Today's trends for tomorrow's business
Putting Artificial Intelligence to Work
June 15, 2019
Unraveling the mystery of AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest technology trends on the planet, but for the average small business owner, it can be terribly intimidating. It’s time to get over that.
While many small and midsized business (SMB) leaders say AI is critical for their business, only one in five are actually doing anything about it, according to a recent Capterra survey.
This should come as no surprise since we all know SMBs don’t tend to deploy new technology until the kinks have been worked out and it becomes more mature. Plus, they have more pressing priorities to deal with, like finding new customers and paying the bills. Right?
But here’s the thing: AI isn’t all that new, and it’s not some temperamental new technology that could come-and-go as quickly as Palm Pilots, Betamax video players and QR Codes. It’s here to stay, finding its way into everything from those personalized shopping suggestions we all get on social media sites to virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Increasingly, it’s also seeping into SMB operations.
Indeed, AI could become one of the most important tools in every SMB’s bag before too long because its automation capabilities present a tremendous opportunity to trim costs, improve operational efficiency and reach a much larger and wider segment of customers than would otherwise be humanly possible.
So why aren’t more SMBs doing it?
Probably because AI is a mystery for the average small business owner. The stuff of science fiction. The technology many associate with maniacal, world-dominating artificial neural computing systems like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Skynet from The Terminator. In truth, AI today is nowhere near that sophisticated or nefarious. So, don’t be intimidated by it.
Let’s explore what it’s really about, and how you can put it to work for your company.
The first thing to know about AI is that nobody really agrees on what it is. But here’s a useful definition: AI is all about computer algorithms working together to mimic human behavior in some way. Theoretically, AI programs can collect data, learn from it, evolve and make action-oriented recommendations.
At the simplest level, companies use AI programs to automate mundane, menial and time-consuming tasks that take them off-course from their core missions, which generally have to do with delivering outstanding customer experiences, growing their businesses and returning value to investors.
Some practical and more common applications of AI include: analyzing sales leads to determine which are the most promising (Salesforce Einstein focuses on this); sorting through resumes to identify the best potential employees (Google recently announced something around this).
To deploy AI, experts recommend you have at least some working knowledge of algorithms. If you do not, and you don’t have your own team of data scientists standing ready, don’t despair. There are still ways to get started. But you’ll want to be strategic, take your time and utilize a few basic tools along the way.
Do Your Research
You are going to want to start small no matter what you do. But even before going down that path, you’ll want to become somewhat familiar with the basics of AI (beyond this blog). This will help you determine where you need to go with it. There are a numerous online resources for that from YouTube to Udacity’s Intro to AI course, Google’s explainer and Stanford’s online lectures.
If you’re still intrigued, move to the next step, which is determining how the technology might make a difference for your business. Identify the business challenges you have to solve and the opportunities you’d like to purse. Then list them in order of priority. That will greatly assist you in identifying the types of AI tools that will best suit your needs.
Start with Chatbots
If you’re like many SMBs, you’ll probably land on chatbots as a good place to begin.
Gartner says by 2020 customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with the enterprise without interacting with a human. AI-powered chatbots will
help drive that trend.
Many SMBs use chatbots to boost customer service satisfaction. People go home at the end of the day, but chatbots work 24-7, giving impatient customers all over the world, no matter their time zone, immediate responses to simple inquiries. As a result, customers love them. In fact, nearly 65 percent of U.S. millennials want to use chatbots when engaging with brands.
Building a chatbot might sound complicated - and it can be. So you shouldn’t be doing it yourself unless you’re a programmer and have plenty of time on your hands. Instead, consider bringing in an outside professional to handle the job.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind investing some time, you can build your own basic bot using one of the many online tools and services. Some of the more popular ones you might run into include: Amazon Lex; Bold360; boutique.ai; Chatfuel; Connecto; Dialogflow; LivePerson; LiveChat; and ManyChat.
Automating Sales and Marketing
SMBs are also using AI to enhance their marketing efforts, although they may not realize it.
Thousands of small businesses, for example, are turning to Facebook and Google advertising platforms, which help maximize ad campaigns by targeting and matching people with similar characteristics to create more targeted campaigns. Platforms like Acquisio can also help analyze and manage pay-per-click success and make smart recommendations for improving marketing expenditures.
There are also AI-powered conversational marketing tools, such as Canecto, that can review, analyze and make recommendations for improving the effectiveness of your digital engagement programs.
From a sales standpoint, you can also look into AI-powered solutions that go beyond what you get with a typical customer relationship management (CRM) program. Crystal, for instance, collects insights about the personalities of your clients and informs you on their particular preferences, the best distribution channels at which to reach them and the most opportune times to connect. There are also numerous AI assistants, such as Conversica, that automate conversations between brands and customers over email and SMS.
The AI market is booming, and the technology is improving exponentially. As it grows more sophisticated, what you see and experience is expected to become simpler – much as early coding gave way to the basic user interfaces associated with modern software operating systems.
Don’t wait for the level of simplification that matches your comfort zone. Uncomplicated AI tools are available today to help run and grow your business. And if you’d don’t find a way to integrate them into your operations, your competitors surely will - passing you by in the process.
Thinking about putting new technology to work for your business but not quite sure where to start? Let an HP business expert help. They’ll work with you to identify the right technology for your business now and into the future, can assist with custom configurations, flexible financing options and much more.