AI is here to stay. Are you ready to leverage it?

The building materials industry is at a unique crossroads: customers want more personalized service than ever before. And Artificial Intelligence could enhance every brand’s ability to deliver it in ways that were never humanly possible.

Customers believe an experience that makes them feel cared for as an individual customer is a priority—and cite it as a bigger source for their loyalty than any other engagement metric, according to research from Sprout Social. In their recent survey, responsiveness with customers is far and away the most impactful thing a brand can do to be memorable (51% of respondents said so).

On its surface, AI may sound like the opposite: robotic and detached. But it’s a technology that, if wielded correctly, could positively impact your brand experience better than any single representative could.

Those who jump in now, in AI’s early stages, to learn and leverage the technology could gain a pivotal competitive advantage. The challenge for brands will be creating a seamless experience with AI that delivers faster, more responsive, more personalized experiences, and forging headfirst into uncertainty and change to do it.

Leveraging this inflection point

Many businesses in the building materials industry are feeling hesitant around AI and its impact, so they’re adopting a wait-and-see strategy, looking carefully at how others wade into the pool.

It’s an approach that allows competitors who do embrace AI to outpace those who don’t. Because when it comes to solving customer service pain points, this isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky future idea; it’s already here and evolving every day.

AI-enabled services could offer an undeniable advantage for consumers and brands, especially when coupled with your team as a way to boost their efforts. Think of it this way: it wouldn't replace people, but rather supplement them, enabling smaller teams to deliver a better customer experience.

That could be applied across a spectrum of troubleshooting experiences with your customers, from making design decisions to managing a repair. AI’s key gain for customer service reps and technicians is its ability to consume and digest information—style resources, user manuals and previous customer conversations all provide something akin to nutrition for this machine mega-mind.

Tapping into that knowledge will be the key. But how? Here are some future-state AI ideas (and some that are already here):

1. Personal color consultant

Imagine any customer service rep becoming a pro color consultant with the help of AI.

Take the homeowner with a colonial house, but bold taste. She calls into a customer service hotline to ask for help choosing a siding color. The rep can easily consult a virtual designer that serves up multiple options (a good example is the customized AI bots created by CustomGPT). Recommendations could be a culmination of current trends, company insights and historic style all served up around the user’s preferences or tolerance for change.

A brand that can deliver this type of experience with their products offers a powerful antidote to homeowner indecision in the buying process, an indecision rightly informed by the cost- and labor-intensive consequences of making the wrong choice. This AI-powered future could offer customer service with design expertise, dynamically recommending solutions in a fraction of the time while taking out any personal style biases.

2. Technical support

Bluon’s MasterMechanic, an AI tool in its beta stages at the time of writing, is one example of the coming technologies that will help smooth the management of repair and replacement for HVAC techs. In a time of skilled trade shortages, this could be a game changer. It’s based on 50,000 scenarios from tech support calls and knowledge from top mechanics in the trade, so that it comprehends “a breadth of HVAC issues in many types of systems,” according to reporting from Facilities Dive. Imagine investing in a tool like this to enhance the experience of technicians working with your products in the field, enabling them to gain a sense of confidence and comfort with your systems over those of your competitors.

3. Streamlined visualizers

AI is transforming design visualizers (notoriously clunky technology traditionally) so that they’re a better-performing one-stop-shop for trends and how to apply them.

For example, a homeowner typically begins a home improvement project by visiting Pinterest or other inspiration sites and saving photos, color palettes or style boards. With traditional visualizers, it’s on the homeowner’s shoulders to translate those inspiration photos to their house design, a process that’s not easy to be successful at (and often provides frustratingly faux-looking visuals). With new developments like Interior AI, applying an aesthetic or "vibe” to your home becomes easier.

It's like uploading Pinterest and being able to apply its contents and ideas in seconds, rather than depending solely on what one human brain can hold or produce.

Facing our fears

Where to start with approaching AI?

We think it’s with your customer, and the questions you’re fielding in your call centers, inboxes and social feeds. What are their requests? What information are they often seeking to help them in their decision-making process?

It’s also a question of where you can integrate, investing resources to upgrade your website with the AI tools that will best service your customers and your business.

The home improvement regret runs both ways: companies and contractors rightly worry about giving the wrong advice and being responsible for a customer’s dissatisfaction. This line of thinking means AI implementation needs a proactive approach, one that’s constantly monitoring progress (it’s smart to reject the idea that this is a “set it up and walk away” scenario).

The success of a personalized AI tool is the amount and quality of the content input. The more you feed it, the less opportunity for mistakes in the output. (And, according to one AI company we consulted, designers are working to identify when the AI is fed the wrong inputs; they’re also implementing anti-hallucination mechanisms, so the bot doesn’t just make up answers.)

That risk shouldn’t stop your brand from capitalizing on this moment. Building materials businesses must find ways to embrace AI platforms that will boost customer allegiance, training the technology to ease pain points. If the industry doesn’t leverage AI to create a more engaged experience, others will create and capitalize on that customer traffic first with their own independent platforms.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed with this technology’s magnitude and avoiding it, it’s wiser to look at the specific needs of customers and leverage the subset of AI that will create a better journey from contemplation to purchase. Companies can start small, finding niches within AI that work for them and enhance their customers’ purchase and user experience, then expand as they feel comfortable. Those who take these calculated risks will ultimately win.

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