artificial intelligence small businessUnless you live off the grid, chances are some form of AI permeates your day-to-day, whether you realize it or not.

A recent global consumer survey revealed that only 33 percent of consumers think they use an AI-enabled device or service, while 77 percent actually use AI technology.

Do you ever wonder how your phone autocompletes words as you type a text message? Or how digital assistants on a website chat service respond to your message so quickly? The answer is artificial intelligence. AI is everywhere these days, and is rapidly gaining momentum.

As in our personal lives, artificial intelligence is also dramatically changing the way companies operate—and not just mega-retailers with deep pockets, but companies of all sizes in an array of industries.

What is artificial intelligence?

Although this may seem like new technology, artificial intelligence dates back to the 1950s. It has taken on different forms and uses—you might hear AI referred to as machine learning, deep learning, or cognitive computing depending on the frame of reference.

Now that you know a brief history and a few AI aliases, let’s take the next 15 seconds to define it.

We’re going to put aside the chatter about self-driving vehicles and robots replacing humans to focus on a simpler definition brought to us by Merriam-Webster, which defines AI as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”

It’s a way to program machines or computers to carry out tasks or respond to queries with human intelligence. By taking thousands of data points and setting rules (an algorithm) for the problem-solving process modeled on human neural networks, AI can provide human-like responses. 

How AI can help you run a smarter small business

Maybe it seems like artificial intelligence tools are only accessible to huge companies like Google or Apple. But as these mega-corporations continue to invest millions of dollars in developing AI and pushing it into mainstream society, it’s becoming more accessible and more affordable than ever for small businesses.  

Let’s take a look at how you can incorporate machine intelligence to make your company more efficient and improve your bottom line.

1. Smarter email marketing

AI has been a playing a significant role in marketing for years. The good news is that it’s a reasonably mature concept and a great area to get your feet wet in.

Have you ever received an email from a business with a subject line that reads something to the effect of  “Come back, we miss you,” implying that you haven’t visited their store in a while? If so, this is artificial intelligence, and it’s actively working in the background.

Email marketing has one of the highest return-on-investment (ROI) at $38 for every $1 spent.

This brings up two points:

  1. If you’re not using email as a marketing strategy for your business, now is the time to start, and
  2. If you’re already using an email tactic, it’s time to fine-tune it with artificial intelligence.

If you have a brick-and-mortar store, the best way to collect customer email addresses is at the point of purchase using a POS system. If you’re exclusively an online retailer, you’ll capture their email address when they land on your site or when they check out.

Modern POS systems and ecommerce platforms will have integration with an email marketing platform like MailChimp. You can sync your physical and online customer list with MailChimp to create segmented email lists by dividing it up into smaller groups, for instance by location or purchase frequency.

Segmenting email lists will help you create customized email campaigns that better serve your customers. For example, if you’re hosting a special event at your store, it doesn’t make sense to send an email to customers out of state.

You can (and should) also take it a step further with automation. Email automation allows you to create emails that automatically send when triggered by a subscriber’s activity, inactivity, or a specific date like an anniversary. The triggers are essentially AI at work in the background. If a subscriber takes a certain action, a programmed (or machine-learned) response is triggered, and so on down the line until the customer (hopefully) converts to a sale.

2. Stronger sales

You can’t talk about marketing without talking about its fraternal twin, sales. Like two peas in a pod, it’s hard to separate these areas of business because there is so much overlap between them.

Using artificial intelligence as a way to increase sales is also a mature concept that goes hand in hand with AI for marketing. Therefore, it’s another excellent way to ease yourself into the world of AI without feeling overwhelmed.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may or may not have a dedicated sales team, so we’re going to cover both scenarios in the next two points.

3. Reduce repetitive, mundane tasks

For those with a dedicated sales team, there are dozens of tools out there that use machine learning to assist with the sales process; it’s just a question of where precisely you need the assistance.

For example, are you looking for a way to eliminate the back and forth of trying to schedule meetings at a time that works for everyone? If so, an AI personal assistant like that can schedule meetings can help your team spend their time on more important things.

4. Do a deep dive into what works (or doesn’t work)

Or maybe your phone sales have taken a nosedive, and you’re not sure why.

Leveraging a solution like Talk IQ that integrates with your phone system to analyze conversations between the sales team and customers. It can help identify critical differences in approach by salespeople and assesses the effectiveness of sales tactics on KPIs to help you hone your strategy.

5. Expand your team with a chatbot

For those that don’t have a dedicated sales team, don’t worry, there are still plenty of tools for you too. For instance, a popular sales tool is something you’re probably already familiar with: chatbots, those pop-up windows that appear when you first land on a webpage.

If you have a website, it’s a great idea to incorporate a chatbot. Think about it—it’s like having an employee working 24/7. It’s also a communication platform many customers prefer: 53 percent of customers prefer to use online chat before calling a company. With software like WhosOn, your customers get immediate responses.

6. Understand your customer’s journey on your site

You can also track your user’s journey as they navigate through your website and analyze their behavior using AI tools.

These valuable insights can help you create a more personalized experience for the customer. And since 80 percent of marketers say customized content is more effective than content that isn’t personalized, using this type of data and business intelligence can help boost your bottom line.

7. Revolutionize human resources

Lastly, we’ll leave you with one less obvious area of business where AI is slowly creeping in, and that’s human resources (HR). Activities like candidate screening or employee communication aren’t typically thought of has having a direct effect on a company’s bottom line in the way sales and marketing do. But hiring is a huge investment, and turnover can have a real effect on your bottom line.

Tools that use AI can help you wade through hundreds of applications quickly, so you can spend your time with the most promising candidates.

For example, a chatbot like Talla can streamline the interview process by providing a set of questions based on the criteria of the role; saving you time during the screening process. You can also use it as an FAQ knowledge base about benefits, policies, or any other relevant company information after you bring a your new team member on board.

To sum up

While some small businesses have been quick to embrace the influence and changes brought by artificial intelligence, others are a little more cautious. Whichever way you lean, the reality is AI is here to stay. It might already be helping you save time and resources. It has the potential to make our lives simpler and our businesses more efficient and profitable.

As the saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” and embrace the benefits of artificial intelligence.

AvatarNicole Walters

Nicole Walters leverages her background working with small business owners and her extensive experience in the payments industry to create valuable content. Most recently, her work was featured on ShopKeep, the #1-rated POS system for small business owners.