Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” This iconic quote from the 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey is what many people think of when the term Artificial Intelligence is broached. AI has been portrayed in science fiction as something to be wary of and to keep tabs on. AI has a long way to go before we see computers like HAL, but the technology, while in its infancy and requiring special personnel to use it, is cropping up in the business world, and not just in tech giants like Apple or Google.
The New “Magic Bullet”
There is a tremendous amount of hype over AI, and small business owners who don’t truly understand the technology are feeling the pressure to implement AI whether or not they actually need it. There are applications available for the small business owner that can help grow the business without requiring massive investments in capital or personnel.
However, most of the small business owners in the business community do not require AI to succeed. According to Daniel Faggella, founder and CEO of Emerj, “I advise most smaller companies to focus on revenue, growth, and data infrastructure – not on “finding a way to use AI” just to fit in.” Sound advice – AI right now is like the PC in the early 1980s – tons of potential, but not ready for prime time just yet.
Having said this, there are AI applications currently available that can help a small business streamline its processes and grow. Here are five areas where AI can help:
1. Sales and Marketing
A small business lives or dies on its sales, and on its sales team. AI applications like Gong, Jog, or Chorus record and transcribe every sales call your team makes. The software then utilizes algorithms to analyze the strategies employed by your team members, and compares them to the strategies used by the team’s most successful members; the software can make recommendations on whether or not to increase listening time versus talking time, or it may make suggestions on word choices to try.
AI also gives your marketing a boost, by analyzing your sales data. The software can help you determine best-selling items, low-performing items, and which customers to target for increasing sales.
Your sales gather a ton of useful information, such as contact information and demographic data. The accumulation of data can overwhelm a small business when it comes to mining it for useful information. AI software can manage this process, and generate recommendations and predictions. As Kate Voss puts it in her article for StartupNation, AI can “maximize your marketing returns.”
2. Customer Communications
Customer service is usually an afterthought by businesses, small or large; however, you still need to have someone interfacing with your customers on a daily basis. To allow your customer service agents to concentrate on real customer problems, consider using a chatbot AI application to field the most commonly asked questions your agents get asked, such as “what are your hours?” or “is this product in stock and available right now?”.
You’ve probably had an experience with a chatbot without realizing it – it’s the chat box that pops up when you open a website’s landing page. It’s an easy way to interface with your user community, and usually faster for the customer than waiting in a long hold line on the phone.
A chatbot is a customer service agent available 24/7, and it works even when you and your team sleep. Chatbots are also cost-savers:
“With the more routine customer communications, chatbots can effectively handle communication with 100 potential customers in the time it takes your staff to communicate with 10, which makes them non-negligible when it comes to cost-saving.” Says Michael Dadashi, CEO of Infinite Recovery.
Hiring employees is one of the biggest headaches a small business owner faces; one position can generate hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants – far too many for a small business to wade through using conventional methods. AI software can parse incoming applications and resumes, to filter your applicant pool into a manageable number.
AI Chatbots can also free your HR employees from answering the same questions over and over again. Put up a chatbot on the HR webpage, and employees can get basic questions answered without speaking to a human – routine questions on benefits, holidays, time off, and company policies are all important, but unless the question goes into specifics, a chatbot can answer them 24/7, letting your HR employees deal with real people issues.
4. Data Gathering
All businesses generate data, regardless of their size. Using this data, however, is a challenge unless you’re big enough to employ a business analyst to mine your information and turn it into a competitive advantage. AI software, such as Crayon, can track your competitors across digital channels, such as social media, or their own websites, and gathers a variety of data about their business practices. You can utilize this data in planning your own business strategies.
Chad Otar, president of Lending Valley, says in a post written for the Forbes Finance Council:
“These types of AI competitive intelligence tools let you gather much more detailed information faster, allowing you to respond faster and more efficiently to changes in your industry that could affect your business.”
While the thought of an AI application monitoring a security system brings up visions of Proteus, the AI computer in Dean Koontz’s “Demon Seed,” maintaining security systems, both physical for your building and software systems for your network and computers is an ideal application of AI software. An AI software package can monitor cameras and the entrances and exits to your building and can alert a human if a problem is detected. Similarly, AI software monitors firewalls, to protect the gates into your computer systems, and it will alert a human if a breach is discovered.
AI is an emerging factor in the business world. It is not the AI of science fiction; it will be quite a while before AI develops to the point of cyborgs, and AI computers like Hal or Proteus. Rather, AI for the business world is akin to PCs in their infancy – the potential is off the charts, but it will take a while for it to be realized. There are ways to utilize AI in the small business world, but a small business owner needs to determine if AI can truly help the business, and wait to use it until it’s a better value. AI is coming – will your business be ready?