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Why Should A Small Business Care About AI?

Why Should A Small Business Care About AI?

When most small business owners drew up their original business plan, they probably didn’t include “artificial intelligence” under the list of resources they would need. After all, a few years ago the notion of a small business using such technology — which was arguably even less well-understood

When most small business owners drew up their original business plan, they probably didn’t include “artificial intelligence” under the list of resources they would need.

After all, a few years ago the notion of a small business using such technology — which was arguably even less well-understood than it is now — would have seemed unusual. Possibly even unrealistic for a small business to use.

AI is often depicted as extremely complex, sometimes powering the kind of robotic creations that are staples of science fiction movies. From a business standpoint, it also looks expensive and custom-made, which would likely make it out of reach for small or medium-sized companies.

While some of the early adoption of AI certainly occurred within large enterprises, the maturation of the technology has reached a point where it is not only accessible to small businesses, but increasingly becoming integral to long-term growth.

AI defined

It’s important to recognize that “AI” can be a broad term, and often encompasses a number of different technologies. A good example is natural language processing — the kind of AI that allows voice recognition software to understand what you say when you ask something of your smartphone’s virtual assistant.

Machine learning, on the other hand, involves the use of algorithms to analyze data within business applications to detect patterns or trends that indicate what might happen in the future. It’s this predictive capability that tends to be game-changing for businesses of all sizes.

The longer you run a business, for instance, the more likely you’ll want to get ahead of the unexpected. This could include surges in customer demand that seem to come out of nowhere, or a spike in customer service calls based on an issue with one of your key products. Small businesses in particular are often crunched for time and resources, so having some advance warning can help ensure you respond to whatever comes their way with agility and effectiveness.

Still . . . it also takes time to learn about AI, you might argue. You may worry your business is somehow not ready yet. You might have budgetary concerns.

Those are all valid points, but they’re not enough to just ignore how these technologies are changing the way companies run. Here are more reasons you should care about AI:

1. You might already have AI

Unlike other waves of technology, AI doesn’t necessarily represent some new shiny product you have to go out and purchase.

Many vendors have either already woven AI technologies into their existing business applications, or are in the process of doing so.

Rather than some kind of robot that works at a desk, AI often augments or adds features to other products and services. This includes Salesforce, where we’ve used Einstein to bring value across our entire line of CRM, marketing automation and customer service tools.

Make sure you’re aware of any AI capabilities your existing applications might have introduced, or that may be on the product roadmap for later on. There’s no point in failing to take advantage of AI if you can do so right away.

2. Your customers may start to expect you to use AI

AI is quickly becoming pervasive in a range of applications, from those used by major banks to retailers and other industries.

Machine learning is often what powers the product recommendations a customer sees when they’re browsing an e-commerce site, for instance. In other cases, AI is helping companies personalize the way they market products and services down to an individual customer level.

Imagine the disconnect, then, if your business not only can’t demonstrate that kind of knowledge about your customer, but instead forces them to answer questions you might already have asked before? It’s far from an ideal customer experience.

Customers might not fully recognize or understand that AI is the force behind a company’s personalization efforts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t coming to expect it from their favourite brands.

There’s also the expectation of being there when customers need you. Just look at chatbots, which are becoming commonplace on websites as a way to get information and questions answered. AI not only allows chatbots to resolve the most common customer inquiries, but to do so on a 24/7 basis. If one vendor offered that kind of support and another didn’t, which one would you give your business to?

3. You can’t afford not to try AI

Chances are at least one of your competitors is already using AI, which means customers might compare the experience they have between your firm and theirs.

Even if that’s not the case right now, AI can be an incredible time-saver by bringing together massive amounts of data and making sense of it faster and better than any human will be able to do.

More importantly, AI tends to be less prone to error than human beings who get tired, distracted or both. No one can afford mistakes, particularly if it costs them a customer or lands them into legal hot water. In that sense, the business case for AI becomes hard to ignore when it means you can boost productivity while also reducing risk.

The usefulness of AI doesn’t end there, however. AI is, in many ways, the next step in the move the most successful business owners have already made towards data-driven decision-making.

While you might still trust your gut instinct on some issues, early analytics software allowed many entrepreneurs to better understand what was really going on in their company before they made a particular move.

AI does something similar, but isn’t restricted to looking only at what happened in the past. That means you can use the technology for a higher order of decision-making. This isn’t limited to the overall direction for your business, either, but the way you coach, manage and lead your entire team.

Next steps

Instead of just thinking, “I need to learn about AI,” reframe your intention. Think of your biggest business goals or priorities. Ask yourself, “How could AI help with something like that?”

Talk to your vendor partners, members of your team or even your best customers about what they’ve seen or learned. You’ll likely find there’s an AI technology that could be applied.

From here on in, you won’t have to wonder why you should care about AI. You’ll only wonder why you didn’t care even earlier.

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