Make Your Small Business Smarter with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Amanda Bowman | September 11th, 2017

Mention artificial intelligence (AI) to someone, and they’ll probably think of things like sentient robots or murderous computers. (“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”)

You have to look no further than the phone in your pocket or the credit card in your wallet to know the truth: AI is no longer just a science fiction plot device; it’s everywhere, and super useful for your business.

What is AI? At its most basic, AI is the ability for computers and machines to show real intelligence. It’s a computer’s ability to understand your request and work out the best action or answer from all of the available information.

Another term often used alongside AI is “machine learning” (ML). ML is a type of AI that many companies use right now to great effect.

Your wish is my command

AI is everywhere.

Your smartphone uses AI to understand voice commands. Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana all use AI to understand what you’re telling them to do.

Much of what you see on big store websites like Amazon or Target rely on machine learning to predict what you might like and what you’ll buy. And banks often use AI alongside human review to figure out if a transaction is fraudulent.

AI and machine learning are not just for large companies. Small businesses can add machine learning to their repertoire of tools to help make better decisions. For example, business owners can take existing customer data and apply machine learning to find patterns and trends that used to be impossible to uncover.

If you work in marketing or sales, machine learning can be used to track how your customers interact with your brand across multiple social networks, all in real time. It can make collecting and making sense of vast amounts of information like sales data or customer profiles much easier. AI saves you time to concentrate on more meaningful work, such as finding ways to use the information these systems uncover.

There are a growing number of services and products that focus on making AI and machine learning more accessible for small businesses. Here are a few of them.

Salesforce Einstein

Salesforce recently launched their AI platform, called “Einstein.” It is a suite of products that makes machine learning and deep computation available to everyone. By incorporating AI throughout their products, Salesforce aims to streamline work processes and make customer interactions more frictionless.

Einstein enables you to become an AI-first company so you can get smarter and more predictive about your customers.

You can find out more information about Saleforce Einstein (and take a short primer on what IA is from its product website.

 

Chatbots

We’ve already looked extensively at chatbots, but no discussion about AI is complete without another mention of these helpful word-based companions.

AI fuels chatbots.

Chatbots often use natural language processing in combination with machine learning to respond accurately to a customer’s requests. They can understand the meaning behind a user’s words and react accordingly. They can remember answers and make the experience more personalized. This provides a higher level of service.

Chatbots can be deceptively simple interfaces into deep wells of data. They can use previous conversations with customers to respond more effectively to current requests.

Companies can integrate chatbots in many different areas of their business. Customer service chatbots can take some of the load off of service teams by answering common requests and providing high-level information. You can use a chatbot to book a flight, pay bills, or find out if it’s going to rain.

If you’re interested in creating your own chatbot, you don’t necessarily need a computer science degree or a team of developers. You can use services like Botsify and Chatfuel to create Facebook Messenger bots without code. For more variety, Motion.ai, Dexter, and Flow XO can create bots that run on multiple services.

Amazon AI

Amazon bet big on web services, and the gamble seems to be paying off. Available in addition to many of Amazon’s better-known web services is their AI platform, which allows businesses to add deep machine learning without needing to invest in their own infrastructure. It’s not a simple plug-and-play system, but Amazon AI provides the tools necessary to reduce the price of admission.

One of the first tools launched as part of this new platform is Amazon Rekognition. Amazon describes it as:

A service that makes it easy to add image analysis to your applications… You can detect objects, scenes, faces, recognize celebrities, and identify inappropriate content in images. You can also search and compare faces.

Other tools available right now are Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly. Lex uses the same technology that powers Amazon’s Alexa to provide automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding. Developers can use this API to create powerful chatbots without having to create their own speech and language systems.

Polly is the opposite of Lex: instead of listening, it gives applications the ability to speak. It turns text into “lifelike speech.” Apps that understand the spoken word and talk back to users? The possibilities are endless.

At your service

Some AI-based services automate portions of the customer service workflow. Others help make your audience and your staff more productive. Here are just a few examples:

  • Gluru integrates AI with your knowledge base to help customers find answers quickly and easily.
  • Crystal uses machine learning and your contact list to provide personality reports on the people you email. They claim you can communicate more efficiently by writing emails that better fit the recipient’s personality.
  • Conversica is an AI-based assistant that automates parts of a sales person’s workflow to increase sales opportunities and conversions.
  • Digital Genius uses AI to help customer service teams “analyze incoming messages, predict meta-data, route cases,” and “provides agents with accurate suggestions and automates responses.”

AI and machine learning services have quickly become more widespread and available as computing costs have plummeted.

The old notion that AI requires huge labs filled with expensive super computers has been replaced with cloud-based SAAS that cost a fraction of what it used to. The fact that the biggest tech players are investing large sums of money into their own AI efforts has boosted awareness and made AI more prevalent and accessible than ever.

Even as recently as a couple of years ago, talking to your phone or a digital home assistant felt awkward and profoundly nerdy. Now we have multi-million dollar ads featuring the Rock talking to Siri. Apple, Google, and Amazon are pushing hard for machine learning and voice-based AI tech in your home. AI may once have been a bleeding edge technology, but now it’s used in many new and useful ways.

Looking for more ways to help boost your business? Check out our latest ebook by crowdSPRING founder and CEO Ross Kimbarovsky titled STAND OUT: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting, Growing, and Managing a Successful Business.

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