In the past few years, the back-end technology powering artificial intelligence has improved significantly. Implementations of AI are spreading rapidly across the modern economy, with my small business right alongside. Everything from voice-controlled assistants–including Alexa, Cortana and Siri–to smart-enterprise platforms like Salesforce’s Einstein.
Expectations have reached an all-time high, and serial technologists are optimistic about the long-term benefits of this technology. According to a CNBC interview in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg stated that “AI is going to make our lives better in the future, and doomsday scenarios are pretty irresponsible.” He adds that, “in the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives.”
Applications of artificial intelligence will not only affect consumers; they will also impact businesses of all sizes. My small business in particular has much to look forward to as AI has already dramatically improved our manual processes and optimized our business world.
Here are four ways AI is changing how my small business operates, and how it could also change yours:
1. Customer-facing chatbots.
One of the biggest pain points for customer-facing startups like mine is having to handle and qualify incoming leads. It’s really challenging to filter inbound customer inquiries. I vividly remember many instances of pulling all-nighters to handle the incessant flood of support questions.
I started implementing chat-bots on our landing page and they have proven to be very useful. In just a few minutes, my team and I were able to set up a simple Drift customer support bot that handled our inbound leads. Further, we set up these autonomous chat agents to collect and mine our own customer data, which dramatically helped us throughout other stages of the sales process.
In doing so, we had to program our website chatboxes to respond to hundreds of customer questions and concerns. While the initial setup took several days, we’ve now saved over 2,000 man hours and counting–and we have three fewer human staffers answering questions.
2. Marketing automation tools.
It’s extremely time-consuming to craft marketing funnels by hand. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a number of different tools to try and perfect my user experience. Even with the right resources, it can be extremely challenging to optimize the funnel for a wide variety of different customers.
At my company, we use a customer relationship management (CRM) service as our primary marketing automation tool. It integrates automation services through email and SMS–the two main communication methods of our prospective customer. It enables us to set up campaigns to serve our audience the right type of content, importantly, at the right time.
Furthermore, this helps my company personalize content at scale in just a few clicks, such that each user feels important. I always customize the subject line and opening remarks based off of the lead with whom I’m speaking.
This all happens 24/7 in the background without me having to do any work, because of artificial intelligence operating in the background. We have seen a significant increase in our conversion numbers as a result.
3. Intelligent forecasting platforms.
A primary use case for artificial intelligence is machine learning. Machine learning, as defined by the Expert System journal, is “an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.”
Data-management platforms are already beginning to leverage supervised machine-learning models to intelligently analyze and categorize large data sets. These algorithms accomplish in just a few minutes what would take a human dozens of hours. In our case, these models, when trained and implemented effectively, have become prediction experts and perform better than any single human.
My small business uses these features of machine-learning models to optimize workflows and customer funnels. This means we don’t have to send out customer surveys about user experience anymore. Because the amount of data we can collect and analyze in real time, our customer service team can implement website changes and development plans immediately based on instant machine learning suggestions.
4. A new standard of data security.
Cybersecurity has always been a concern for my company. We deal with large amounts of sensitive and confidential information.
Blockchain-based storage systems, which we recently implemented, are gaining momentum within the cybersecurity community. These distributed ledgers are inherently more secure and transparent than conventional data warehouses, and have a number of promising use cases. So far, I’ve already seen increased speed of accessing all our stored data files (about four times faster) and lowered costs (about 50 percent less) compared to our former data storage solution.
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