3 Most Common Ways AI Can Help Any Small Business (SMB)

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Insights Up Front

• SMBs can move from a vicious circle (too busy to consider AI) to a virtuous circle (AI is doing jobs and creating free time) for business owners.

• Virtually any business owner can benefit from 3 proven AI solutions: (1) sorting customer feedback; (2) helping customers find what they need on your website; and (3) more accurately forecasting revenue, expenses, and cash flow.

• SMBs can get this “low hanging fruit” without any special technical skills.

• Book a free 30-minute Breakthrough Call, for independent, vendor-agnostic advice, on how to facilitate a conversation with your team about using AI for customer support and revenue prediction.

Workload Vicious Circle

Most small business owners are in a vicious circle when it comes to artificial intelligence and automation

They’re busy. There is always more to be done, and COVID has made it even harder to recruit employees that can help.

In theory, with technology, they should be able to automate those tasks, and create some free time. But they don’t have enough time to sort through what AI is, or how it can help. In short, they don’t have time to find a way to save time.

And so they remain overwhelmed.

It leaves them wondering, “how much more could I accomplish if I could automate parts of my job?”

Artificial Intelligence Virtuous Circle

The good news is that Artificial Intelligence, or AI, really can help. You can take tasks that are done by people and get the AI to do it.

How does it work? At the simplest level, AI makes computers smarter. These smarter computers can be taught to do very specific jobs currently done by people.

AI is not a miracle, and it is not all hype. It is simply a tool small business owners can use to solve a whole range of problems.

What is great about AI is that as you start applying it to one real problem you have, pretty soon it becomes clear how it can apply to other problems. Once you get up the learning curve of how to put it in place, applying it to a second and third use case becomes easier and easier.

When that happens, you’ll find that your capability starts to expand. You’ll have a little army of AIs that are doing more and more of your work, allowing you to concentrate on the parts of the job that drive performance. That might mean building deeper relationships with clients, or investing time in mentoring someone on the team. It is anything that you wish you were doing if you only had more time.

When you get the right mindset, and you’ve built up a few wins, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without an AI.

Plus, there is an advantage to starting now with AI. The range of offerings is increasing all the time. You’ll get on the path to ever increasing capability in what you, plus your AIs, are able to do together.

Where to Start? Low Hanging Fruit

Any technology for a small business needs to be simple to adopt, and the payoff needs to be clear in the short-term. Unlike a large firm, a small business does not have the time or the budget for R&D projects.

According to recent surveys, about 15% are planning to invest in AI, and the pandemic has made the case for AI even clearer for many small business.

The advantage of being a small firm is that it can learn from the experience (and failures) of larger ones. It can see where has AI already been proven out, and implement those use cases.

When it comes to AI, the landscape is changing quickly. A use case that was revolutionary 5-7 years ago, and was beyond the capability of all but the largest firms, is now widely available. What used to take a team of data scientists earning and months of dedicated effort by cross functional teams to accomplish is now open to small business.

As Forbes says “AI-powered automation can give one-person companies the freedom to not only manage but also grow their businesses on a major scale. What’s more, they can often have all of this without spending their entire budget on software.”

Use Case #1: Spend 98% less time understanding Customer Feedback

Problem: Every business has customers, and most have more data about customers than they can use. The most basic type of feedback is captured in customer surveys. Some companies also track a Net Promoter Score. While those methods are great, there is so much more data available. Customers reveal what they really think about your company and service in emails, text messages, call center transcripts, media articles, and social media posts on multiple platforms. Even for a small business there is more data than can even be read, let alone assessed and acted upon.

Solution: Using something called “natural-language processing” the AI can read these different sources. The AI can dentify critical elements in data, including references to language, people, and places, and the text files can be categorized by relevant topics. In real time, you can automatically and accurately detect customer sentiment in your content. This accelerates more informed, real-time decision making to improve customer experiences. In effect, you are “listening to customers at scale.”

As well, when it comes to “social listening” an AI can sometimes know people better than they know themselves. In traditional surveys and groups, people often provide answers that are not a true indicator of their future actions. AI can use online data combined with statistical techniques to provide clearer picture of what to expect from your customers or markets.

Benefits: You can get a better understanding of what your customers want with 98% less effort. For example, you can identify the feature that’s most often mentioned when customers are happy or unhappy about your product. You can also train the AI to organize information into categories that are specific to your business. This allows you to free up your team to prioritize solutions instead of spending hours on analysis.

Vendors: Amazon Comprehend, Keatext, Advanced Symbolics.

Keatext.ai

Use Case #2: Help Customers Find What they Need

Problem: Too many chatbots on websites are dumb. Your customers want and expect immediate access to information to help them solve a problem or make a purchase. When these expectations aren’t met, customer satisfaction quickly deteriorates. According to Gartner, 8 out of 10 users leave an online store if it fails to provide its customer relevant results, or clear product information.

Solution: Smart chatbots understand nuance. They understand what a customer is trying to tell it, then quickly provide the relevant information. Using “natural language processing” and “symbolic” artificial intelligence, the AI can understand human languages in all their variations. It can detect what the customer means, not just what they type. This can be done in 30 different languages.

Benefits: When customers can find what they need on their own, service and support enquires reduce by 80% of service and support inquiries. For online shopping, this translates into higher search-to-cart revenue by preventing cart abandonment with better, quicker search answers.

Vendors: Inbenta. Heyday for multilocation retailers, and e-commerce sites with 50,000 visitors.

Inbenta.com

Use Case #3: More Accurate Forecasts

Problem: It is hard to get accurate forecasts of revenue, expenses, and cash flow. Many CEOs get a dashboard to help them guide the company. In putting these dasboards together, companies use everything from simple spreadsheets to complex financial planning software to attempt to accurately forecast future business. The problem is that the raw data used to fuel these dashboards is backwards looking data. It may also not include all of the variables relevant to what will happen next. CEOs are then forced to take their own best guesses at what the future holds.

Solution: Using “machine learning” the AI can combine past data reflecting changes over time (time series data) with additional variables and appropriate AI techniques to generate insightful, grounded and dynamic predictions about what will happen next. For example, the demand for a particular color of a shirt may change with the seasons, store location, currency fluctuations, and online promotions. The AI can “connect the dots” between all these variables in a way that is beyond what any person would ever be able to do.

Benefits: By combining time series data with additional variables and new AI techniques, The AI can make predictions that are up to 50% more accurate, with less effort (Amazon Forecast).

Amazon Forecast.

What’s Next? Find Someone Who Can Speak Your Language

This is an exciting, yet intimidating field.

We know how important it is to be an innovator, and how hard it is to find reliable independent advice.

We know both technical speak and business speak: that means we can act as translators between business people and technical people. We understand both sides of the conversation, and are able to help you tap into the power and potential of artificial intelligence.

Our advice is independent, and vendor-agnostic.

To learn more, set up a free 30-minute Breakthrough Call. We guarantee that you’ll come away with insights on how AI can transform you into an industry leader.

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John Stroud

John Stroud

John is a certified OpenExO consultant in exponential technologies. Prior to launching AI Guides, John served as Vice President, Strategy at a federal crown corporation ($600M budget and 8000+ workforce) with responsibilities for Governance, Human Resources, Communications, Legal, Performance Measurement and Risk.

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