You probably interacted with AI before pouring your coffee this morning. Maybe you asked Siri about the weather, or Google Maps how long your commute will be. But those are products from big corporations. Artificial intelligence is too complex and expensive for small businesses to benefit from, right? Quite the contrary.
By automating mundane tasks, analyzing data, or personalizing your customer experience, you can use artificial intelligence right now to transform your business—and your growth targets.
What are artificial intelligence and machine learning?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a machine or program to imitate human intelligence and insight to perform tasks. Modern AI like your digital assistant or traffic app typically improves over time with machine learning (ML), a process in which AI incorporates new data into its future actions, learning like a human does.
Coined in the 1950s to describe a computer learning checkers, today machine learning shapes all of our digital habits. Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and Facebook serve us recommendations based on our past activity and the activity of people like us.
How is AI used in business?
Generally, AI technology generates value in three key ways:
- Automating tasks
- Analyzing data
- Engaging with employees and customers
Let’s consider an example. In the “big data” age, businesses use AI to analyze more data than employees could possibly comb through, allowing for invaluable customer insights and interactions. Retailers like Amazon and Walmart—and small businesses, too—use machine learning to process these analytics and automatically recommend and restock everything they predict customers will want. This drives up sales while micromanaging inventory and offering customers a personalized experience, all without any human oversight.
Reasons businesses don’t implement AI
Companies face a variety of obstacles to adopting any new technology. These include:
- Integration with current systems. You’ll almost always be enhancing current systems rather than replacing them, so identify which specific problems you want AI to solve and focus on implementing those.
- Upfront cost. Adopting new technology can be expensive, so project how much an AI solution could increase long-term profits.
- Learning curve. Learning new systems can be frustrating, so work with your employees to test AI solutions before launching, and hire external training if necessary.
Ways AI can make your business more efficient
Let’s look at specific examples of how you can streamline your day-to-day business tasks with artificial intelligence.
Marketing and sales
Online retailers often use machine learning to build customer profiles based on activity. AI can then compare these customers with similar profiles to recommend products, or determine the average profile of your highest-value customers for you to send targeted ads or promotions.
For marketing, consider an email campaign sent to thousands of customers, with an AI recording and categorizing every response. AI can also analyze your paid search ads to show you which ones work and what those ads have in common.
Because ML algorithms can forecast which products are wanted, where, and by whom, that same AI can project what inventory you’ll need to fulfill orders that haven’t been made yet.
AI can also recognize cybersecurity threats before humans can. Many banks now use ML to detect fraud by analyzing normal account activity, and similar algorithms can determine if one of your employee’s accounts has been compromised.
For any business to thrive, it needs happy customers. Customers tend to be happiest when a business can quickly resolve issues as they arise.
Let’s say a customer sends an email or leaves a voicemail with a common support issue. Using language-recognition AI, an automated or generated response based on the text and context of the message can solve most common issues, reducing the load on your support team. These AI solutions can be a boon during a query spike, such as after a product launch or during a holiday sale.
AI programs can automatically scan potential candidates’ resumes or LinkedIn profiles for relevant experience or interest, matching them with appropriate open roles. Within your business, AI could analyze the results of engagement surveys to highlight common themes among employee feedback, freeing you to quickly work on solutions that improve morale and promote retention.
One of AI’s simplest and most effective uses is automating tedious activities, especially ones that are prone to human error. Data entry, verification, categorization, and reconciliation can be automated, as seen with some of the top bill pay platforms. Complicated procedures like payroll can be automated to process logged hours and detect anomalies.
Using AI to scale your business
Time to scale up? Here’s how AI can help get you there:
- Invest in education, then technology. Educate yourself and your employees on AI with free online courses or paid consultants. Collaborate with experts to see where AI integration is possible, and where it’ll be most effective.
- Identify which problems need AI solutions. Where in your operations would AI increase productivity and promote growth? Are your goals achievable with your current systems?
- Start small. Begin with a small team and an 8-to-12-week pilot with clear goals. Test, analyze, and test again.
Use AI to empower—not replace—employees. AI can improve employee productivity by freeing up their mental energy and time. For a successful scale-up, you’ll likely need the increased human productivity to meet demand from new customers.