AI for Small Businesses: A Complete Guide

Staci Wallace Written by Staci Wallace
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13 minute read

Interested in elevating your small business marketing strategies? Read on to learn about how artificial intelligence can transform your business!

The days of dreaming about robots running the world are suddenly less fiction than reality. (Well, almost.)

Artificial intelligence has secured a firm foothold in our daily lives, allowing businesses everywhere to fine-tune their operations and deliver better, more consistent results with less input.

As AI gains mainstream traction in our daily lives, more and more big names are supporting the technology. In a survey of small and mid-sized business CEOs, 29.5% said that AI will have the greatest impact on their business next year.

AI imitates human learning, intelligence, and problem solving to perform a task. Although the capabilities of AI are complex and vast, at its core the programming is quite simple: if X, then Y. These simple instructions make up algorithms that allow us to do things we once thought impossible, such as ride in self-driving cars and clean our homes while we’re gone with robot vacuums.

These are more obvious examples of robot intelligence, but AI has permeated our everyday lives in tangible ways that we don’t even realize. Every time you get a targeted ad, use a maps app to see how long it’ll take you to get to work, or even get an email sent to your junk folder, your experience is being shaped by AI.

So what does this mean for small businesses? How does AI fit into existing small business operations, and how can it be leveraged?

AI + Small Businesses

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The sophisticated capabilities of AI, once reserved for big name corporations, are now more accessible to smaller businesses without the heavy lift or expensive cost.

Small businesses can use AI to do all kinds of complicated tasks that would otherwise have to be done manually, or not at all.

What would it have taken you in the past to thoughtfully come up with a personalized selection of jewelry that your customer might like, based on that unique one-of-a-kind ring they had previously bought? What would it take to stay on top of all of your marketing efforts in a way that is personalized, well-timed, and based on data that you had collected and analyzed yourself? Knowing the value of instant customer support, what would it normally take you to answer every question of your customers in a timely and consistent manner? Would you have had time to take those calls at all?

These examples and many more are things that would have eaten up countless hours and resources, been prone to human error, taken your attention away from other activities, and cost you your sanity. And all for unguaranteed returns.

If you could automate these tasks and more with the promises of increased productivity, higher revenue, and increased opportunities for growth, wouldn’t you?

Artificial intelligence lets you dictate your business processes with your hands off the wheel. You tell AI X, and AI does Y. AI is designed to support you while you apply your energy and resources into what matters most to you, ultimately giving you firmer control of your business.

AI + Marketing

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With AI for marketing, you can prioritize a personalized experience for your customers while optimizing efficiency and quality control on your end. No more settling for generic messaging to save time, or spending hours crafting highly personalized messages based on your customers’ interests. AI figures out the who, what, and when so that you can let Mark know that the band he loves is back in town, along with some other artists he’s bound to like.

AI augments your marketing efforts so that your messages aren’t just received, but truly heard. AI gives you the tools to give your customers what they want, right when they want it by harnessing relevant data and translating it into actionable next steps that you can apply to your strategies

As a small business owner, you can use AI to automate the aspects of your marketing that don’t require human nuance and are highly affected by timing. You’re able to free up hours of effort that would have otherwise been spent on the same marketing, but with weaker and inconsistent results.

With AI supporting your marketing team, you can:

Segment Your Audiences

Audience segmentation using AI allows you to prioritize quality over quantity in your messaging. AI goes beyond basic demographic segmentation and lets you send highly tailored messages based on prior consumer habits and other data so that you’re no longer sending out generic emails - you’re sending Sarah a message that’s just for Sarah, letting her know her favorite drink is back on the menu

This segmentation is able to pick up on patterns that might not be visible to the human eye, and is free from bias. Even if you have the time and resources to segment your audiences on your own, there is a good chance you are segmenting them based on what you think they should look like, instead of what they actually look like. On the contrary, AI has no choice but to follow the “if X then Y” algorithms that it’s taught. It’s able to continuously adapt as these segments change - something that would take considerable work and diligence to do without its capabilities.

