How small businesses can tap into the power of AI

Artifical Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t just for big businesses with big budgets and a team of in-house data science experts on hand. With intuitive tools and low-code platforms in the market, tapping into AI is now achievable for businesses of all sizes and employees of all levels of expertise. 

The mass migration to digital services has triggered significant challenges and opportunities for small businesses, particularly around customer service and sales. According to Salesforce’s fifth annual Small and Medium Business Trends Report, SMEs in ANZ prioritised and amped up their investments in technologies across customer service, sales and marketing last year. 

Now, more and more Aussie SMEs are adopting AI-powered solutions to address problems that were, until recently, too time-consuming, too expensive or too complex to solve. 

For example, delivering intimate, personalised and authentic customer service – which SMEs pride themselves on – can become a challenge when growing. As a small business, you can’t always simply hire sales and customer service teams to manage relationships with prospects and customers. 

This is where AI-powered solutions can come in. Solutions such as integrating chatbots into your website or app to answer frequently asked questions can allow your skilled workers to focus on more dynamic customer queries. Another benefit is that bots automatically adapt based on the flow of a conversation and the customer data available – self-learning patterns to perform better in future interactions.

For Aussie startup me&u, a hospitality ordering and payment platform provider, adopting chatbots was vital to meeting customer demand during busy periods. With the company growing faster than ever, scaling customer support was becoming a significant challenge – compounded by customers being busiest when staff members are off the clock. By integrating bots, me&u can instantly and automatically provide customers with the answers they need.

There’s more to AI than meets the eye

Many more diverse use cases make AI worth exploring – no matter your business’s industry. For example, Bittn, an Aussie pest control service provider, has been exploring AI to diagnose problems remotely. With an API used to AI-enable apps with image recognition, the company can give technicians the ability to quickly classify the type of termites the customer has and identify the treatment needed by uploading photos or videos. 

AI’s capabilities are vast, varied and more accessible than ever, from automating repetitive manual tasks to gleaning valuable insights from your data. 

But where should SMEs that haven’t yet dabbled in AI start? It starts by having a solid strategy in place for data collection and enrichment. That could mean adopting a CRM that can pull data from all your systems and bring them into one place to provide a unified view of your business and customers. 

As a small-business owner, you need to ask yourself, “What data do we have?” and “What concrete challenges can I solve with it?”

Don’t rush the pilot – take the time to validate

To get your AI project from the pilot to the rollout stage, you need to have a solid understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve – then confirm that you have the right data for the project or that you can get it.

You also need to ensure you’re setting yourself a feasible goal. For example, if you’re seeking to automate 100 per cent of your customer service queries, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even with the power of AI, a more realistic goal is automating the 25 per cent of queries that are requests to reset a password.

There are two reasons why AI projects tend to (and should) have uncomfortably long pilot periods.

First, you need to determine whether it works the way it should. The context and importance of AI-powered recommendations will vary from healthcare diagnoses to movie recommendations, but you need to share the explanation so your users will trust it.

Second, you need to measure the value of the AI solution versus human interaction. Think about automating customer service queries. If your chatbot can’t answer your customers’ questions, you will end up with frustrated customers who hate your chatbot and end up talking to a human anyway.

Ultimately, SMEs need to stay grounded when considering what problems they should try to solve with AI and what they have on hand that can help them do it. It’s going back to the question, “Can a human do it?” If they can, AI may be a great way to take that task off a person’s plate and free them up for more strategic tasks.