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How can small businesses make AI work for them?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is by no means new – businesses have been experimenting with AI for years now – but now thanks to ChatGPT the technology has been thrust firmly into the limelight.

Today, the rate at which AI is advancing is making it easier than ever before for small businesses to experiment, and benefit, in ways that previously big businesses only could. 

While the conversation often centres on how the technology can help draft up a website or marketing copy, or answer simple questions, this fundamentally overshadows its true potential to deliver big outcomes for small businesses. But what is AI? What do SMBs think of the technology? And how can it be used to drive better outcomes?

What is AI?

AI is the process through which technology carries out tasks that are typically done by humans. AI analyses a huge amount of data, adapts to different consumers or users individually, and learns from experience to perform tasks. For example, AI is capable of writing an essay, assisting in brainstorming activities, or even engaging with customers through chatbots in realistic and human ways. You’ve probably heard of ChatGPT, but this is only one example of how we can use AI. In truth, the technology is capable of doing so much more, even for small businesses – who are often overlooked.

How are SMBs using it?

You don’t need to be a global technology giant with deep pockets to use AI in your business. In fact, over the last few years SMBs have been increasingly integrating AI into their operations, with the most recent being generative AI. AI isn’t purely hype or a buzzword; for small businesses, these tools are genuinely helping them save time, reduce costs and provide enhanced customer and employee experiences. What was merely a nice-to-have just a short time ago, is now a necessity for SMBs to stay competitive and agile in today’s evolving and challenging market.

However, many are still concerned about the negative impact the technology may have. Research from Zoho found that 46% of Australian workers believe AI will begin performing part of their roles within the next five years, and 72% believe this will happen in the next decade. Workers in customer service, IT services, and tourism services are particularly concerned. However, as the technological landscape continues to evolve, AI will create new opportunities and drive new efficiencies. For instance, according to our research 43% are using AI for tasks such as brainstorming ideas, language translation, summarising documents, research, and creating personalised communications. 

SMBs must be willing to understand and adopt AI to stay competitive in the market. For this to happen, small businesses must be ready to equip their employees with the right tools and the right training today to reap the positive benefits tomorrow. Here are some of the ways small businesses are using AI to drive success:

Simplified customer service

Small businesses aren’t blessed with huge workforces, so they might not have masses of time to answer customer queries and provide efficient, high-quality services and solutions. In these instances, incorporating AI, specifically chat bots, into customer service solutions can help manage simple, easy-to-resolve questions around the clock, without major time commitments. Chat bots can respond to queries conversationally, giving customers a personalised experience. This means human interactions can be dedicated to specific or complex situations that require a customer service agent.  

Faster, smarter resolutions

The quicker customers receive a solution, the more likely they will continue their service. AI can assist in two ways. First, it can convert lengthy customer queries into streamlined summaries, so customer service agents won’t have to spend too much time understanding the issue and can instead focus quickly on resolutions. Secondly, if the business already has FAQs or resources for specific problems, AI can compile the text into a suitable response to answer a relevant query. Employees can then focus on other tasks that might be more meaningful or revenue generating.

Personalised responses

Human emotions and connection play a significant role in establishing and enhancing customer relationships. Sometimes an empathetic tone is all that is required to retain an unhappy customer. Or letting a loyal customer know you remember them and value their support could drive their loyalty to new levels. This human factor has likely contributed to business scepticism of AI. However, AI is evolving and can now detect a customer’s tone and help agents respond with appropriate emotions. AI can also access existing information and previous conversations with customers, to create personalised responses, in context, that strengthen relationships.

Running a small business is challenging at the best of times, but particularly today. However, help is at hand. As technology continues to evolve and become more accessible and affordable, SMBs should consider the potential of AI. Small businesses thrive on human connections and AI will never – and should never – replace that. However, adopting modern AI can be a game changer, helping enhance those human connections and contribute to success across all areas of the business. 

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Vijay Sundaram

Vijay Sundaram

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