It can be tempting to think of AI as the distant future, the kind of solution that will emerge from the tech empires of Silicon Valley along with flying cars and the Hyperloop.
But AI is happening today, transforming companies of all sizes all over the world. Its adoption has driven down costs and made it increasingly accessible to small and midsize businesses.
Broadly speaking, AI powers the computer programs that are capable of collecting and analyzing huge volumes of data. These programs can quickly spot the connections and deliver the actions we’re looking for. As a result, AI often operates semiautonomously to perform tasks such as tracking consumer behavior, taking customer queries and tabulating market data – which is why it’s such an exciting time to be running a small business. The AI opportunities are stacking up fast.
So how can you leverage AI? You probably already do without knowing it. Basic machine learning lets your Gmail sort messages into distinct tabs, and algorithms optimize your Spotify playlists based on your preferences. Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa know what you’re saying because they’ve been trained in natural language processing through vast data sets.
AI is all around us. Now the question is, how can small businesses use it to their competitive advantage? Here are three ideas.
1. Complement your workforce with AI.
One of the biggest benefits for small businesses is that AI can serve as your personal HR team. You might question the concept of having HR robots instead of people, but in the case of small and midsize businesses, AI can fill a role that was likely too expensive to be brought in-house in the first place. AI provides the capabilities you need without breaking the budget or putting anyone out of work.
There are many HR products, such as Qualtrics and Hyphen, that can conduct automatic employee engagement surveys, take regular pulse checks for your company, and create a platform for providing, receiving and collating feedback. This lets you ensure your team is happy and fulfilled – and enables you to do it efficiently and affordably.
Another pivotal benefit is that your AI-enabled HR solution can help you with recruitment. Platforms such as Entelo are designed to help your hiring process by matching candidates to job postings, discovering talent in new or unconventional places, and analyzing which of your past hiring practices have yielded the best results. Some solutions even analyze the communication styles of your candidates and advise you on how best to connect with them.
Rather than bringing in HR talent before your company is ready, using AI for your human resources lets you scale up at the right pace for your business.
2. Drive efficiency in marketing and sales.
AI works by analyzing data – and lots of it. That’s why it can help you make the most of all available information to drive your marketing strategy and outsmart the competition.
I’ve seen big companies employ entire teams of analysts to keep track of the competitive landscape and ensure they have an edge. In the past, that was enough to keep smaller businesses on the sidelines. Not anymore.
Now you can earn your spot on the field with AI-powered tools like Crayon that monitor your competitors across multiple channels: their websites, social media and mobile apps. By noticing every change in price and product, every shift in brand tone and PR messaging, you’ll gain granular insights into your competitors’ strategies and start to see the gaps in their services where you can step in.
It may be a no-brainer that having the inside scoop on your competitors is great, but knowing your own markets and customers can be a game-changer. AI tools, like those designed by Brandwatch, can provide insights into your market fit and help you with consumer segmentation. You can use AI platforms to identify how to connect with specific audiences through targeted advertising, and they can also manage your online campaigns to help you make informed decisions. In the past, analyzing and acting on so much information would have required a full-time data scientist, if not a third-party professional services firm – well outside the budget of most small businesses. But today, something as complex as a statistical regression analysis is well within a small business’s capabilities.
Of course, AI doesn’t just deliver intel on how to create and manage your marketing campaigns. It can help you deploy them as well. Marketing automation solutions such as Marketo and Autopilot are almost like hiring an intern – something that not all small businesses are equipped to do. These types of platforms allow you to launch your pre-planned digital ads, social media posts, and email and mobile notifications so that they reach the right targets at the right time and continuously nurture a relationship with customers.
Many of these solutions have built-in marketing analytics tools so that small businesses can track customer interactions retroactively and in real time. In a recent study, McKinsey determined marketing and sales is the area where AI will have the largest impact – and you can see why.
3. Improve your customer experience.
Most exciting to me is the way AI stands to make life better for customers, connecting them with the products and services they actually want. By using an intelligent CRM system like Salesforce, you can track your customers’ purchase history and reach out proactively on new product offerings – all efforts that equip your customers to make informed decisions while prioritizing their individual preferences. A 2017 Campaign Monitor consumer report found that 62% of consumers will open an email with a personalized headline, proving that CRM systems are a powerful way to listen to your customers and respond in ways that improve their experience. [Looking for CRM software? Check out our best picks and reviews.]
As well as being a capable tool behind the scenes, AI can help on the front lines to provide a better experience for your customers. Virtual customer assistants and chatbots are growing in popularity. These customer-facing programs offer automated services to your clients through popup chat windows or search boxes with extensive autocomplete options. They won’t replace your people anytime soon, but they can provide round-the-clock assistance, freeing your customers to connect with your services and brand whenever they happen to be online.
By answering simple questions, connecting customers with resources, and automatically sorting and categorizing support tickets, AI platforms handle recurring processes so your team can focus on the more meaningful conversations with your customers. It’s no wonder that Gartner predicts these technologies are about to surge, increasing from less than 2% of customer service operations in 2017 to 25% in 2020.
The success of our economy depends on the success of small businesses. After all, they contribute more than half of all jobs in the United States. Luckily, AI is the great equalizer, positioning your small business to go toe-to-toe with global enterprises through the power of big data.
Is your company making the most of AI? Are you ready to take the next step into a computer-enhanced future? Connect with a Dell advisor to find new areas of AI opportunity for your small business.