Be it in the form of virtual personal assistants (VPAs), chatbots, or robotic automation, artificial intelligence (or AI) and machine learning (or ML) are building business advantage by improving productivity and efficiency, improves sales efforts, and even in HR-related functions. According to a Gartner prediction, 70% of global organizations will be integrating AI into their workplace by the year 2021 to boost employee productivity. This research firm also adds that the number of enterprises adopting AI has grown 270% in the past 4 years and has tripled in just the last year.

Among the common misconceptions, AI technologies are deemed to be only suited for large corporations and are not feasible for small businesses or start-ups. With the gradual advancement and cost-effectiveness of this technology, AI for small businesses is now becoming an industry reality. A 2018 survey conducted by Vistage regarding the role of AI for small businesses revealed that 13.6% of small-to-medium businesses (or SMBs) are currently using AI technologies to improve their business operations and customer engagement.

AI Applications for Small Businesses

What are some of the current applications that is utilizing AI technology for small businesses? AI applications for small business are benefiting them in the following ways:

  • Improving Sales and Marketing Efforts

AI tools for small business enterprises are certainly useful for extracting sales-related insights from customer data. For instance, the AI-enabled customer relationship management (or CRM) tools are enabling small business owners in analyzing their customer feedback and accordingly adapt their sales lead generation activities.

  • Automate Customer Service and Communications

Through the use of automated chatbots or digital assistants that work 24×7 around the clock, small businesses are elevating their customer service and communication without hiring and training a dedicated customer support team. For example, the AI-powered Answer Bot from Intercom is resolving nearly 30% of the customer queries received by the company.

  • Improving Recruitment and HR activities

Among the prominent benefits of AI for small business, AI technology is streamlining the entire employee hiring process along with improving the HR function through employee feedback. For instance, an AI-enabled applicant tracking tool is reducing the hiring time and cost for small businesses in filtering though job applications by candidates and selecting the one that is best suited for the job.

These are just some of the common AI-based applications that can benefit small businesses. In the next section, we shall highlight why small businesses must integrate both AI and ML technologies into their business operations.

Why are AI and ML Applications Important for Small Businesses?

Small to medium businesses (or SMBs) account for more than 50% of the total job creations in the U.S. and account for 40% of the country’s GDP. AI applications for small businesses can be used to handle a majority of routine or repetitive tasks. With the increasing volume of business data being generated by organizations, AI-based tools can be used for advanced statistical analysis and deep learning for small businesses with budget constraints.

Be it for sentiment analysis or for tracking customer preferences through social media tracking, the implementation of machine learning in business is enabling data gathering from a variety of data sources, which can then be analyzed for key business insights.

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning for small businesses is largely enabling them to manage the shortage of skilled resources and manpower. For instance, in a December 2017 article by James Poyser, the cofounder of the inniAccounts (a small accounting firm), he talks about how his firm has succeeded in automating basic accounting and bookkeeping with the help of AI applications. Considering the limited number of human resources that small businesses have, AI technology is crucial for them to manage their limited human capital more efficiently.

How can Small Businesses integrate AI and ML in their operations?

As discussed in this article, a small business can leverage the benefits of machine learning and artificial intelligence in various business functions including product development, sales and marketing, and customer support. SMBs require a slow and structured approach towards enabling AI in their business operations instead of a rushed adoption process. Here are some of the steps that they can adopt:

  1. Integrate third-party applications that can boost the productivity of the current workforce.
  2. Gradually move your business processes towards a more flexible working model with AI-powered applications.
  3. Identify a common business problem that can provide a good ROI for its solution.
  4. Adopt AI with the following 3-step process:
  • Define your business expectations from AI based on your current business profile.
  • Measure your progress against relevant baselines.
  • Decide on the outcome of your experiment as either success or failure.

On a similar note, machine learning for small business firms can help in improving their business processes through automation. This is relevant from the use of machine learning tools like the Google TensorFlow and Spark MLlib that can process large volumes of data in various SME domains like manufacturing, finance, and healthcare. Here are some of the benefits of machine learning in business enterprises particularly SMBs:

  • Provide valuable insights into customer behavior based on customer data such as online interactions, online purchase history, types of online transactions made by the individual, and their digital footprint. This can boost a business relationship with customers and elevate conversions.
  • Personalize customer service through the deployment of natural language processing (or NLP) capabilities of the machine learning tool.
  • Provide relevant product recommendations for small E-commerce stores on the basis of ML tools learning from previous customer purchases and choices.
  • Improve business security by tracking user and data patterns and using various security algorithms in identifying risks and potential threats. For instance, machine learning tools can monitor financial transactions and observe any irregularities in transactions.
  • Improve SEO results through the use of machine learning algorithms by Google to produce more accurate search results to its users, along with driving better search engine rankings for business websites.

How can AI help small businesses in the future?

Despite the numerous AI applications for small businesses, the technology itself is in a nascent stage and offers tremendous potential for the future. While leading companies like Microsoft and Google are investing in the research and development of AI-based systems, the future of artificial intelligence for small business success depends on how each of these smaller firms can adopt and customize AI-related technologies for their individual business needs.

As AI technologies become more accessible and affordable, industry leaders in the small business space must evaluate the multiple components of AI including robotics, machine learning, natural language processing, and machine vision to see which fits the best into their business model.

Despite the growing corporate investments into AI technologies, small businesses are still apprehensive of the potential use cases of AI in their business processes. To resolve this issue, small business enterprises must first identify AI applications that can have a positive impact on their business operations. For instance, they can leverage on AI applications offered by Google and Facebook to advertise their business to online users on these platforms.

Conclusion

Multiple market factors such as the cost of investment and limited skilled resources in AI and ML technologies are limiting the benefits of AI for small businesses. However, it’s not feasible for small business enterprises to ignore the potential of these emerging technologies in the near future. Small businesses that do the groundwork and invest in AI technologies today will be best placed to benefit from these technological investments in the future world.

As a small business enterprise, are you looking to leverage your business benefits from artificial intelligence and machine learning? Countants can facilitate this journey by offering the right solution catering to your specific business needs. As data analytics and business intelligence solution provider, Countants has partnered with several small business enterprises in their drive for digital transformation.

Connect with us now with your business needs and let us help you grow your business faster!