For decades, artificial intelligence and its future impact on business and culture has been an ongoing topic of debate and discussion. In the past year, interest in that topic has intensified as more AI tools become readily available to the general public. The result is that business operators, including those in the pest control industry, are exploring ways that AI can benefit their organizations and introduce new efficiencies.
“What we’re seeing right now is that there are more accessible tools for basic users than there ever have been in the past,” said Dauphin Ewart, CEO of Bug Master in Austin, Texas.
At his business, Ewart said AI amounts to an intriguing curiosity—but one that could bring major implications to the way Bug Master operates, particularly as it relates to marketing and communications.
“We’re in the stage where we’re becoming aware of these tools,” Ewart said. “We’re sort of testing them out. It all appears to be pretty cool versus saying this makes total sense and we can use it.”
Ewart said he sees potential AI-related opportunities for pest control businesses emerging in the areas of content creation, graphic design and data analysis. In addition, AI’s use in search engines is an important development to watch, he said.
Ewart shared how his team is exploring AI’s capabilities and his views on what lies ahead with the rapidly developing technology.
DATA ANALYSIS AND SEARCH
Ewart said he believes those industries that are most aggressively adopting AI so far in marketing are using it to analyze large datasets to understand the trends in those data and seek opportunities based on those trends. In some cases, that could mean identifying where to find potential customers or determining which products are likely to appeal to certain customers. He expects down the road AI could help pest control businesses in a similar way.
“I would imagine across the industry that the vast majority of people would say that their cost of leads is going up rapidly and that that’s one of the most expensive parts of their business,” Ewart said. “So that’s probably one of the places that we need the technology assistance the most.”
Part of the challenge of data analysis with AI, Ewart said, is that operators must have the data quality and expertise to make the results valuable. For larger companies, that can mean hiring data analysts, who often demand high salaries in a competitive hiring landscape.
“Our industry doesn’t historically have that type of role as a part of a standard business, and that role tends to be very valuable in the marketplace,” Ewart said.
Ewart believes online search could be an area that sees a particular impact from AI, pointing to Microsoft’s new AI-powered Bing search engine. Changes with search could make a crucial difference in the way pest control operators and others secure business, and Ewart said, “I think there’s basically a 0% chance that how search engines work in the future won’t be deeply affected by AI.”
“I don’t think there’s any tool that has the potential to more dramatically change the way that search results work [than AI], and I think there are very few of us who wouldn’t think that if you dried up search result leads that would be a huge threat,” Ewart said. “It just has the potential to change so dramatically that whole landscape.”
CONTENT AND DESIGN
In the long run, Ewart said he believes data analysis offers the greatest potential benefits among AI tools, but content creation and design appear to be easier to implement in the near term. For instance, in the case of a logo design, you can provide parameters for the logo to an AI graphic design tool and then the tool provides a variety of options.
“It’s kind of fun to see what it comes up with,” Ewart said.
Ewart said the tool might not create any logos that you like, but the cost of resources and time is minimal.
Similarly, Ewart said an operator can submit the basics of what they want in a potential blog post for their website and ChatGPT, a new AI tool, will provide a draft to consider.
“It’s easy to try right now,” he said. “You can look at the result and go, ‘Do I want to use that or not?’ It’s low risk, and they’re doing some really neat things and it’s wild to see what they’re able to do.”
Ewart noted the low barrier to entry to try out the tools now. For instance, ChatGPT is free during this research phase of its development.
“We’re playing around a lot with it as a way of generating content such as blog posts,” Ewart said.
Ewart said ChatGPT has struck a particular chord with a large audience.
“ChatGPT has been the one that has driven a lot of the interest, and there are a lot of people playing around with that one,” Ewart said. “I do think that’s the one where it seems the closest to being able to use it to help out. Our experience with it has been, ‘Oh, that’s pretty neat.’ It doesn’t do everything you need it to do. You need to edit the work that it does, but it helps.”
LEARNING THE TOOLS WHILE THEY ARE NEW
Ewart noted that automation and AI are not synonymous—though they are often viewed that way—and pest control operators and others already widely use automated marketing tools to manage repetitive tasks on various channels—from social media to email. Adopting AI will be another step into sophisticated tech territory.
Ewart said operators need to be “inventive and creative” to deploy AI tools in the early going.
“I think the challenge is just bringing the creativity to a tool that doesn’t have a clear application in your business and seeing the value in it,” Ewart said. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who have used these things extensively. And everybody I know who’s started to use AI in their business is really playing with it, and they’re playing mostly with content creation and design tools. They’re not playing with these big ones that could be more powerful.”
Ewart said he believes the AI tools that are emerging eventually will be important and impactful, but right now they are in the discovery stage. Still, Ewart said he believes it is important for operators to begin to become familiar with the solutions now rather than waiting until they have matured more—just as being an early adopter can help organizations in other cases. That could mean watching TED talks and webinars and trying out easily accessible tools.
“If you were heavily working on your online presence and digital leads in 2006, you were in much better shape than if you were starting to do that in 2015—and it was even better if you started in 2002,” Ewart said. “The world seems like it’s existed like this for a long time, but lead generation was super different not that long ago. We were still buying Yellow Page leads in 2005.”
There is no question of AI’s potential transformative impact, Ewart said.
“These are tools that can really drive massive amounts of efficiency,” he said. “This could be a sea change.”