Being a small business owner means wearing many hats: chief executive, visionary, team morale-booster, accountant, customer service rep, marketing expert, and quality control inspector, to name just a few. This constant juggling act can be a time suck—but hiring dedicated staff for all of these tasks can be cost-prohibitive. Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) technology has come leaps and bounds in recent years, enabling small business owners to delegate once-tedious tasks to helpful AI assistants. These days, many of these platforms are surprisingly affordable, meaning that the dream of automation that makes your life easier—and your business more efficient—may not be as far-fetched as you think. Here's a bit about how AI can help streamline small business operations and even attract new customers.
What is AI?
In a nutshell, AI is machine-based intelligence—which differs from "natural intelligence," i.e. the type of intellect inherent in humans and other animals, because it's rooted in algorithms versus biology. AI can be programmed to answer questions or solve problems in a way that mimics human perception and reasoning. Today's AIs are typically considered "narrow," in that they're very good—often, better than people—at performing specific tasks, but not "generally" intelligent in the same way as human beings. Though it might sound like something out of a science fiction film, most of us already use AI in some capacity daily. You're probably talking to an AI, for instance, when you ask your phone's voice-activated assistant for an update on the forecast. AI also underpins recommendation engines on popular audio or video sites, as well as for major e-retailers (those "since you watched/bought T, you might also like K" features on a website). Most wayfinding and navigation apps use AI to provide route optimization and traffic updates. When it comes to business operations, AI plays many different roles, primarily in the arena of process automation. AI in business examples include optimizing employee or staff schedules, tracking inventory, streamlining customer relationship management (CRM), improving security, deploying adaptive WiFi, and even bolstering your marketing efforts. What's more, this type of technology is increasingly becoming accessible to businesses of all sizes—not just huge corporations with big budgets and bottom lines.
Why is AI important for small businesses?
AI provides a useful compromise for small business owners who know they need to take something off their plate but don't know who or what to turn to. It provides the ability to automate time-consuming processes at a fraction of the cost of hiring dozens of full-time employees. Today, there are hundreds of dedicated AI-based services you can deploy to help manage your business operations, from chatbot services to CRM software to order fulfillment platforms. You can use AI to train your sales reps, handle basic human resources tasks, automatically adjust your office WiFi based on usage patterns, or glean valuable insights about buyer behavior. Many of these services are offered on a monthly or annual subscription basis, making them a relatively affordable, turnkey option. One important thing to note about AI is that it's dependent upon data—and you need a lot of it for machine learning (ML), the technology that underpins how most AIs learn and adapt, to make the best possible decisions for the task at hand. In some cases, this means the more you use an AI platform, the better it serves you. For instance, if you're seeking to optimize an email newsletter, the more data points (opens, clickthrough rates, etc.) you collect—and the more emails you send—the better an AI can offer suggestions about how to improve your campaigns.
Common uses of AI for small business operations
We already covered a few of the big buckets that AI is used for when it comes to small business optimization—marketing is a major one. You can choose from hundreds of services that help you create and automate marketing campaigns, from industry leaders like Mailchimp, which uses AI for email marketing, to Salesforce, which employs AI to help predict customer behavior. You can use AI to transcribe important client meetings or distill team meeting notes. You can even find AI copywriters these days. Chatbots are another common AI use case for streamlining business operations. Companies like ChatPath and Zendesk provide platforms that simplify integrating chatbot services on your own website or social media accounts. If you run a corporate Facebook page, you can take advantage of Messenger's built-in chatbot for handling customer inquiries—particularly for simple questions like the features included in a specific product offering or details on your return policy. For restaurants offering delivery or pick-up services, AI chatbots can even perform tasks like taking online orders. Cyber-security and fraud prevention is another major area where AI can come in handy. Most major security software systems these days employ AI in some way—for example, to scan for security flaws, reduce response time when a threat is detected, and take the pulse of the larger threat ecosystem. Services like Plume WorkPass, too, use AI to ensure that only legitimate users can access your office WiFi networks. One of the major problems with using AI for small business is that managing so many concurrent apps or services can be overwhelming. Here, too, AI can provide a solution—Zapier, for instance, is a popular platform that allows you to integrate and merge many AI-based apps so they "talk" to one another more effectively. It's important to note that many of these narrow use cases still require some degree of human oversight or maintenance. For instance, a chatbot can be a great first line of defense for handing customer FAQs, but you may need a human representative to step in for more involved or complex queries. AI marketing software needs some manual campaign management to run effectively. And a security system that flags a potential threat may be useless if you fail to take recommended actions to eliminate or reduce its impact.
Benefits of AI for small business success
On top of the obvious cost savings, AI provides many tangential benefits to small businesses—not the least of which includes incalculable advantages of a lower stress load. When AI takes on the heavy lifting of some of your most time-consuming tasks, it allows you to dedicate more time and effort to elevating other parts of your business operations. Good AI is a little like good design—when done well, you hardly notice it at all. Take Plume WorkPass, for instance, which helps turn your work WiFi network into a fully connected business intelligence platform. This membership-based service provides adaptive WiFi, which ensures that whatever systems, software, or Internet-of-Things based integrations you use to streamline your business will run smoothly—no need to constantly reset your router or spend hours on the phone with customer support. While AI won't make running your small business less of a juggling act, it can take a few of the most cumbersome balls out of the air—creating more time and space for you to focus on the things that matter most, from ensuring employees are happy and healthy, to providing the best possible experience for your customers. Learn more about WorkPass and create a customized membership that meets your small business needs.