Technology is racing ahead faster than ever before, and new advances are changing the way we think about how it can help us in our day-to-day lives. As more and more data goes digital, it increases the possibilities for what we can accomplish without human intervention. Artificial intelligence has seen rapid advances in the past few years, to the point that news stories are no longer about if AI is possible, but rather how much it will change our lives.
If you’re a small business owner, you might think that these kinds of tools are outside your reach and probably wouldn’t have much of an impact on your business anyway. The truth is that there are already affordable tools available that can make a big impact on what you’re doing right now and other areas where AI will soon become a revolutionary force. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the many ways that artificial intelligence can help your small business, now and in the future.
1. Chatbots for Customer Service and Sales
There are a lot of options for creating your own Facebook Messenger or What’s App-based chatbot that don’t require any programming skills. Instead, you need to be able to predict what kinds of things a user is going to ask about and then develop scripts for the bot to assist them. AI is helping chatbots get better at recognizing what it is a customer wants, but it’s still best to think of it as a user interface for interacting with your company.
Where chatbots really shine is in being able to get customers’ information without making them dig around for it. If you think about common customer service calls, the majority are going to be for commonly-asked, routine questions: “How late are you open?” “Do you deliver to my house?” “Do you have this item in stock?” These kinds of calls eat up a good portion of your bandwidth throughout the day, even though they’re easy to field.
If your chatbot has the info it needs to answer your five most commonly-asked questions, you can save yourself a lot of time. It also reduces the friction for customers, allowing them to quickly find what they want and making that decision to buy easier. Because a chatbot works just as well when ten people try to contact you as it does with 1,000, it can grow with your business while not costing you anything extra.
2. AI for Accounting
“Automation, minibots, machine learning and adaptive intelligence are becoming part of the finance team at lightning speed,” notes a report from Accenture, which predicts that “30 to 50 percent of traditional shared services roles, including those in finance, will disappear over the next five years thanks to them.” They go on to forecast that by 2020 over 80 percent of traditional financial services will be performed by cross-functional teams that incorporate AI.
By automating things that are tedious and repetitive, finance teams are freed up to focus much more of their energy on strategic thinking. Writing for Forbes, Levi Morehouse advises financial services professionals to embrace becoming a robo-accountant, which he describes as, “accounting or finance professionals who have adopted automation to perform time-consuming, redundant and repeatable data-entry tasks. They aptly interface with these automation bots and use their personal experience, education and instincts to bring value to business decision makers.”
As more and more tools become available to small businesses, the focus will shift from simply keeping track of the books to generating insights that can help you make longer-term decisions.
3. Automated Virtual Assistants for Scheduling and More
There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re running a small business: scheduling, bills, invoicing, travel, and more all have to factor into your day-to-day planning. When you have to wear so many hats, it makes sense to get some help to stay organized and make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
While many small business owners are turning to remote assistants to provide them with affordable administrative support, AI is evolving to the point where it’s beginning to offer alternative solutions. These assistants need more specific instructions, but they can easily be used to help chase down people for a meeting, follow up on emails, and help you stay on track.
Bots for Slack and other team collaboration software can make these resources available to your entire team, making it easier than ever to get everyone’s mind off of logistics and instead focused on innovation.
What You Can Do Right Now
Staying on top of the day-to-day needs of your small business can be a tough job. There are meetings to schedule, expenses to track, and customers with questions that need answers. Luckily, artificial intelligence is quickly emerging as a tool to help you do more than ever before. The technology is still growing, but it’s never been easier to access AI-powered bots and services that give you a lot of bang for your buck, with very little coding or technical know-how needed. Here are some things you can get started on right now:
Create a messenger chatbot that can answer your five most commonly-asked questions.
Look for ways to give your customers access to your inventory via chatbot.
Consider AI solutions for accounting, bookkeeping, and invoicing that take care of repetitive tasks.
Take advantage of automated virtual assistants to help with scheduling, travel, and follow up.
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