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Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly a part of how businesses stay competitive – they’re using it to predict customer behaviour, automate tasks, personalise customer experiences, manage supply chains and more. And AI-powered technology isn’t just for large enterprises – many small businesses are also enjoying the benefits of AI.

It comes as no surprise that nearly three-quarters of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will invest in software and apps over the next year, according to a 2018 Vistage survey. But would you have guessed that – along with CRM – AI tops the list of technologies that SMBs are planning to invest in?
 

"AI will be part of what drives SMBs to the next level."

 

At Dreamforce 2018, Vistage’s Chief Research Officer, Joe Galvin, shared the whats, hows and whys of AI for small and medium-sized businesses in the session ‘Customer Insights: How AI Is Revolutionising SMBs Today’. Galvin was joined on stage by Admir Hadziabulic, Director of Support Services at HCSS, and Ali Moshfeghian, Chief Operating Officer of Xtreme Lashes – both of whom are using AI to power their businesses.

Galvin opened the session with a bold affirmation: “AI is in your future”. It may not be tomorrow or next week, but eventually, AI will be part of what drives SMBs to the next level.

Are you ready to embrace the future? Here are a few key learnings from the discussion to help your small business join the AI revolution.

Watch the full Dreamforce discussion between Joe Galvin, Ali Moshfeghian and Admir Hadziabulic.
 

Business intelligence and artificial intelligence aren’t the same

 

Let’s start with a working definition of what AI is – and isn’t. Vistage – a leading business performance and leadership advancement organisation for SMBs – describes AI as: “Computers that perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making.”

In a business context, AI can be used for anything from customising home automation systems based on real-time usage data to predicting customer behaviour using data gathered from past purchases, loyalty programs and other behavioural signals.
 

"Are you ready to embrace the future?"

 

If you think this sounds similar to business intelligence (BI), you’re not alone. Hadziabulic put his finger on one of the key differences between AI and BI.

“With BI, you have to depend on somebody to analyse the data, and then tell you what to do next. Whereas, AI is prescriptive. It tells you, ‘This is what you should do next’.”

At Vistage, they lay the difference out like this:
 

Business intelligence is:

  • Predictive analytics.

  • Answers the question: What will happen going forward?

  • Example: Based on past performance, your business is likely to lose these particular customers next quarter.
     

Artificial intelligence is:

  • Prescriptive analytics.

  • Answers the question: What would happen if I took a particular action?

  • Example: You’ve considered offering a new pricing model to certain at-risk customers. For this to work, AI could show you how many customers you might retain as well as what rules should govern who you offer the new pricing to.

Getting comfortable with human-led predictive analytics can be a great first step towards embracing AI’s prescriptive methodology. For example, HCSS successfully used BI to identify at-risk customers and also raise NPS scores, which paved the way for deeper dives into data.

“BI gave us the confidence to know that the data was correct,” said Hadziabulic. “AI now lets us expand on that knowledge to look at every single thing we do in a new way.”
 

SMBs shouldn’t be intimidated by AI

 

Getting started with AI in your SMB is a lot easier than it probably sounds. If your business runs on a platform like Salesforce, most of the heavy lifting is already being done for you. Your business data already lives on a platform that houses AI models ready for you to tap into. As Moshfeghian put it: “Get in there and experiment! Don’t be intimidated by AI.”

In fact, that’s exactly how Xtreme Lashes got going with AI. Their first attempt was foiled by improperly formatted data. But they didn’t give up, they kept going. It was a tip from the Trailblazer community that helped them clean up their records that made their second attempt a lot more successful.
 

“Get in there and experiment! Don’t be intimidated by AI.”

 

“Start with a small use case where you have decent data – it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Moshfeghian advised. “Use the resources on Trailhead to help you along the way, and just poke around and try it.”
 

What are you waiting for?

 

Xtreme Lashes regularly holds four-day training workshops to give stylists hands-on training in both technique and after-care for clients. Often, the trainers use before and after pictures to assess the stylists’ work.

“There's a lot of admin work by the trainer to upload and classify the images,” Moshfeghian said. “And they’re doing this after running a 12-hour class session.”

Fortunately, his team found an AppExchange solution that trains Salesforce’s AI-powered Einstein to classify images using AI.

“It does a pretty good job classifying someone with eyelash extensions versus someone without them,” Moshfeghian said. Not only is AI saving the trainers from some of the tedious work of image classification, but it’s also giving them time back to prepare for the next day’s class.

Both Hadziabulic and Moshfeghian emphasised the need for agility and experimentation in today’s fast-changing business landscape.

“If you’re not always pushing yourself to try new things, you’re going to become a dinosaur,” Moshfeghian said.

Hadziabulic reminded Dreamforce attendees that there’s no better time to get started with AI than today: “Start early. Start right now. The competition is already working on it.”

Learn more about how AI can help your SMB stay competitive register for Sydney World Tour on March 6.