When today’s consumer is bombarded with thousands of ads and messages that try to drive purchasing behaviors, you need to be able to get through the filters. A personalized message curated based on indicators of what they actually want to see is significantly more likely to be well received, instead of annoy them. You want your customer to read your message and feel motivated to change, not be turned off to your company as a whole. And bombarding your customer with messages that are generic is a pretty easy way to do that.

When you use personalization in your messaging, you increase your engagement with your customers and thereby increase your potential for returns on investment. Many customers these days will only interact with messaging that is personalized - undoubtedly reflective of the ad fatigue we all experience.

AI is able to create as many or as few segments as needed. This would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to successfully keep track of without that level of technology. You choose the variables, and AI will make it happen. You can segment your audiences based on factors including traffic source, viewed content, likes and preferences, and even time spent on website.

Additionally, perhaps one of the best features of AI’s audience segmentation capabilities is that it requires no human upkeep. It requires no effort or hours of maintenance on your end and continues to adjust and learn as it becomes more familiar with your business.

Segment Your Audiences

No matter how you are choosing to interact with your consumer base, timing matters and can have a huge impact on your returns. AI is able to send the right type of message at the right time, based on the action that was programmed to trigger that message type.

It’s true that certain modes of messaging, such as SMS, can have open rates as high as 98%. An overwhelming majority (82%) of us open every text message we receive - but it’s not enough to use these stats as a crutch. Timing matters. When you’re conveying time-sensitive information, you want the recipient to act on your message right then and there, and this is not going to happen if you message them at 3 am. (In fact, they might act by clicking “unsubscribe.”)

Whether it is a welcome message, follow up message, or an update on your business, you want your message to be more than simply received and sitting in an inbox. AI is able to use data to inform the timing of messages to give you higher open rates and engagement with your customers, translating into more revenue. Learning algorithms can test out different timing options to find what works best, so you can stop wasting your time with what doesn’t and get the most bang for your buck with your efforts

SMS marketing has grown steadily over the years and has become an expected - and well received - tactic among customers. SMS can be a great tactic for getting past those ad fatigue filters because of several factors: it is an opt-in channel as opposed to spam, it’s typically highly personalized, and it’s direct.

SMS fairs better than email in engagement and click-through rates, though the strongest marketing tactics still use them in conjunction with each other. Overall open rates for SMS messages are 98%, and conversion rates can be as high as 45%!

Use SMS messaging when you want to communicate urgent, time sensitive messages with a clear call to action. Whether it’s a flash promotion, appointment reminder, or an important update about an event, these messages are delivered directly and instantly, straight to your customer’s text message inbox.

Naturally, SMS marketing works best when integrated with other marketing channels.

Email marketing has been and will continue to be a strong and reliable marketing tool. One report found that as of 2015, companies saw an average return on investment of $38 for every $1, and one in five companies report over 70:1 in returns!

When you use AI to help you send the right type of email at the time it is most likely to be opened and lead to a conversion, you experience increased returns, repeat customers, and growth. Highly personalized emails that are actually opened instead of instantly deleted help you build brand recognition and loyalty - arguably your strongest marketing tactics.

When your company’s message is popping up right in between their mom’s messages and their best friend’s, you need to make sure your message quality earns that spot. The second that your customer feels like you are abusing the privilege of that personal access, your company as a whole will leave a bad taste in their mouth and they’ll unsubscribe. It’ll be hard to earn their trust back.

AI technology will be helpful in delivering quality over quantity. Leverage its segmentation abilities for highly personalized messaging with a clear call to action that will actually excite your customers. AI will help you learn and fine-tune your message timing as well as content so that you truly are sending the right message at just the right time, backed by hard data. Without AI, you might get lucky with guesswork, but that’s still a risk that you’re deciding to take at the expense of your returns.

As you can see, the winning formula for marketing comes down to the right message at the right time, sent to the right person. When you don’t optimize your messaging by leveraging AI in your marketing you are letting your efforts go to waste at the expense of your business growth, revenue, and customer satisfaction. A lot of this comes down to hyper-personalization, which requires truly knowing your audience with hard data. AI helps you cut out the guesswork so that you can be more confident in your strategy.

