What Distributors Can Learn from ChatGPT

January 10, 2023


By: Benj Cohen

If you’ve been paying attention to the media lately, you’ve probably heard a lot about ChatGPT, the groundbreaking chatbot technology that uses advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to have natural and lifelike conversations with users. As a distributor, you might have wondered if and how ChatGPT could potentially benefit your business. With all the hype surrounding ChatGPT, it’s natural to wonder if it’s truly ready to make a meaningful impact on distributors’ businesses. Join us as we explore the exciting world of artificial intelligence. 

If you’re curious about ChatGPT and seeing it in practice, you’ll be pleased to know it wrote the first paragraph of this article. What do you think? 

What is ChatGPT?

Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT (GPT stands for generative pre-trained transformer) uses machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to generate a human-like, conversational and appropriate response to a user’s text prompt. It can answer follow-up questions, admit it made a mistake and more.

To generate responses, ChatGPT uses a machine-learning technique called transformer-based language modeling. This model involves training a large neural network on a dataset of human-generated text, such as news articles, books and websites. The neural network learns to analyze the patterns and structure of the text in the dataset and generate new text similar in style and content.

How Can Distributors Use ChatGPT?

How can you use “the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public?” 

ChatGPT can provide real-time writing assistance to customer service and sales reps, allowing them to focus on making more sales. The chatbot can craft customer emails in response to specific inquiries, such as when the product they want is out of stock. Writing empathetic emails to customers when you can’t meet their requests is typically challenging. ChatGPT saves time by generating a response that reps can use as is or tweak. To illustrate ChatGPT’s ability for this article, see my prompt and its response: 

My prompt:  

Can you help me write an empathetic email to a customer letting them know that an item they are looking for is out of stock? Let them know that I have a substitute in mind that will address their needs.

ChatGPT’s version: 

Sure, here is a potential email you could send to a customer letting them know that an item they’re looking for is out of stock and offering a substitute item:

Dear [Customer],

I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to follow up on your recent inquiry about [item]. Unfortunately, we are currently out of stock on this item. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. 

However, I wanted to let you know that we do have a similar item that may be of interest to you. [Substitute item] is similar to [item] and has many of the same features. It may be a good alternative for your needs. 

If you would like more information about [substitute item] or have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here to help in any way that I can. 

Again, I apologize for the inconvenience of the out-of-stock item and hope that this substitute will meet your needs. 

Best Regards, 

[Your Name]

Another way distributors can use ChatGPT is to expand product details. 

Here’s an example of how ChatGPT uses a product’s URL to generate descriptions and benefits. 

My prompt: 

How would you talk about this product’s benefits? https://www.hillnmarkers.com/2413020/product/clorox-clx15949

ChatGPT’s version: 

When discussing the benefits of the Clorox CLX15949 product, you could highlight the following points:

  • Effectiveness: The product is designed to kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria, making it a powerful and reliable disinfectant for many surfaces. This can help to reduce the risk of illness and cross-contamination in homes, offices, and other settings.
  • Ease of use: The product comes in a convenient spray bottle, making it easy to apply to hard-to-reach surfaces. It also has a pleasant scent, which can help to improve the overall atmosphere of the place. 
  • Versatility: The product can be used on a variety of surfaces, including countertops, doorknobs, and appliances. This makes it a useful and cost-effective solution for a wide range of cleaning needs. 
  • Safety: The product is EPA-approved and safe to use around children and pets when used as directed. This can give users peace of mind and help to ensure the safety of their families and communities. 
  • Sustainability: The product is made with plant-based ingredients and is biodegradable, making it more environmentally friendly compared to some other disinfectants on the market. 

Distributors can also use ChatGPT in other areas of their business, such as order processing and market research. ChatGPT can analyze customer feedback and reviews to identify trends and insights that can inform product development and marketing strategies. 

In a recent article, McKinsey exampled potential business applications for the technology in the following areas:

  • Marketing and sales
  • Operations
  • IT/engineering
  • Risk and legal
  • R&D
  • Human resources
  • Utility/employee optimization

The Challenges of ChatGPT

While there is a lot of hype about ChatGPT (in fact, its launch prompted Google to issue a “Code Red”– the company’s response to major threats where they want “all hands on deck”) — it’s not foolproof. 

Even Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, said, “ChatGPT is incredibly limited” and “it would be a mistake to rely on it for anything important right now.” In its summary of the technology, OpenAI listed its limitations, including: 

  • Writing nonsensical and incorrect answers when there is no source of truth that sounds accurate 
  • Generating excessively verbose responses or repeating phrases
  • Biases in training models
  • Instead of asking clarifying questions of the user, the chatbot usually guesses what the user intended
  • Rather than refuse inappropriate requests, it will sometimes respond or exhibit biased behavior

Coding resource website Stack Overflow temporarily banned ChatGPT for giving the wrong answers to human queries. The site is a question-and-answer forum for programmers and relies on accuracy to help its users. The site’s moderators wrote, “posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers.”

Further, the chatbot’s responses often sound plausible, even when they’re not. This is a common issue with generative language models called “hallucination.” Users won’t know it’s misinformation. Companies that publish ChatGPT-generated content without fact-checking could damage their reputations.

Proceed with Equal Doses of Optimism and Caution

ChatGPT already offers benefits that distributors can leverage to improve their workflows, such as automated customer support responses, email generation and product descriptions and benefits. Currently, the chatbot is free to use and explore. Distributors should invest some time in figuring out what benefits will have the most impact on their businesses. Further, while chatbots can be a great option for generating basic information, humans should always double-check responses. ChatGPT is a great option for blurting out basic, common-sense answers with good grammar, but when asked to be logical or factual it produces below-average results. 

As McKinsey puts it, “In many cases, [these tools] are most powerful in combination with humans, augmenting their capabilities and enabling them to get work done faster and better.”

As we’re exploring ChatGPT, a new (and still unreliable) AI-based technology, we can’t ignore that AI in distribution has been around – and used reliably – for years, including AI models that are purpose-built for distributors. Heading into 2023, which McKinsey forecasts to be “one of the most exciting years yet for AI,” it’ll be a matter of determining which AI investments will have the best returns for your business – from improving customer service to increasing productivity and enabling previously-unattainable functionalities across your business.  

Benj Cohen

Benj Cohen founded Proton.ai, a growth engine for distributors. His company’s mission is to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) to drive increased sales. Benj learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a family business started by his great grandfather. He graduated Harvard University with a degree in Applied Math, and speaks regularly at industry events on the benefits of AI for distributors. Benj has been featured in trade publications including MDM, Industrial Distribution, and Industrial Supply Magazine. His company, Proton.ai, announced a $20 million Series A round of funding in 2022, led by Felicis Ventures.