For centuries artificial intelligence has captivated our attention. Like the industrial revolution, AI is a central tenant for disruptive change, and has challenged our perception of what it means to be human in the modern age. The idea of devising machines capable of thinking and acting like humans, might have seemed like a modern idea, but in fact had appeared in Greek mythology. Greek myths of Hephaestus and Pygmalion incorporated the idea of intelligent robots and artificial beings, long before we learnt how to grow our small business with AI.
Sacred mechanical statues built in Egypt and Greece were believed to be capable of wisdom and emotion, but it wasn’t until the 1955 that AI as we know it was invented.Herbert Simon and Allen Newell developed the Logic Theorist, the first artificial intelligence program, deliberately engineered to perform automated reasoning. While modern machine learning was pioneered by the likes of Alan Turing, Marvin Minksy and Dean Edmonds, modern AI believed that the process of human thought could be mechanized.
Although literature, philosophy and science has pre-mediated the rise of AI, robots and machine learning systems, noone could have predicted just how prolific artificial intelligence would have become today. For those of us who run small businesses, artificial intelligence helps automate time consuming procedures, and enables savvy decision making grounded in accirate real time data. AI tools not only grow small businesses, but it also has been put to use in areas of speech recognition, visual perception, language translation and content writing.
If you look at Siri as an example, this voice activated personal assistant helps us find information, gives us directions, add events to our calendars, helps us send messages and so on. She uses machine learning technology to get smarter and help predict and understand our natural language questions and requests. For example let’s say you have a small business and are looking to increase your web presence. You run your own marketing agency in the food and drink sector, but need help priortizing your time to work smarter, not harder.
You can use Siri to schedule meetings with potential food and drink clients, without needing to spend hours creating a meeting calendar schedule. You can simply tell Siri that you have a meeting with Mildred at 12PM on Thursday 10th May, and even include notes on the meeting i.e. she manages Aperol Spritz, and we can help them with event management, copywriting, social media and content marketing. You can then go to the content calendar app to view all your meetings, and reschedule any meetings that are overlapping.
When you identify the problems that you want AI to solve, you can integrate machine learning to help you grow your small business, and stand out from leading competitors in your field. If you are a small fashion brand, whose competitors are Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo, you are competing against multi-millon pound franchises that have a loyal following, customer base and expotential brand awareness. It can be quite difficult to build revenue when these are the big players that you are battling against but it’s not impossible.
AI can help you monitor customer trends, build up customer shopping habits and streamline customer services to deliver an excellent shopping experience. Let’s say that your small fashion brand features your own personal designs, in an aggregated fashion marketplace, defined by seasonal trends, price point, material, clothing type and sizes available. When you use AI to create predictive analytics it can help you to analyze and categorize customers to improve sales incentivization, which increases revenue for your small business.
So how can you grow your small business with artificial intelligence, and make a name for yourself? From using AI-based analytics to make better business decisions, to activating customer communications with a chatbot, here are five ways to grow your small business using AI.
Improve Sales And Marketing With An AI-Infused CRM
It’s clear that AI and machine learning are changing the way that small businesses operate, leading with a digital first approach. As we are always online, we need to change the way we as small business owners attract and retain customers, and ensure that we prioritize digital touchpoints during brand development. One of the biggest digital touchpoints is streamlining the customer experience, and increasing their satisfaction through the use of technology. After all, our customers are the ones who are keeping our businesses afloat.
This is why you need to create a solid content marketing strategy plan, to ensure that you as a small business have the personal touch, that bigger businesses are not focusing on right now. After all, your aim is to make the customer feel like they are part of your brand family. Customer-relationship management (CRM) systems can help improve the customer experience, by gathering customer data across omni-channels such as e-marketing (e-mails) and social media platforms like Instagram, to automate the sales process.
From HubSpot CRM, to Salesforce, these AI-infused CRMs can help small business owners analyze customer feedback, before adjusting marketing and lead generation activities, based on that information. If you are a small business owner, who runs their own online coaching services, you might be looking for ways to not only improve how customers use your website, but also to maximise lead generation results. Let’s say that a customer left feedback saying that your website was difficult to navigate, and they found it hard to understand what you were offering.
You can take this feedback on board and come up with ways to simplify and amplify customer’s navigation. You might change your unique selling point, and focus on what makes your online coaching business stand out from the crowd. You can hire a copywriter to clean up your website, and create shorter, snappier copy, and even install a chat bot, to chat with the customer who might have questions about your online coaching services. Make sure that prices, what your package offers and who your services are for are visible for transparancey.