AI + Customer Relations

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Today’s consumer is accustomed to quick response times. When you put a customer on hold to wait for a service representative, there is a good chance they will become frustrated and hang up. The convenience of getting the response they need right when they need it makes a huge difference in customer satisfaction, and when other companies are already offering this, then it feels like an inconvenience when you don’t.

Globally, 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand, and when asking consumers what impacts their level of trust with a company, offering excellent customer service ranked number one.

AI can help you improve your customer interactions with your brand in a way that reflects human interaction, but without having to expand your team. Improved interactions translate into increased trust in your brand, which is invaluable when it comes to repeat business and brand loyalty. That trust and brand loyalty is one of your strongest tools as a small business, so you need to be focusing on what you can do to enhance it.

With AI-powered customer relations, you can:

Handle More Customer Requests at Once

While AI is designed to mimic human thought and interactions (and certainly does a good job picking up on our language and communication patterns), one of the perks isn’t human. AI is not overwhelmed by requests the same way Joe Shmoe would be.

As a small business, you likely don’t have a team on standby for customer support that can answer your queries at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately, that is the kind of convenience that today’s customer not only expects, but can find somewhere else if you fail to deliver.

In fact, 89% of consumers have switched to a competitor following a poor customer service experience.

AI can handle large volumes of requests simultaneously, answering common customer questions based on programmed keywords while you do, well, whatever else it is you’re doing at the moment. Even the most knowledgeable and highly responsive customer service agent can only do so much at once and is subject to the occasional slip up.

Of course, more complicated requests can be redirected to a real human being if needed, but the bulk of the common questions can be answered quickly and with fewer frustrations with the help of AI.

Deliver Quicker Responses

Not only are you able to respond nearly instantly to customer requests without someone on standby, but you won’t be losing or forgetting information about your customer’s request because someone wasn’t caught up to speed.

This is significant when 72% of consumers say that when contacting customer service they expect the representative to “know who they are, what they have purchased and have insights into their previous engagements.”

AI-powered chat bots are going to work on most messaging platforms and many are multilingual, meaning that the technology will support however your customer needs to reach you.

The quality of your customer interactions is going to be one of the most important factors in driving repeat business and referrals. Your happy customers are one of your best marketing tactics, and your soured customers are one of the swiftest ways to squash new business. Remember that whether an interaction was positive or negative, people talk.

At the end of the day the goal is quick and accurate answers to customer queries, regardless if a human being is on the other end. Needing to have a representative caught up to speed each time slows everyone down. Luckily, today’s AI is able to glean the nuances of human communication so that you’re able to get a human-like experience, without the humanness that slows things down.

Interact With Your Customers More Consistently

Great customer relations go beyond answering customer support queries in a helpful and timely matter. You want to create a strategy that not only leaves you front of mind but sustains a two-way information exchange so that you are receiving input about your customers and they are gaining familiarity with your brand.

Tactics such as AI-powered two-way SMS messaging are an easy way for you to maintain more consistent interactions with your customers. In addition to sending them critical time-sensitive information about your business, you are able to gather information about their interests and what they want to see more of from your brand.

You can send automated polls, competitions and quick surveys to your customers to help you figure out what you’re doing right as well as to show that you value their input. For higher response rates, consider incentivizing their replies. Remember that you can use AI to experiment with different message types as well as timing to make sure you are getting the highest engagement.

Understand that consistently positive consumer interactions help build brand recognition and loyalty, creating a team of dedicated salespeople who continue to spread the word about your business.

Collect More Data

If you haven’t caught the hint, your business’s accurate responsiveness to consumer needs is highly dependent on data. With AI-powered customer relations, you are able to collect more data and learn more about your customers without any extra effort, and fewer errors.

Do you know what exactly is drawing your customers to your services, especially your most loyal ones? Do you understand their pain points and where they fit into our current culture? What are your competitors doing? What are decision making factors?

AI will get you an accurate, objective view of your customers so that you can continue adapting your business strategies to meet their needs and deliver personalized services. AI-powered customer relations is also an easy opportunity to administer direct feedback collection such as surveys, such as at the end of your customer interactions. Direct feedback is a great tool for those who are serious about improving customer satisfaction.

