“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
“Alexa play lullaby music.” “Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like this weekend?” “Alexa, add milk to the grocery list.” “Alexa, find me a plumber . . .”
This morning I asked Alexa to find me an HVAC contractor. Alexa provided three recommendations. None of them were the “big” players in town. Traditional SEO practices would have provided predictable, seemingly nepotistic search results. Not Alexa. Alexa’s criteria is notably different than other search engines. Alexa is not a “pay to play” info-system. Alexa’s criteria are democratizing search results in favor of the consumer rather than the search engine.
My family uses artificial intelligence for simple things like playing bed time music for our daughter. We are starting to test it for slightly more complicated tasks such as ordering groceries or finding a service provider. We are one of over 50 million households who have seamlessly adjusted to our talking black tube (has anyone questioned the weirdness of that?). That number–50 million–is forecasted to double by 2020. Contractors should take note. AI is re-shaping lead generation and the relationship between consumers and technology in as much as e-commerce is challenging the power structure between businesses and consumers. It is time for contractors to consider capitalizing on the potential advantages of AI as a lead source that customers trust.
Alexa, Cortana and similar AI devices utilize unique criteria when recommending products and services. For example, Alexa will only give a contractor’s website consideration if Amazon has certified the site metrics. Sound fishy? Don’t you have to basically open your books to participate in certain box store programs? Here’s the link if you’re interested in certification: https://support.alexa.com/hc/en-us/articles/200450354. Non-certified web sites will not be considered as a search results option. Additionally, Alexa’s algorithms give preference to contractors who are participating in its home services program. Non-participants will most likely not be considered or be given tertiary attention at best. Low traffic websites will not be well ranked. Finally, Alexa considers three months worth of unique visitors and page views in order to determine a “Long Tail” score. Information about the importance of the “Long Tail” effect can be found here: http://www.longtail.com/about.html
At this time Alexa is brand agnostic. Notably, so are most HVAC consumers. Alexa doesn’t care if a contractor is affiliated with a dealer loyalty program. Alexa doesn’t read Consumer Reports. Alexa cares about consumer behavior more than contractor of manufacture talking points. It evaluates contractors from the consumer’s point-of-view. Alexa recommends a business based on traffic, the company’s site metrics, and the Long Tail behaviors. This may very well be the new face of lead generation: Populist optimization.
For the time being manufacturers and their marketing partners will be flummoxed by AI. Some companies have already built relationships with Amazon and others, attempting to embed their home control devices with AI. That’s a good start providing that contractors operate in a manner that is compliant with AI discovery criteria. For now the dog is still wagging the tail.
Two days ago I asked a friend if he’d consider joining an AI home service group. “I’m already in X, Y, and Z” box stores and I don’t need another expense,” he said. It’s a valid point. Box store programs are incredibly costly without considering the additional management and personnel requirements that owners are expected to assume. Leads generated via artificial intelligence devices represents potential cost savings–reduced staff, paperless processing, and speedy on-line payment systems. It may also represent another version of subjugation for the contractor who refuses to see a lead as the point of entry in to a cross-selling and long-term relationship with the consumer. Consumers are increasingly attracted to seamless, high-touch purchase experiences. I’m unconvinced that box store lead generation and sales models satisfy those descriptions. As box stores stridently adopt e-commerce options I’m not sure they are either.
I remember when box stores started selling heating and cooling equipment. There were a few smirks and a few skepticisms. We all know how that experiment worked out. Most of you reading this remember the bomb-drop effect that Nest had on the HVAC industry as well as its frantic response to a non-traditional competitor (despite a bevy of beneficial functions the industry has yet to market their products with similar efficacy). AI represents another non-traditional shift in the HVAC industry. It may also be the next iteration of the box store. Amazon is playing a long game. They have what every business wants: incalculable amounts of consumer data. Contractors need to decide if they are ready to integrate artificial intelligence in to their marketing and advertising strategy. Personally, I think it’s time.