As a business owner, you constantly manage change, much like a chef contends with a quick-moving kitchen environment. 

Part of your special recipe of products and services relies on technology. For some, tech is essential for internal operations and production. For others, it’s critical in marketing and sales. 

What does the next frontier of innovation — bots and artificial intelligence (AI) — mean for business? These technologies likely will continue blurring the lines between development and administration.

Bots: Enhancing the customer experience

Simply put, a bot is a program that helps a business respond to questions.

  • A chatbot: Interacts with messages via text, social media, or other web-based outlets (examples include Amazon Lex and IBM Watson)
  • A voicebot: Informs digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant

Every point at which a small business connects with its customers and stakeholders can be an opportunity to integrate a bot. But how should a business owner implement one? A bot can take many forms, from mainstream systems built by IBM and Microsoft to those created by specialized bot builders.

As with most technology solutions, your IT priorities will help dictate whether you need in-house staff to develop a bot, or a third-party contractor to install a ready-made system. Note the latter may be less customizable.

For certain, bot technology cannot replace the personal touch, but it does allow a business to scale beyond the limits of its current resources.

Since a bot is working 24/7, it can promptly reply to a customer using the resources you identified, eliminating the need for a customer service rep to follow up. Similarly, the always-on technology can identify leads and handle other administrative duties throughout the day, freeing your sales reps for face-to-face meetings.

Eventually, we’ll likely see bots starting to communicate with one another to streamline sales and distribution, which may further extend your workforce’s capabilities.

Unlike how search engine optimization is driven by keywords, bots rely on context. Therefore, businesses should clearly define the problems their products and services solve, because bots will look to connect customers’ questions to the fastest and most cost-effective solution.

Specifically, to ensure your business is bot-friendly, consider:

  • Updating keywords on your digital pages to include problem statements — generic keywords are less effective
  • Including bots as a target audience in your social media by using language they can easily interpret
  • Extending your marketing plan to include appropriate and relevant bot strategies

AI: Added smarts to the mix

Any discussion around technology and brainpower focuses on AI. Cutting through the buzz, probably the best way to view AI is as a computer-operated brain on your team that excels at learning, planning, and problem-solving.

For AI to thrive, however, it needs effective machine learning — the process of scanning millions of data points and lines of text to discern standard, expected, and irregular behaviors. Once it captures the findings, AI helps define a response, ranging from addressing an anomaly tied to fraudulent behavior to an uptrend in sales due to successfully reaching a target market. 

Ultimately, AI technology improves the eff effectiveness of any small business team, especially in:

  • Assessing customers’ needs
  • Responding to trends in costs and revenues
  • Increasing efficiency and security

AI and bots together

AI sharpens a bot’s impact by pulling valuable information from customer interactions. Separately, the AI-bot tandem may also help streamline relatively static, internal matters such as human resources and benefits.

Understandably, no amount of innovation will ever replace a small business owner’s human touch. But when an AI platform or bot solution reduces demands on your team while bolstering efficiency and productivity, it could be a worthwhile investment.

And, of course, the evolution won’t stop. Take into account what industry observers see as potential trends for chatbot marketing and AI in the years ahead.

As opportunities arise to add a dash of a bot or a dollop of AI to your company’s recipe for success, consider donning your chef’s cap and stirring things up.

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