So there you have it - with AI expanding your customer service capabilities you are able to answer customer questions nearly instantly, with more accuracy, all while your attention is able to focus on other matters. Today’s AI does a great job of simulating human interactions, minus the human error, while collecting useful data that you can use to continue learning about your base

AI + Data and Analytics

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AI’s data and analytics capabilities keep your small business one step ahead of the game, improving your responsiveness to dynamic trends and behaviors that influence the outcomes of your business strategies. The context of your business today won’t be the context of your business tomorrow, and AI gives you the tools to be identify this and adapt much more quickly than you could otherwise.

The longer it takes for you to adapt to changing trends and consumer habits, the easier it is for your business to fall behind your competitors.

With so many interactions taking place on digital channels these days, we have a wealth of data like never before. Customers reveal insights based on their interactions with businesses, media they consumer, social media they frequent, and more. Identifying patterns and understanding trends is your best tool in both providing the best experience for your customers and growing your business in a way that is just not possible without AI.

This wealth of data is as much of a curse as it is a blessing. The overwhelming amount of information means nothing if it’s not sifted through and organized. AI is able to do this in a way that is free from human bias, consistent, and error-free - all risks that you run when trying to collect and analyze data without it. Not to mention, you don’t need to be a tech wizard (or be friends with one) in order to run it like a pro.

With AI data and analytics, you can:

Analyze Large Amounts of Information

Not only is the overabundance of data on your customers useless if it isn’t analyzed, but is completely overwhelming and subject to human error when done manually. Not that it can’t be done, but you want the most accurate and objective reports possible, every time.

When you tell AI that X means Y, X will mean Y, every single time. Gather insights on social media trends, competitor activity, and more to keep pace with changing trends.

As a small business owner, you likely don’t have an entire team of data scientists whose entire job revolves around gathering and analyzing relevant data. You need real-time insights free from human biases and error, and AI can help you do just that without taking you away from other tasks. AI allows you to adapt and apply these insights nearly instantly so you don’t have to miss a beat and can continue to deliver the quality services that your loyal customers know you for.

Get Insights into Your Business

You don’t just need to understand your customer base and competitors to succeed in your small business. You need to be able to take an objective look at your own processes so that you can improve your workflows and marketing tactics.

With AI giving you insights into your business, you can see exactly what you’re doing that is giving the returns on investment you’re after and nix what isn’t working. You can reduce customer acquisition costs, increase revenue, and get some priceless hours back in your day when you act on these insights.

Setting key performance indicators and consistently measuring your progress against your predetermined goals is critical in sustaining growth, and the best way to do this from an objective standpoint is to use AI technology to get real-time insights into your strategy performance.

If you want to stay ahead of the game, you need to become a data-driven business. This includes understanding your dynamic customer base as well as business processes so that you can adapt in real-time to the changing contexts within which your business exists. Failing to incorporate data insights into your strategies will slow you down and lead to lost revenue.

IAI lets you collect and translate granular data objectively and accurately while you focus your energies and resources on other matters. Doing this kind of analysis manually is not only intensely time consuming, but prone to human inaccuracies.

Concluding Thoughts

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Today’s customer expects a frictionless experience. In order to keep up with your competitors, it is only logical for you to begin integrating AI into your small business strategies if you haven’t done so already. Resisting technological advances and the demand for a tailored experience will only keep you behind.

In our on-demand economy, the name of the game is speed. Connect your customer to exactly what they want, right when they want it. Anything that is extra or slows you down creates resistance that takes away from customer satisfaction, and unfortunately, human beings can only do so much at once. You need smarter technology to be able to keep up with today’s demands.

Luckily, artificial intelligence isn’t just for major corporations anymore. AI is now accessible for small businesses everywhere, allowing you to leverage the technology to expand and fine-tune the capabilities of your team, without actually growing your team. You are able to earn back priceless hours and effort, which you are now able to invest in growing your business, spending time with your family, and old hobbies.

If you are still hesitating to incorporate AI into your small business because you don’t think you have the funds or are satisfied with your current business processes, consider the ways in which your small business can grow beyond your current capabilities with minimal additional input with the help of AI.

VOXOX is your all-in-one 5G-AI small business solution. Bring big business communications capabilities to your small business framework without expanding your team, and leave your customers saying WOW after every interaction.