CRM systems are fuelled by AI, meaning that over time they will replicate the ‘natural language’ you use and study your customers purchasing behaviour to create a unique user experience that is optimized for the customer. When you use technology to grow your small business with AI, it allows you to generate more leads, which sees a 59% better close rates for sales, 58% increased revenue, 54% more traffic and engagement, and 52% higher conversion, according to Neil Patel. In other words, it’s a lot more effective than traditional marketing efforts.
Use Machine Learning Systems To Personalize The Customer’s Experience
Machine learning allows us to navigate a data-centric world as small business owners. Whether you use machine vision systems to ensure that defective products are being recalled before being sent out to customers, need ready access to cloud computing, or to automate repetitive tasks such as natural language processing, you can invest time into other, more exciting areas of your business that you need to work on.
Let’s say that you are a music producer, who wants to use Spotify to create a personalized playlist in your work office, to motivate the team. The largest, on-demand music streaming service, Spotify utilizes AI through their predictive recommendation engine, which allows them to put together personalized playlists, based on what it thinks you will like. It filters based on audio models, natural language processing and collaborative filtering to build you the playlist of your dreams. The more you use Spotify, the more accurate its reccomendations will be.
If you, as a small business owner want to move beyond using AI for commercial, personal use, personalizing your marketing can increase your revenue by 38%. We all know that customers love an experience that feels like it was made for them, whether it’s being able to track their package via Hermes delivery, or a live chat customer service box that helps solve their problems. This is why machine learning can help you personalize your marketing strategy, especially if you have a small budget. It’s cost effective and gives you ready to use solutions.
But how does machine learning personalize the customer experience?Machine learning enables personalization by processing customer data and generating predictions on what products to recommend to each of your clients without human input. If you take Amazon for example, it uses AI to predict the number of customers willing to buy a new product, to understand their customers search queries and why the customer is searching for that product. For example, I might search for anniversary gifts for my partner, and Amazon will aggregate the most relevant search results.
Based on the keywords I would have used, such as ‘anniversary gift ideas’ ‘gift ideas for him’ and ‘romantic gift ideas’, Amazon can then analyse the language that I have used and create product listings that match what I am after. Because Amazon predicts the intent of my enquiry i.e. celebrating my anniversary, it is able to improve the relevance of the results, through an understanding of latent user itents, in addition to explicit query keywords. This helps them improve the shopping experience by matching products they think you would like.
Small businesses can do the same. Machine learning can help your small business grow with AI, by leveraging consumer data to build customer profiles, increase sales, and improve brand loyalty. AI can help you understand who your customer is, and remove ‘human bias’, by understanding who your customers are by age, gender, location, hobbies and past buying behaviour. As a small business this is fantastic as it can tailor your communications based on the customers interests which will increase revenue, engagement and enhance their experience.
Automate Customer Communications (With A Chatbot)
One of the best ways to grow your small business with AI is by using chatbots to find quality sales leads, improve customer service and engage customers at different points in the sales journey. When you automate customer communications, you can reduce the burden that you or your technical team take on to improve your customer’s experience, just by using artificial intelligence.
Because they use natural language processing algorithims, it helps them understand what your customers issue is. Let’s take HERMES as an example. They have a Chatbot called Holly, who sorts out order enquiries by asking for your tracking number and a matching postcode to check where your parcel is. While talking to a real person can help you if you have a more niche problem, these self-help AI tools are grat for improving communications. As a small business you can use chatbots to build a deeper rapport with your customers, through stimulated conversations.
WP Engine is another great example of a website who uses a virtual assistant to help you with basic queries, such as how you can copy an environment, how to purge server caches, and how long is the customer service chat wait right now. If you want to purge the server cache, the bot will walk you through how to clear your cache with a step by step process, as well as screenshots, GIFS or images that can help you.
Although small businesses still need customer services, when there are complex cases that needs more detailed help, machine learning can help you work smarter as opposed to harder. Whether you offer products such as handmade vegan handbags, your own fashion line, a personalized novelty store, or offer your services as an entrepreneur, chatbots can initiate customer communication and help answer questions. Even when you are sleeping or are having a day off, the chat bot is a customer services representative that will work for you 24/7.
You can either set a live chat, when a customer enters your website, set it as a ‘contact’ feature, or have it as a pop up after you’ve spent a few minutes browsing on the website. While you might find that chatbots might be expensive, they are actually cost affective, and can help you alleviate the pressure and allow you to focus your time on the tasks that matter the most. If you own a wine brand, that could be more time on branding, marketing, building up brand partnerships and curating content for e-marketing campaigns, social media and adverts.
