How AI levels the playing field for SMEs

SMALL enterprises tend to be nimbler, often with flatter organisational structures. This translates into greater flexibility, allowing organisational changes to be implemented with greater ease. By the same token, smaller enterprises can realise the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions at an accelerated pace.

However, resource constraints - such as time and manpower - often turn these enterprises off the adoption process. What small businesses fail to realise is that AI has the potential to supercharge operational processes and workflows, allowing business owners to spend less time on administrative processes and more time on growing the business. Here are three ways AI will level the playing field for SMEs.

Translating customer engagement data into actionable strategies

All businesses, big or small, are looking for ways to connect to their customers and build a connected brand relationship. How? By analysing and interpreting volumes of data and turning them into actionable insights for the service, sales and marketing teams to engage.

In reality, this is a luxury for any businesses, especially SMEs. In this age of the connected customer - behind every tweet, every device and every app is a customer - yet for all the data customers are creating, less than one per cent is analysed, leaving 77 per cent of customers feeling disengaged with businesses.

Here's one example - a potential buyer makes an online request for real estate information within a certain neighbourhood.

Your AI-powered Chatbot realises that the request is too broad. To get a more concrete understanding of the buyer's preferences, the bot prompts the buyer to connect to the his/her Pinterest account.

Based on the pinned images, the bot sieves through data on the architectural styles the buyer prefers, and then provides a customised recommendation.

Another AI bot schedules private home tours, connecting the agent to the buyer. All of this is done in the blink of an eye, in the background, seamless to the end-user - enabled by AI.

AI sieves through the vast reservoir of data, analyses it and in turn provides businesses with actionable information. Businesses, in turn, are now empowered to deliver smarter, more personalised customer experiences. AI becomes an extension of the company, evaluating potential insights and allowing business owners to spend time growing the business.

AI in the age of the connected customer

Today, services are connected not only to buyers, sellers and agents, but also to IoT data (more than six billion intelligent devices have come online in the last two decades!) - making the customer experience even more social, mobile, connected and intelligent than ever before. In the age of the connected customer, the quality of experience is often a differentiator for customers. While it is important to attract new customers, it is even more important to build relationships and retain current ones.

Customers have come to expect companies to know and remember, across multiple touchpoints, who they are and what they're looking for, and subsequently make the necessary information available. The convenience of AI tools enables visualisation and helps enterprise owners spend a day in the shoes of their customers, allowing them to understand the various touch points of the customer experience. AI will be there when your staff is not, using technology to provide instantaneous responses when your staff is not able to.

Further, the lean organisational structure of small enterprises often means that individuals wear more than one hat, and may not be the best experts in a particular field.

Take another example - you log onto a computer and turn to Google for help. Before you can complete your request, a prompt comes up and completes your request for you. That is AI at work. Now extrapolate that to your organisational setting: a digital assistant can learn to scan emails and extract what you'll need, and make predictions on future behaviour. Businesses are now empowered with the opportunity to be more proactive, offering customers what they want, even before they know they want it.

Predictive services: A must-have

Retaining customers means staying a step ahead of your customers; anticipating and fulfilling their needs and wants, sometimes even before they know it. Powered by deep learning, predictive analytics, natural language processing and smart data discovery, experiences and interactions can be customised for every individual customer. AI promises, and more importantly delivers, and does not leave customers hanging.

Perhaps you own an optometry business, and a customer purchases a 12-month supply of contact lenses. The customer could go to a competitor once the supply runs out. But what if, you had logged this sale into the system, and your system proactively contacted your customer, asking him or her to replenish the supply, even before it runs out? To top it off, a loyalty discount is offered. I would definitely make the purchase. Wouldn't you?

How can SMEs fuel growth with AI

You may be a small business, but your challenges loom large. You have hundreds of contacts and interactions to track and manage, new deals to pursue and close, and existing customer relationships to cultivate and maintain. A smart CRM system with AI capabilities will get you to where your business needs to be.

Here are things an AI-empowered SME can achieve:

  • Harness the power of analytics - Forget multiple spreadsheets. Your CRM software unifies data from multiple sources into a single view so you get faster answers and take immediate action. AI translates all these data into recommendations for your sales, service and marketing teams for their action.
  • Supercharge your sales team - Contacts and opportunities are accessible any time, anywhere on all devices. AI helps to anticipate opportunities and identify the best leads for your sales team; enabling SMEs to sell smarter. Hello, productivity!
  • Deliver great service - AI for CRM means your service team will deliver the next generation of proactive service, preventing machine failure or addressing FAQs in a customer community before they have a chance to become service cases.
  • Execute great marketing - When customers receive mass, non-personalised emails, they end up in the trash. Research indicates that two out of three customers are more likely to be brand loyal when communications are personalised. A smart CRM system with AI integration allows you to build predictive journeys for every customer, personalising experiences like never before.
  • Free your employees - AI can embed intelligence everywhere, creating smarter apps for employees and customers and automating routine tasks so your employees focus on delivering their best.

AI is not as intimidating as Hollywood makes it out to be. Instead, it helps resource-strapped small enterprises do more with less. AI empowers small businesses to fight their Goliaths.

  • The writer is the area vice-president, Commercial Business Unit, Asia, of Salesforce