As a business owner, you constantly manage change, much like a chef contending with a dynamic 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. For many, incorporating tech in these and other areas can be a game changer.

Many discussions around technology and brainpower these days center on Artificial intelligence (AI) as it's at the forefront of the next wave of innovation. But what does this mean for businesses?

AI can improve processes and administration, enhance customer interactions, and speed-up automation. Cutting through the buzz, the best way to think of AI is as a computer-operated brain that excels at learning, planning, and problem-solving without explicitly being programmed.

There are many different branches of AI – machine learning, natural language processing, chatbots, deep learning, facial recognition, and more. Each branch can be used independently or in combination depending on the problem at hand.

To keep it simple, we'll review a few areas where AI can be particularly helpful for businesses.

Enhancing the customer experience

Connecting with customers can be difficult and costly as there are numerous channels for interaction – internet, mobile phones, apps, text, social media. Depending on your need, chatbots can provide a more personalized way to connect with customers.

Using AI, chatbots simulate human conversation through text, voice, or both to interact with customers via a company's mobile app or on its website. Chatbots can answer questions, solve problems, or provide relevant information.

Every point at which a small business connects with its customers and stakeholders can be an opportunity to integrate a chatbot. But what's the best method for implementation – building it in-house by specialized technology staff or installed by a vendor as a ready-made system? Both have pros and cons; the first is usually more expensive and time-consuming, while the second is less customizable. As with most technology solutions, your IT priorities and budget will likely determine the direction you’ll go.

Since a chatbot is working 24/7, it can promptly reply to a customer, 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.

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

Predicting customer needs

Machine learning — the process of using millions of data points to make predictions, identify anomalies, customize experiences, and more – can provide invaluable insights to businesses.

It can be used to analyze customer interactions, feedback, purchase behaviors, and transactions to provide predictions on sales trends and help inform businesses on marketing activities. These insights can also help identify new product or service opportunities.

Businesses facing a shortage of manpower can use machine learning to automate basic accounting and bookkeeping needs and improve business processes. This frees up time for employees to focus on higher value tasks, such as providing high-touch interactions with valuable customers.

As with all of AI, machine learning continuously learns and changes based on the data it's fed. As your customers’ needs or composition change, so will the insights and predictions provided.

While machine learning can be a great tool, as with chatbots, businesses need to clearly identify the problem at hand and consider costs to determine if AI is truly the best solution. In some instances, the cost of AI will be too high for the value provided.

The future of AI

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

AI continues to grow and expand across a variety of industries at a rapid pace, so consider donning your chef’s cap and adding a dash of chatbot or a dollop of ML to your company’s recipe for success.

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