Use AI-Based Analytics To Make Better Business Decisions
Tapping into the power of machine learning tools to grow your small business with AI can enlighten you as an entrepreneur. It encourages you to make better decisions as a small business owner, removes cognitive bias and helps you focus on your business needs instead of having to deal with algorithms and numbers. While AI dosen’t make decision making automatic, it does give you analytics to make the right decision faster. You will still have an equal say in running your business, but AI is able to work alongside you and generate useful business insights.
So how can you use AI-based analytics to take your small business to the next level? For starters, we as humans, business owners and bosses have ‘human bias’, which can cloud our thinking, and make us make decisions that don’t benefit our company. If you own an influencer marketing agency, you might choose content creators based on how many followers they have, as opposed to taking other factors into account. For example, what is their engagement rate, location, age, where is their audience, what type of content do they create?
AI eliminates cognitive bias, by showing you these external metrics that can help you choose the right influencer for your brand. I always say that engagement is far more important than following, and AI analytics can show you what an influencers engagement rate is. AI, unlike humans does not have a problem with bias. Its algorithims search for all connections and relationships in data, which if you are working with content creators, is useful as it gives them an insight into customer behaviour. Using AI, you can identify their target audience quickly.
An algorithm can also help you personalize your brand’s content. If you own a novelty gifts brand like Prezzybox, you can create content that is personalized to the user, based on their browsing history, purchases or other characteristics. They might have searched for ‘novelty gifts for him’, and in turn you as the website owner, should accomodate their browsing needs. When you have personalized content, you can encourage the user to purchase your novelty gifts, while getting more sales, traffic and new potential customers who love novelty gifts.
The key is to use a customer first approach, because many online shoppers will switch to a different brand if they have had an impersonal experience with a brand. For example, adverts that are spammy, are annoying pop ups or are not relevant will make me exit the website, just as I find it frustrating when I am shown product reccomendations that don’t match my needs. As customers, we are time sensitive, so you need to create more relevant brand experiences for customers, by managing content in real time (content sequencing).
For example, I mentioned earlier that chatbots automate lead generation and improve customer service, by making your business available 24/7, but what about online payment proccesses? If you take Paypal as an example, this leading digital payment leader helps customers have smoother payment transactions, without the hassle of putting in our payment details manually. As a blogger Paypal is handy because I use it to create simple and easy to follow invoices, get payments from brands, set up subscriptions and send money, flawlessly.
You get a seamless speedy experience that is also secure, because Paypal uses ‘One Touch’, which means you stay signed in, as long as you are authenticated on Paypal. Like Google Chrome will store and remember your passwords, your Paypal will do the same. When you want to balance the competing demands for secure transactions and a frictionless customer experience as a small business, it does not get any better than Paypal. Paypal’s AI also helps identify and prevent eCommerce fraud by identifying subtle behavioral patterns in transactions.
Use Cybersecurity To Protect Your Customers
We spend the majority of our working, and professional lives online. Whether you are shopping for new clothes on I Saw It First, are using Netflix to watch your favourite shows, or are on a Zoom call, your sensitive data is being used constantly. Think about the passwords that you have saved in Google Chrome, all your addresses, bank card and phone details that you have stored, which can be leaked to hackers. Cybersecurity is important to consider as a small business owner, because it encompasses everything that involves protecting our data.
It helps protect our personally identifiable information, protected health information, personal information and intellectual property from theft and damage being attempted. When you use Cybersecurity, AI flags abnormal behaviour based on fixed parameters, and learns your normal business operations. It can stop advanced email attacks and provide security reports within seconds, if you are using a tool like Darktrace. As a small business it is unlikely that you will have a dedicated security team, so AI tools will respond to security threats on its own.
Cybersecurity is able to deal with security threats a lot quicker than a person would, keeping your company and its customers safe. Cyber security solutions gives your business digital protection to ensure your employees and customers aren’t at risk from potential threats such as Adware and Ransomware. So how can cybersecurity help your small business grow with AI? Put simply, when customers know that their safety is being looked after, their confidence in your brand increases. The customers will feel relieved knowing their data is in safe hands.
If you can prove that your business is protected against all kinds of cyber breaches, especially customers who could be susceptible to a cyber breach by proxy, trust will increase. They know their personal data will not be compromised, so they might become repeat customers, spread the word about your brand to their loved ones, and make larger purchases knowing you are who you say you are. Effective cybersecurity also prevents against viruses which slow your computer down. Instead you will have increased productivity and maximise your business’s output.
How Do You Grow Your Small Business With AI?
Please note this is a collaborative post but all thoughts are my own and are not affected by monetary compensation.