Should Your Small Business Invest in AI? Jonathan Herrick There is hardly a buzzword that gets more attention nowadays than AI. Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence by machines or computers. It is designed to use large amounts of data to analyze and react with the most optimal solution possible. While larger businesses have been leveraging AI in their products such as Apple and Amazon, small businesses stand to benefit as well. AI can help your company in any number of ways: virtual assistants, machine learning, market strategizing, accounting, customer support, chatbots, speech recognition, marketing, and sales. But before you just dive in head first and invest in AI, you need to know exactly what it is you’re looking to achieve and how much it’s going to cost. How Can AI Help My Small Business? There are lots of ways to incorporate artificial intelligence, but broadly speaking, here are a few of the most prominent ways small business owners have found it useful. Chatbots It’s becoming more and more common to see companies use natural-language generation to analyze swaths of text-based communication data and create automated responses for customers to read and interact with. This is particularly ideal for customer service, and can drastically cut your support costs, improve response times and enable you to deliver support 24/7. Image Source: Drift Facebook chatbots are particularly handy and easy to use while setting up one for your website is also possible—but be careful of having tech disproportionately outweigh your human support. At the end of the day, when customers have a serious problem, it will only frustrate them even more to get an automated response when they are looking for a live person to vent to. Speech Recognition Similar to chatbots, this is an audio-based computer recognition software. You’ve very likely encountered this sort of tech on the phone with banks or large companies, where you’re asked to provide detailed answers to questions like your phone number or address, and can choose from a list of subjects to hear more about. This technology may seem rudimentary, but it’s quickly improving and can save your company time and energy if incoming phone calls are a big part of your business. Network Assistants If you’re running your own company and always felt like you could get by without an assistant, you’ve probably also gotten overwhelmed and occasionally forgotten projects or deadlines. Virtual assistants can manage your affairs, schedule and remind you of meetings, interact with customers (using an integration of the above AI tools, chatbots or speech recognition) and help support your company in a myriad other ways. Tools such as X.ai automate personal communication via an online assistant—”Amy” that will respond to your emails and book meetings on your calendar. Image Source: X.ai Market Research If you want to one-up your competitors in responsive marketing, AI can help you do it. There are tools that can track certain types of information, articles, keyword mentions or subjects, keeping your marketing and PR teams in the know down to the minute. This is more than just a search engine—this is like keeping a relevant industry newshound in your office at all times, making sure you’re literally keeping ahead of the competition. Sure, AI Sounds Good—But How Much Will it Cost? There’s no single answer to this. If you’re running a lean company, you probably don’t have the desire or funds to hire a data scientist who can create proprietary algorithms for your small business. Their salary alone can rule out innovative AI projects from your plans. The good news is that there are other ways to incorporate AI into your company. Depending on which problem you’re looking for AI to solve, the solution could be as easy as a few dollars a month for a subscription to a software. Virtual assistants can be fairly affordable nowadays, while AI-run accounting and market-research softwares can also be used and paid for on a per-project basis. Be Prepared Before You Invest Adopting AI as part of your business strategy takes more than just adding a few tools to your arsenal. It takes having the right systems in place such as a CRM and solid processes for capturing and streaming your data. It’s also entirely likely that by bringing artificial intelligence into your business, it may replace some of the human jobs. The fact is that this is the future: it happened in the 1920s with the Industrial Revolution, and it’s happening again with AI, machine learning and bots. But that doesn’t mean the human element will disappear entirely from your business-it’s a matter of reallocating your workforce and resources to more productive within other areas of your business. If you’re unsure as to whether AI is right for you, you can sit back and watch other companies adopt it and learn from their successes and failures. But the fact is that small businesses are benefiting from AI. Don’t disregard it entirely, or you’ll go the way of the 1920s factory worker.