The buzz surrounding AI continues to spin up since the tech company, Open AI, announced the new app, ChatGPT. Of course, AI has been a thing for a very long time, but now we are being forced to recognize that it is a big thing. And it is not just in our future, but in our now.

Rick Damato

The emergence of AI is just another, albeit significant one, step in the use of microcomputers in nearly every facet of our daily business and lives. I recall when enterprise computers were being introduced into the roofing supply industry back in the early 1980s. It was fine until we started putting computer terminals at the point of sale. 

There is no telling how much business we lost as our focus went from customer service to computer service. So much time and effort went into learning how to do business from a desktop monitor instead of a three-part NCR form. It was tough, but the promise was better customer service by way of more accurate pricing and inventory control.

Turns out, it just sped up the process of however good or bad we ever did things in the past. But it had to happen.

Now the move to direct, online ordering is taking over much of the work formerly done by two individuals. One customer service representative and one contractor looking at each other, speaking on the phone together, or in some instances, by fax. There is no denying the speed and accuracy of placing an order online. The more sophisticated systems allow contractors to track their orders from the moment they place them to the jobsite. 

These systems have gotten better and, for the most part, contractors are happy to become engaged with them. It seems to be a good way to complete the otherwise mundane task of placing an order after the negotiation is complete and you just want your stuff. 

Back to AI for a thought. Is this how your automated ordering systems are going to say, “I see there is no ventilation on this order. May I suggest…”? No matter how you accomplish it, you simply cannot become so disconnected from your customer that the relationship suffers. 

In a tough, competitive business such as roofing supply, the “extras” may make the difference between profit and loss. I am taken back to my days at the branch when we were in competition with a chain building supply yard that would practically give away shingles. Woe be unto you if you bought felt or drip edge from them because they always made up for poor margins on the shingles. 

So, how do you maintain contact with the contractor to make sure they are up to date on everything you offer? If you detect a gap in your sales transactions, I think it would be a good idea to engage your tech provider to fill it in somehow. No doubt there are solutions, perhaps even “off the shelf” solutions. 

Failing that, you can always pick up the phone to say “thanks” whenever your customer hits the “purchase now” button on your app. Who knows, you may end up in a conversation that will result in an order for something extra.