Science-fiction books and movies feature machines that are smarter than humans. These genius robots and computers are either a blessing or a curse. Artificial intelligence (AI) powers them.
AI is part of reality now. It’s already in use in our daily lives. Large businesses are taking advantage of its benefits.
What about small business? Does it have a role to play in your company? Is AI right for your smallchat business?
AI and machine learning for small business
What is AI?
Something has AI when it can process information without an organic brain. It’s not alive, but it can sort information. It can do so as a result of machine learning.
What is machine learning?
Machine learning is the process of teaching a machine about how to react to some data type. It’s a simple process, but it becomes complex when you add more information.
How can I use AI to optimize my small business?
Imagine you own a florist shop, which also has a website. If a customer searches your site for “red flowers,” you teach your website how to respond. You can train it to show the customer roses, tulips, and Gerbera daisies.
What if it’s the holidays? You could tell it in November or December to also show your customers Poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and Christmas Lilies. You could also teach it to show the customer that you make custom Christmas wreaths.
The machine doesn’t know anything until you program it with the appropriate information. It’s not thinking exactly; it’s responding to “if so” or “if not” statements.
How AI thinks
The AI programming “thinks” like this:
If the customer wants red flowers, show them roses, tulips, and Gerbera daisies. Is it December or November? If so, show them the holiday options. If not, don’t show them any more flowers.
A more complex AI has an enormous number of “if so” and “if not” calculations occurring. If you ask a GPS device to give you the fastest route to a location, it will rapidly look at many data sources. If you take Main Street, will you encounter traffic, problematic road conditions or weather-related delays?
The GPS will ask other AIs like state transportation databases and weather information sources what they know. Those sites will also respond based on “if so” and “if not” information they are gathering.
Those AIs have cameras that show the speed of traffic on Main Street. They can then tell your GPS the speed of traffic. Your GPS can then compare the rate of traffic on Main Street to other streets.
No matter how complicated results seem, they are still a result of “if so,” do this, “if not,” do that.
It helps to remember this, so the whole subject is not so intimidating.
Are machines thinking?
Machines can process some sources of information faster than we can. However, machines are dependent on us to teach them how to process the data.
They don’t think for themselves, even if it seems like they do.
What are the best AI tools for small business?
AI has many applications and can power cybersecurity, customer relationship marketing (CRM), and customer service.
Each day security companies discover new threats to business and consumer data.
Even if you have a low-tech business, your business partners may expose you to digital threats. Banks, credit-reporting agencies and major retailers have all betrayed their customer’s data.
Cybersecurity powered by AI may be able to provide more protection than other types of programs. Instead of dealing with threats after losses, AI security programs look for unusual activity. They can stop attacks or raise alerts earlier.
AI can also look for irregularities in other systems like inventory and accounting. It may see signs of illegal activity.
The unusual activity could also identify opportunities.
A plumbing-supply company’s AI notices an unusual order. Why does a decorator order $1000 of metal pipes and flanges? A follow-up call to the decorator sheds light on the mystery.
Apparently, the decorator makes trendy industrial shelving units and light fixtures with the pipes.
Now, the plumbing supply company starts marketing to a whole new group of customers. After learning about their new customer, they can brag about how trendy they are on social media. Moreover, they can share light-fixture plans or instructional videos with their fans.
CRM software can learn about your customers. With each order, it can understand what they need and how they interact with your business.
The plumbing supply company with CRM software learns that Harry’s Happy Plumbers order pipes and pipe glue every three months. Using that knowledge, they offer Harry a coupon for his next pipe-and-glue order 2.5 months after his last purchase.
At a fundamental level, they could show Harry they appreciate his business and know what he needs.
CRM could also send Harry information on new products appropriate for his business.
Interactive customer service
AI can help customers by:
- Giving help after hours and provide help 24/7.
- Talking to them.
- Phone systems can use AI voices to respond to customers’ verbal questions. Websites for small businesses can use chatbots to talk with consumers.
- Consumers are increasingly using voice search on their mobile devices. Voice answers are ideal for consumers on the move.
- Anticipating what a customer needs.
- AI can answer a question before a customer asks. If a customer looks at troubleshooting pages on a website, the AI can direct them to more help.
- Deciding if they need human help.
- AIs can answer common questions. If that doesn’t help, they can request human assistance for the customer. This reaction makes it more efficient for the business and the customer.
- Being accurate.
- AIs don’t transpose numbers or guess. Program them with accurate information, and they share the same information.
How do artificial intelligence and data add value to a business?
- AI can use your data to understand your customers
- AI gets smarter about your customers over time
- AI can alert you to threats and irregularities
You can learn more about AI at:
- Microsoft’s AI Business School
- The non-profit Partnership on AI