There’s a lot of hype surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), and as it's integrated into more and more aspects of everyday life, its influence and capabilities are only projected to increase.

Within the HVAC industry, AI is already helping to drastically improve equipment efficiency, allowing technicians to run and diagnose problems remotely. It’s emerged as a powerful ally in the ever-evolving efforts to get an HVAC business noticed online. Distributors are beginning to use it to automate some aspects of HVACR wholesaling. It’s even being used as a tool to help technicians navigate the A2L refrigerant transition.

While there are numerous avenues for contractors to use AI, one of the more universal applications gaining steam is the ability to streamline customer service interactions. Although it isn’t some miracle software that’s going to replace the whole front office (yet), it’s proving itself to be an extremely formidable tool that allows CSRs to automate some tasks and spend more time focusing on more pressing matters.

With new advancements in technology, AI can now answer phones and assist customers, and it’s nearly indistinguishable from humans.

Aside from assisting with customer interactions, AI’s ability to comb through enormous volumes of data can help optimize inventory management, perform accounting tasks, and suggest ways to help improve business operations by analyzing specific, historical data.


Connecting with the Customer

Many customer service interactions begin with the gathering of basic information, like what the issue is, figuring out what equipment is involved, and acquiring other personal information like names and addresses. With AI at the forefront, much of that is no longer needed to be handled by a human CSR.

“AI can answer calls, it can help schedule service, and make dispatch boards smarter,” said Michele Windsor, vice president of Implementation and Training at Successware.

Once that call comes into a business, if a customer’s information is already in the system, the AI will address them by name, and it already knows what kind of equipment they have. In the case where a customer may not know that information off-hand, that’s a huge time-saver right out of the gate.

The AI can then start inquiring about the problem.

Having an automated system being the first point of contact certainly isn’t new — 10 years ago, companies were utilizing automated call systems, but that was often much to the dismay of customers, who were furiously smashing buttons on their phones just to get to a human representative.

“But now, AI is getting to the point where it sounds like you’re talking to a human, but you’re actually not,” Windsor said.

The AI is starting to pick up and incorporate the different changes and inflections in human speech that occur during different moods, making interactions with it feel less robotic.

“We’re starting to see tones matching what humans are doing,” Windsor said.

With AI handling much of the more basic customer service tasks, it can use its superior processing ability to neatly compile information and put it at the fingertips of human CSRs. Because of this, Windsor said she’s hearing that front office workers, and even customers, are making better, more informed, decisions.

Aside from AI that can actually speak with a customer, tools like the AI chatbot have also made inroads at a lot of HVAC businesses and helped to improve efficiency.

“AI can automate tasks like inquiries, scheduling, and technical support, enhancing field service management systems for improved efficiency and customer satisfaction,” said Jenny Benbrook, founder and CEO at Powerhouse Consulting Group.

Chatbots have improved drastically over the last several years, and are now almost indistinguishable from a live rep. Benbrook said AI is also now capable of providing information on HVAC systems and troubleshooting common issues for customers, just another couple of ways it can help assist a CSR with their workload.

“AI bots have already changed the digital landscape and consumer expectations by offering customers convenient booking and live chat options directly from contractors' websites,” Benbrook said.


Should CSRs be Worried?

A simple Google search will pull up a myriad of articles with varying predictions of how many jobs AI will eventually make obsolete. Is the looming AI apocalypse going to put CSRs out of a job? Not likely, at least for now.

“I think we’re still quite a few years from that,” Windsor said. “AI thinks a lot faster than we humans do, but there is still that human touch that I don’t think AI will ever fully replace — humans are empathetic, and that is something you can’t teach AI to be.”

“AI in customer service is often used to augment human representatives rather than replace them,” Benbrook said. “While AI can handle routine inquiries and tasks, human agents are still needed to handle complex or sensitive customer issues and manage the AI itself. It’s important to note that humans will never be completely replaced; however, their responsibilities will change.”

Windsor also noted it’s important to reassure CSRs on staff that this is just a tool; it’s not going to supplant them, only help with their workload so they can focus on more important tasks.

“Let them know, ‘Hey, you’re ok, this isn’t going to replace you, it’s going to help you,’” Windsor said.

Windsor also said it’s important to note AI is only as smart as it's allowed to be — in order for it to be useful, it first needs access to good data sets behind the scenes. The beauty here, she added, is that it can be integrated into almost any existing framework.

“What’s great is that regardless of what system you use, there are so many different tools out there for AI that it really can be integrated into systems that most people use today,” Windsor said.


“My advice is to start small, with tasks that are more repetitive or time-consuming, and gradually integrate AI into your operations.”
- Jenny Benbrook
founder and CEO
Powerhouse Consulting Group

Skeptical? Start Small

Handing over the phone to a new, fully-trained CSR to be the new voice of a business can be nerve-racking, and the idea of giving those reins to AI is scary in its own right.

Windsor said if a business falls into this category, go take a course on AI. There are plenty of free courses out there, including a recent one from Harvard, that can help place minds at ease and give a better understanding of what this new technology entails.

When a business is ready to integrate AI, both Windsor and Benbrook suggest to not do everything at once.

“Start small — start with just the data aspect and get comfortable with it,” Windsor said. “I think what they’ll find is that it really is helpful.”

“It's understandable to be hesitant about adopting new technology; however, like with most software that has changed the way our industry operates, AI can offer huge benefits like streamlined operations, improved efficiency, and enhanced customer experiences,” Benbrook said. “My advice is to start small, with tasks that are more repetitive or time-consuming, and gradually integrate AI into your operations. Additionally, AI can complement human workers rather than replace them, allowing employees to focus on more complex tasks that require creativity and empathy.”

Windsor also suggests to wait until staff have a certain level of familiarity and comfort with operating AI before exposing it to incoming customers.

Once the fear and uncertainty have subsided, Windsor said businesses are almost guaranteed to love this new tool.

“They’re finding that they’re making better decisions, they’re finding that data that is collected is helping them,” she said.

For instance, every HVAC contractor has their busy season. AI can use the business-specific data set to determine historically when that will occur and suggest, prior to it occurring, to beef up staff for that period or to make sure there’s enough inventory. If a business owner were to put this information together themselves to reach the same conclusion, they would likely have to pore through spreadsheets and spend time deliberating and interpreting numbers, whereas AI can do the same thing instantly.

“It’s that type of thing I’m hearing customers say they love — that (AI) is collecting that information and putting it in front of them,” Windsor said.