The title of this article is sensational on purpose. Certainly, many small businesses today are doing just fine without the benefit of AI. However, AI is the sort of technology that builds slowly at first until it reaches a critical mass, at which point it mushrooms quickly in functionality and ubiquity.
Companies that begin using AI now, and smartly prepare their businesses for the coming explosion of AI-powered business technology will be well-poised to benefit, leaving their competitors to an early grave. Now is the time to adapt.
Already we can see how AI will lead this revolution in business efficiency, productivity, and predictability. Below you’ll find a number of examples of AI’s current applications in small business as well as an extrapolation of their future potential.
Small businesses frequently operate in highly-competitive markets, where small competitive advantages can have an outsized effect. The more insight businesses have into what their competitors are doing, the better equipped they are to revise their own strategies.
Today, tools like Crayon are applying AI to the task of collecting actionable competitive intelligence, and the practice is showing promise.
Crayon passively scours the hundreds or thousands of advertisements, online updates, social media posts, and other public communications made by your competition looking for patterns. It can tell if a given competitor is subtly changing its marketing language, shifting its focus to other business priorities, and whether its in a cycle of price increases or decreases.
With natural language processing capabilities and machine learning algorithms built-in, these sorts of competitive analysis tools can come to know your competition better than they know themselves.
In the future, these tools will be able to track and analyze far more data points, with a deeper level of integration. They could provide a meaningful, moment to moment picture of exactly what your competition is doing, how they fit into your overall industry, and exactly the steps you should take to overtake them.
Today there are myriad tools that help businesses of all stripes manage inventories, schedule employees, track project statuses, keep tabs on their finances, and more. Prescient software designers are beginning to add AI and machine learning into these functions to give businesses the ability to not only track key business factors, but also to predict them.
You can imagine a software tool that keeps tabs on a business’s sales, current inventory, returns, as well as industry and social fads, in order to more reliably predict product usage over time. This reduces inventory risks, making businesses leaner and more competitive.
Small businesses like restaurants have been using integrated, digital POS (point of sale) systems for years. These allow owners a central dashboard to keep tabs on food usage, food sales, dining room staff composition, staffing needs, and more. The future will see this sort of software expand into more industries, along with full AI-integration.
Companies will have AI-optimized business management at their fingertips. Machine learning algorithms will be able to automatically keep inventory at optimal levels, maximize staff efficiency, enhance spending practices for better cash flow, suggest strategies to stay ahead of the competition, and monitor customer feedback online for useful insights into what the business could do to improve.
In the future, AI could replace managers entirely, but for now, the intelligence it provides will make your managers far more effective.
Responsive, informed customer service can make the difference between a business’s ultimate success and failure. However, many small businesses don’t have the resources to address customer service as holistically as they’d like. This is particularly true for small online retail businesses that deal with large volumes of customer feedback, questions, returns, and more.
Today, online AI chatbots, like Boost.ai and MobileMonkey, plug into a company’s website or into Facebook Messenger to help address common customer concerns without the need to speak with a human. As the AI that powers these evolves, it will begin to monitor all customer interactions, learning answers to customer questions it didn’t previously know.
In time the AI would be able to field most any customer questions or concerns. It would only require human support for unique cases it hadn’t encountered before.
It’s reasonable to imagine a future where intelligent chatbots and automated phone systems handle the entirety of a business’s customer service needs, serving up instant answers, advice, and recommendations based on more data points than any person could ever keep track of.
AI is the Future for Small Business
AI-powered software and machine learning algorithms will begin to dominate the small business space in the coming years. Now is the time to familiarize yourself with what these technologies can do for your business. Don’t wait until your competitors have already lapped you. The future belongs to the bold.