Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be a media sensation, and now AI can even be the one to report the news. Between the show-stopping headlines, however, AI innovations are more quietly venturing forth from the research labs and tech companies and presenting opportunities for small businesses to work safer and smarter.
The idea of “adopting AI” might sound overwhelming if you immediately imagine your small business doing it alone. If you’re a veterinarian, you might be impressed to have an answering service that recognizes an owner’s phone number and knows what tests Lucky is due for. But will the development time and expense be worth it if clients bypass it and bark “It’s Something Else!” into the phone most of the time?
The good news is that you can still enjoy the efficiency benefits — and the bragging rights — of saying you’re adopting AI. It’s coming built-in to some of the applications you already use or might want to consider.
1. Get more out of meetings
As a small business, your front desk may be stretched in many directions, if you have administrative staff at all. Why not invite an affordable AI application to sit in on your meetings and take notes? Free up your assistant’s time, or free yourself to listen and respond with undivided attention. Because AI is all about pattern recognition, it gets more and more accurate the more you use it. As an added bonus, you can text-search your notes — not possible with handwritten notes. Maybe a future iteration will also doodle in the margins?
2. Optimize your sales efforts
AI is finding its way into some of the CRM tools and advertising services you may already be using, helping you plan your outreach and hone your efforts on the most promising leads. Tools like Salesforce have introduced AI to detect behavior patterns that help you predict which customers have the best chance of converting.
If you advertise on Facebook, you are already leveraging AI to get your business in front of the people likely to have the greatest affinity for what you’re selling. Facebook continues to pour staggering sums into R&D, not least among which is its ability to extract profitable insights from users’ demographics, location, and personal preferences.
3. Improve customer service
“Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.”
Today, that monitoring is more likely to be done because it’s becoming more routinely done by a machine.
Applications that use AI to scan phone call and email content to identify customer pain points are becoming ever more accessible to small businesses, nonprofits, and startups. You can even use autoresponders in chats or email that suggest help articles based on keywords. Done right, it doesn’t have to appear impersonal or creepy. Rather, it’s an effective way to reduce wait times and provide after-hours availability for your customers.
4. Detect fraud faster with fewer false alarms
Small businesses can be more vulnerable to hacking and fraud precisely because of their limited staff and resources. If your business handles credit card transactions, AI can detect unusual activities that can signal fraud or a data breach and reduce the frequency of unnecessary panics.
If you provide healthcare, AI can help fortify the cumbersome proprietary patient records systems you may be using. Machine learning is becoming a lifesaver in many ways: it’s simplifying the authentication and patient lookup process for doctors and nurses, reading and migrating patient data from other hospitals with previously incompatible systems, and of course, flagging anomalies that can signal security vulnerabilities.
5. Go green and lower workplace energy costs
Consider installing smart lighting and thermostats that learn your office or shop’s temperature and brightness preferences. Over time, smart thermostats can pick up on patterns of employee presence so they can be comfortable when they stay late or conserve heat and A/C on public holidays. You can even receive alerts that alert you if lights or devices are left on and ask if you want to shut them off remotely.
Your assistant (or assistant’s assistant) data scientist and security guard
It’s official. Artificial intelligence has left the movie theater and is already helping small businesses save time and money, leaving real human minds free to leverage their talents and understand their customers better than ever. AI is up for adoption: born in universities and high-tech corporations but finding a home in many a mom-and-pop.