and other factors to determine whether they are at risk of quitting,” Palmer said. “It could automatically trigger a process that would have the HR manager reach out to the technician to resolve any issues and plan for a potential replacement if necessary.”
Marketing is a prime area for leveraging AI or machine learning to drive down costs per lead on lead generation, said Bhasin.
Through AI, HVAC contractors can learn more about which segments of customers are going to convert well, and effectively direct dollars back to HVAC business owners so they can maximize the bang for their buck — something that, before AI, often fell through the cracks.
“You can be hyper-precise now with respect to target segments to go after, how to spend your dollars, where to spend them, and then dynamically change … on an hour-to-hour basis, where the marketing campaigns are showing up,” Bhasin said. “And that can account for all the real-time signals. Whether it’s weather, today’s business performance, your capacity to serve a customer, all of that data feeds into a model and outcomes a sort of directional element of where you should deliver this next marketing campaign.”
When looking at customer data, AI could also detect for the contractor how often their customer’s HVAC system has been maintained, the last time it was replaced, and how many times a tech has been called to service it, because all of those things can be put into the database.
“And then allow the AI to produce some insights about which categories of customers are most likely to buy a preventive maintenance contract or replace their unit soon, and that would produce some marketing lists for the contractor to then go out and market to,” said Bridges.
Palmer said that AI has been effectively used with business management solutions through its ability to identify high-risk drivers who may be more likely to be involved in accidents, which gives fleet managers to ability to coach high-risk drivers before they are involved in an accident.
“Fleet managers benefit by a reduction in vehicle downtime, employee injuries, and an avoidance of potential lawsuits,” Palmer said. “Other fleet-related technology includes dash cameras that use AI to identify driver distractions such as cell phone use, eating, drinking and smoking. It would alert the driver when it detects these types of issues and provide reports to fleet managers when they occur.”
Choosing an AI
When starting to leverage AI with business management software, the first thing an HVAC contractor should consider is security — especially if a third-party platform is involved.
“Many software companies will develop their AI by using a pre-existing third-party platform,” Palmer said. “In that case, they are sharing your data with that third party, who then processes it with AI. Organizations should know which third parties are processing their data with AI and ensure that there are no potential conflicts.”
If using a consultant to build the AI tool, the contractor should perform the same due diligence when evaluating them as they might for an SEO consultant, he continued. That includes ensuring the consultant has successfully built similar tools for other contractors, as well as making sure the data they’re using isn’t “open-sourced” to the wider public.
Also key is making sure the company’s business management software and AI are designed to work together. If either one requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work, the potential efficiency offered by AI is lost.
“AI is a revolutionary technology and it can propel an organization’s efficiency to new heights,” Palmer said. “However, a contractor must perform their due diligence to ensure that implementation of the tool is successful. This would ensure that they avoid a failed AI project that could set their organization behind.”
Bhasin recommends choosing an AI that folds into what they’re already using for marketing, accounting, and customer service, then figuring out what else they’d like the AI to do: for example, automatically responding to customer reviews, or training customer service reps on how to facilitate a service call.
“They have to connect with each other and talk to each other, and data has to flow between one system and the other,” Bhasin said. “Choose the tool that is going to be progressive and bring AI into the flow of what you’re doing. The more tools you bring in, the more mess it creates. Fundamentally, I would recommend not to go and buy a one-off tool, because those one-off tools will likely wash over any efficiency.”
Finally, while AI has the potential to be a game-changer for HVAC companies that embrace it, it’s important to remember that AI is not meant to replace technicians — and employees have to be on board. For example, if AI gives recommendations but the technicians don’t believe or trust the technology, potential efficiency gains are lost.
“AI is obviously powerful, but it’s all in the way it is exposed to the people interacting with it, as to how effective it will be,” Bridges said. “And also how willing those people will be to absorb that new information that the AI can give them.
“It’s really important to feel like the technology is there to help the person, not replace them or take a part of their job away,” he continued. “It’s about making their job easier or faster.”
So important is this aspect that Lee Bridges, senior director of product at XOi Technologies, said he’s even hesitant to say anything about AI doing something for technicians.
“AI will empower technicians to do their jobs faster and hopefully in better ways,” Bridges said. “But the technician is the most important stakeholder/element of this industry, and I think they will continue to be that, moving forward.”