How artificial intelligence (AI) increases productivity for your small business

If you follow business technology trends, you’ve likely heard that in the future artificial intelligence will play a role in almost every aspect of business operations — from sales and marketing to the customer experience.

While AI is not yet mainstream, it is gaining traction among many businesses. People use it more than they realize, and there are possibilities across every industry.

Once only available to the largest, most financially sound corporations, AI and machine learning are finding their way into the small businesses that make up the backbone of the United States economy. They are reshaping the way firms conduct business, allowing owners to do more with less.

Here’s a look at some of the best ways artificial intelligence increases productivity for a small business.

Voice-search assistants for business

With tools like voice-search assistants, managers and employees can quickly locate the information necessary to resolve issues. Just as individuals increasingly use voice-search assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant, businesses are using the technology as well.

Rather than asking an employee to add a calendar event or perform research, a voice assistant can complete the task efficiently, requiring nothing more than a vocalized question or command.

Automation and prioritization

Although business operations can be highly complex, numerous routine operations can be scheduled and performed through the use of AI. Ready-made solutions automate and streamline daily tasks. One example is reporting.

In the past, a designated employee might have been tasked with running reports. With AI, data analytics can be quicker, more accurate, and more cost-effective. Another example of the efficiencies possible through AI is predictive maintenance.

The process of monitoring equipment used to require employee action. Now, IoT devices and connected machines communicate statuses in real time, rendering predictive maintenance more accurate and useful.

AI has the power to go beyond merely monitoring equipment. It can prioritize maintenance in highly complex manufacturing settings. These efficiencies cut costs and create new revenue opportunities.

Turning human resources into human capital

AI can also play a role in optimizing the employer-employee relationship. Firms increasingly view employees as assets, and they are beginning to use human capital management (HCM) and human resources information systems (HRIS) to automate certain aspects of the human resources process.

Organizations that value employees as assets, of course, seek to retain productive employees. A good economy and low unemployment can equal high turnaround, causing increased human capital expenses. AI can help companies generate employee engagement.

From feedback on proposed changes to automating payroll and benefits, AI can help democratize workforces, ensuring that employees are heard. Scheduling presents a straightforward example of AI’s power to make human resources more efficient.

In the past, a vacation request might have percolated through several channels before a decision was made. Scheduling is usually a critical determining factor. If everyone in the office took the first week of July off, the business would grind to a halt.

With an AI-equipped HCM or HRIS, the scheduling component of the decision can be made in an instant, as can a cross-check of available vacation days and other factors that determine whether or not a vacation request is approved.

In addition, AI can play a role in providing training, testing, and other methods of keeping employees informed and prepared. AI can also be used in monitoring employee performance and evaluating metrics that determine if training is required.

An example is call center data analytics, which involves relatively straightforward details such as call duration and the number of calls per day. Ultimately, AI can provide smarter people analytics through tracking current employees and evaluating potential new hires.

Some see AI as having a leading role in reducing or removing biases inherent in the hiring process, too. Intelligent analytics can, for example, provide a hiring manager with a crop of resumes selected based on experience and resume meta tags, not a reviewer’s often deeply ingrained biases.

Marketing

Businesses can use the analytic power of AI to fuel marketing decisions and strategies. Today, companies interact with their customers through social media, company websites, mobile apps, in retail outlets, and more.

These interactions create data that can be leveraged for product development, marketing, and support. However, the data can get so vast and unmanageable that it can result in data fatigue. AI helps businesses get their hands on relevant information.

From customer insights to predictive behavior, AI turns customer relationship management software into a beneficial sales tool. AI plug-ins to CRM can help create tailored automated responses, such as interactive voice responses that reduce costs and increase customer engagement.

Consumer benefits from prediction and customization

Once businesses can develop policies and procedures to capture an accurate view of customers, AI can step in and direct highly personalized content and experiences for customers. This may be the most exciting potential application of AI for business.

Imagine being able to instantly determine a customer’s concern or need based on data. Businesses do this all the time. However, the wheels often turn too slowly to impact all customers positively. With AI, insights can come in real time.

AI can analyze the tone of voice of a caller to a support line or grab details from a voice response to direct the call to the right agent. AI also promises the ability to tailor the customer experience. Rapid data analysis can aid in the widely adopted practice of treating customers not as individual transactions, but holistically, as part of a valuable life cycle.

Without AI, customer experience can involve little more than the slogan “the customer is always right.” AI creates unique customized environments for users based on past interactions, purchases, and other factors. We already see this on a certain level with targeted advertising online.

With AI, digital interactions can become even more targeted, with businesses turning insights into opportunities.

From efficiencies in business operations and human resources to helping businesses know their customers, AI powers positive change. Today’s AI solutions are within reach for smaller businesses, which will result in more opportunities for success.

Chad is VP of Marketing and Communications at JotForm. He’s also a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications, and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix. He holds a master’s degree in communication and resides with his girlfriend and cats in Oakland, California. You can reach Chad through his contact form.

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