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How is AI going to help small businesses?

Alon Cohen (submitted photo)

Alon Cohen (submitted photo)

The power of the cloud is such that technologies that were once out of reach for all but the largest companies can now be implemented easily by almost any small business.

The same can be said about many aspects of artificial intelligence.

Businesses can now purchase off-the-rack AI services to help them with everything from fraud prevention to tax preparation. They can find their customers where they live by integrating with smart home devices found in over 25% of US households. They can even use AI as a force multiplier, using AI to augment their employees in customer-facing applications.

Most experts agree that AI will have similar transformative benefits as the internet and mobile for every business. These benefits range from significantly improving security, productivity, and generating more revenue. When you call a bank, for example, they use voice biometrics to identify and authenticate callers to mitigate risk and prevent fraud. And there are many behind-the-scenes AI products used in everyday operations giving large companies massive advantages.

But even though AIs are accessible to SMBs, however, it doesn’t mean that they’re popular. Less than 10% of SMBs are currently using AI, although 32% of them are planning to use AI in the near future. What’s more, almost 40% of SMB marketers have no plans to pursue interactive voice – one of the killer applications for AI. What do SMBs need to know about AI that will allow them to succeed at this technology?

Using inward-facing AI to enhance your business

Even if you are firmly set against AI, there’s a good chance that you’re using some form of AI already. The big software as a service and infrastructure as a service companies such as AWS, Google, and Salesforce are all using AI to power their customer-facing applications under the hood. If you’re using applications from these organizations, then you’re interacting with an artificial intelligence.

Working with these and other services already offers notable benefits for small businesses – and it might be even more worthwhile for business to seek out AI-powered services in an intentional way.

Let’s say that your business is interested in performing some market research before starting to design a new product. Some market research firms don’t use AI to conduct market research – some do. The ones that do might use an AI to dynamically set the time when they offer prospects an interview – aiming for when they’re most likely to respond. One market research company that did this found that they received 25% more answers, with a 23% improvement in turnaround time. In other words, they received more granular data, and better information about the market.

Small businesses that leverage the services of companies that use AI will be able to have better access to their customers, keep better control over their financials, and better understand the vagaries of an evolving marketplace.

What happens if they use AI tools directly?

Most people think of voice AI in terms of voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, etc. Yet there is another, lesser-known voice AI that enables voice-enabled apps via telephony (i.e., phone/mobile calls and SMS). This type of voice AI has delivered greater return on investment to businesses than voice assistants so far.

On the productivity side, companies like SecondMind have developed call intelligence applications that can bolt onto cloud telephony services and create efficiencies for phone calls related to customer service, sales, HR, and in other areas.

Call intelligence apps include real-time intelligence, where information is automatically pushed as questions in conversations arise to eliminate needing to search. They are able to automatically email a bullet summary after each call. SecondMind’s AI, for example, listens to calls and works in the background without having to explicitly ask anything.

These products, available through Phone.com to SMBs by just asking us to turn on the service, work in real-time without requiring the speech to be stored for the processing which ensures fast responses and the highest level of privacy.

AI isn’t just a tool – it’s a channel

Marketers all know about channels – they’re the places where your customers gather, and they’re the places where your business can reach them. A channel might be a billboard on the side of a highway, a retail store, or a Twitter account. From our introduction, however, you can see that most marketers don’t consider AI to be a channel that they’re interested in. This may be a mistake.

Let’s return to the fact that a growing number of US consumers have an AI voice assistant in their home. Consumers commonly use these devices to answer questions – instead of whipping out their phones, they just ask their Alexa or Google Home. If these individuals were searching on a desktop or mobile phone, you’d be able to use search engine optimization to push your company’s information closer to the top of the search rankings and help to answer their query. With that said, you can also use SEO to influence your ranking on Amazon or Google Home.

One fifth of the searches on Google are voice searches, which means that if you don’t optimize your SEO for voice search, you’re missing out on a huge potential audience. In general, voice search queries are longer and use conversational voice. Essentially, they are long-tail keywords that use question phrases – are those part of your SEO strategy? Lastly, 22% of voice searches are for local content – e.g. “Where is the best ice cream store near me?” These searches indicate intent to buy. How are you going to optimize your content so that prospects decide on your business?

Using Voice AI to Augment Your Workforce

Let’s say that you’re the owner of the ice cream stand in the example above. You find that customers are using voice search to find your business on their smart home devices and mobile phone – and you’d like to engage them in order to boost conversions.

After hiring an AI-powered market research firm, you learn that your customers prize convenience – they’d like to order their favorite cone at home or on their smartphone and then have it waiting at the counter when they arrive.

Here’s where you have a dilemma – you and your staff are much too busy to take orders over the phone, and it’s too expensive to hire a dedicated staff member to answer the phone and take orders for you. What are you supposed to do?

One answer is to deepen your existing AI integrations. After all, your customers are already finding your business using AI – and it’s entirely possible for an AI to take their order as well. Building an app or integration in Alexa or Google Home is surprisingly not yet that easy. But, if you managed to do that, you can tell your customers to activate the Alexa skill for your business and then they can enjoy the convenience of ordering from their couch or kitchen table.

With intelligent voice, your customers will be empowered to interact with your business on their phone or using their smart speakers. They’ll enjoy the convenience of being able to order food, check their bank balance, hail a ride, and more – all without leaving their couch. In the meantime, you’ll be able to add additional features – and an improved experience that will delight customers – without the expense of new hiring. In other words, adding AI to small businesses can turn them into big businesses overnight.

Until those technologies become mainstream and affordable for SMBs, the easy way in is by a cloud-based telephony solution that can seamlessly interact with AI technology tools, like the SecondMind AI.

Alon Cohen is Chief Technology Officer for Phone.com. Founded in 2008, Phone.com provides more than 30,000 businesses across the U.S and Canada with cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions.

See Phone.com July 22-25 at the Voice Summit 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. To register for Voice Summit, the world’s largest voice-tech event, visit www.voicesummit.ai.

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