article |
Lets get to work on AI

Wearable AI tech gives Tractor Supply employees instant answers

Tractor Supply Co. employees don’t take the company’s tagline, “For Life Out Here,” lightly. For 85 years the retailer has served the needs of recreational farmers, ranchers, homeowners, gardeners, and pet enthusiasts who rely on its stores to feed their animals and maintain their properties.

When customers step into one of the chain’s roughly 2,200 stores, or shop from its website or app, they expect to find what they need quickly. And when they’re not sure what they need, they count on employees to recommend the right products for the job.

“We really want to take care of our customers,” said Glenn Allison, vice president of IT product development at the Tennessee-based retailer. “It’s a needs-based business.”

To meet those needs more quickly, store employees have a new tool in their customer experience toolbox: a generative AI-powered technology called Hey GURA. Tractor Supply piloted it last year, deployed it chainwide ahead of the 2023 holiday season, and has been so pleased with the results that it continues to expand its use.

Answers at employees’ fingertips

Here’s how Hey GURA works: Every team member has a wearable handheld device that connects to an earpiece. When a customer has a question or needs a product recommendation and an employee doesn’t know it off the top of his head, the employee can ask Hey GURA. Similar to Siri or Alexa, the device is voice-activated, so employees can simply speak their questions into the device.

The tool uses generative AI to quickly comb through a vast database of Tractor Supply product information, recommendations, real-time inventory data, ongoing incentives, available financing programs, and other information to quickly generate relevant answers that employees can immediately relay to customers.

Employees get a brief response via voice, as well as a more in-depth response that appears on their handheld device. Following the interaction, the employee can provide feedback on whether the answers were useful.

“Tractor Supply has always been focused on providing legendary customer service,” Allison said. “Hey GURA is a knowledge tool to better help our store team members provide real-time access to expertise.”

The technology’s purpose, he said, is rooted in the company’s GURA philosophy – to greet, uncover, recommend, and ask. Employees are expected to greet each customer, uncover their needs, recommend the right products, and then make an ask (to make the sale). Now they can do all of this without leaving the customer’s side.

As employees increasingly use Hey GURA to seek product information and recommendations, Tractor Supply is gaining a better understanding of the types of questions customers are asking and the type of expertise employees are seeking. That, in turn, is helping the AI generate more useful and relevant answers to inquiries, Allison said.

“We continue to build out the knowledge graph with this Life Out Here knowledge,” he said. “It keeps getting better and smarter.”

Empowered employees, happier customers

Store employees have been eager to use the technology and impressed with its results, said Charles Moon, manager of Tractor Supply’s Hendersonville, Tennessee store.

“As much as we’ve been a farm and feed and rural retailer, we’ve kind of always gone against the grain and we’ve always had technology top of mind,” said Moon, who has worked for the retailer for 12 years and sits on one of its regional manager advisory boards. “This is another piece of that.”

Tractor Supply knows its greatest asset is its people, he added.

“The company is investing in our team in these innovative ways by giving us the opportunity to serve our customers at a second’s notice. It’s cool to see our team be able to have an expert in their ear,” he said. “It’s been really cool to see our team feel empowered.”

No matter how little (or how much) experience team members have, Hey GURA helps them quickly become experts on the chain’s more-than-15,000 products in those moments that matter, Moon said. And the AI continues to get better the more feedback employees give it.

“We’ve seen very high rates of adoption,” Allison said. “It’s in use by our team members every day. Using this AI-driven technology, we can make a big impact on helping our store employees better serve that customer.”

Tractor Supply has embraced AI for many years in other parts of its business. It’s integrated into its inventory planning system as well as some gamified employee incentives, Allison said. And the company is piloting Tractor Vision, an AI-enabled system that uses cameras placed throughout stores to automatically detect things, like when customers might need assistance or when volume peaks are leading to long lines at the registers.

The more data the company can collect and learn from through AI, Allison said, the more it can identify patterns and implement changes and solutions that improve customer experience and make employees more efficient.

So far, Hey GURA has been a hit with employees and customers alike, Moon said.

“Our customers have really been amazed. It’s getting them engaged in our business,” he said. “They think it’s neat.”

An opportunity to keep learning

In addition to using it to help customers, employees have embraced the technology as a means to educate themselves about Tractor Supply’s products. It’s not uncommon to see team members walking through store aisles and asking Hey GURA questions about products, even when they’re not assisting customers, just to learn.

The technology’s greatest asset, Allison said, is it makes employees more efficient without adding to their workload.

“We believe passionately in taking care of our team members. In turn, they’ll take great care of our customers,” he said.

The technology is also helping the retailer grow smarter about its customer base and business. The retailer keeps a tally, by store and by employee, of what questions workers are asking the technology.

All those data points give the company insights into where further employee training may be needed, what products are most popular with customers, and what customer intents are driving purchases, Allison said – all of which can be used to drive future decision making.

“Hey GURA and these AI capabilities we’re rolling out to the stores – the spirit of them is to take care of (employees) and make their jobs easier,” he said.