Here’s why small businesses needn’t feel AI anxiety

Today's businesses are facing a new kind of problem: they have too much data. It affects large and small businesses alike

Here’s why small businesses needn’t feel AI anxiety

Today’s businesses are facing a new kind of problem: they have too much data. It affects large and small businesses alike, from logging a day’s worth of receipts in a local cafe to dealing with millions of customer records in a multi-national enterprise. But while large corporations are using AI to tackle their data overload, many smaller businesses are more reluctant to embrace the technology. Why? 

It’s not as if SMBs don’t believe automation can help them. In fact, SMB investment in automation is on the rise, and two in three say it helped increase their productivity during the pandemic. So, now is the time to take the next step to accelerate growth and beat the competition. Adopting AI for practical day-to-day challenges.

Adopting AI to complete everyday tasks in any business takes trust ‘ just like hiring a new employee. New hires need to prove their mettle, by showing they can take on the heavy lifting, demonstrating their care for customers, and having ethical judgement when it comes to sensitive data. AI must do this too, if SMBs are to trust in its value.

The good news is it’s capable of doing all these things. SMBs should let AI show them what it’s truly capable of, here’s why:

AI works hard so SMB leaders can work smart

Confidence in AI has largely been weakened by the prevalent narratives of humanoid representations and dystopian extremes seen in the movies. However, most SMB leaders are already trusting more discrete versions of AI without even knowing it.

Ever unlocked your phone with your face, let an app select the best TV show for you, or asked a digital assistant to check your schedule? That’s AI. Its capabilities in business are far closer to the latter examples. In fact, one of its greatest uses is its simplest: saving SMB leaders time by streamlining processes and taking on the admin-heavy tasks.

Take the hundreds of receipts an SMB accrues every week, for instance. A small restaurant owner might stack up their receipts and then manually register each one in their accounting software at the end of the day to ensure their books are up to date. 

AI can complete this work, and ensure it’s error-free, in a fraction of the time. SMBs can simply scan and upload receipts to a cloud-based data automation solution, then let the AI process the receipt and accurately capture the data in their accounting software. And the real benefit of this AI is that it is continuously learning how to categorise the data, making suggestions for how to improve reporting and building a robust, tailor-made system for the business. 

While AI systems like this are doing the heavy lifting, the small restaurant owner can commit time to the tasks that will elevate their business, like developing new social media videos for their publicity drive, or coming up with fresh recipes to entice regulars to come in more often.

Vigilance is the name of the game with intelligent tech

Vigilance and attention to detail are vital ingredients for any new team member. Indeed, there is no exception for AI technologies. AI can spot patterns, and anomalies in those patterns, that humans might miss ‘ either because they are strapped for time or unable to effectively process mass quantities of data.

We see this in practice with outlier detection for financial transactions, using the power of AI to provide insights on data entries and flag anomalies that could be potential errors or risks. With this information only one alert away, SMB leaders can understand why an anomaly has been flagged and drive the required actions forward to resolve it.

Introducing AI not only reduces the cost of ensuring accuracy, but it also enables finance teams to trust their financial reporting tools in real-time. Again, AI evolves over time to become more effective; its control measure shifts as it’s exposed to more data, meaning it can help improve overall accuracy when spotting unusual activity.

Elevate customer care with the assistance of AI

Offering every customer exemplary service is a factor on which many SMB owners pride themselves. However, when a business is growing and time is short, passing the responsibility of managing customers to an artificial intelligence system may by a concern for teams.

AI must therefore demonstrate its ability to gently understand customers, whether through customer relationship management software (CRM), chatbots, or other tools, just as a real person could. Chatbot systems using AI, for instance, can go above and beyond in conversation, just like a new hire ‘ leaving the skilled workers to focus on more dynamic customer queries. Sophisticated AI or natural language bots can adapt to the flow of a conversation, engage the listener, and take on lessons to perform even better in the next interaction with a customer. 

Not only that, but smart assistants and chatbots can work with suppliers and vendors by performing actions such as answering simple queries, providing invoice information and sharing payment detail. Today, these systems are increasingly available right out of the box, or can be built on no-code/ low-code platforms enabling an SMB to add even more high-quality customisation.

Say goodbye to bias with ethically trained AI

Building trust in AI and challenging common perceptions in the SMB community won’t happen overnight. The journey to balancing opinions of AI should start with highlighting how AI tools are treating data with the utmost diligence, ethical practice, and security.

AI is well-designed to secure small networks containing details of customers, financial data, and intellectual property of the SMB. Since it can expertly spot outliers in the behaviour of the network, it can quickly alert business leaders when there’s a problem, allowing them to swiftly take action to mitigate it. Other technology such as anti-virus protection often deploys AI not only to protect against the threats faced by SMBs today, but to learn and adapt as viruses change in real-time.

It is critical that AI systems display ethics in business, starting with being understood by SMB leaders when a suggestion comes into question or when they want to ensure there is no bias. AI embedded in systems will be checked for its fairness, accuracy, transparency, and ethical nature. It will also be trained on clean, well-chosen data to remove bias and designed to be made explainable to those who purchase it.

SMBs reap the reward of trusting in tech

AI is an irreplaceable member of the team. When it comes to customer relations, cost efficiencies, and innovative influence, AI’s help enables the rest of the team to thrive. For SMBs, that freedom to pursue long-term goals is invaluable. 

For small and medium businesses, adopting AI is a big decision. Any investment in tech takes trust ‘particularly when that tech promises to revolutionise the way things are done day-to-day. Yet, the benefits of such a revolution are unparalleled. SMBs have a huge amount to gain from AI. Forget AI anxiety ‘ today is all about AI anticipation.

Susana Duran
Susana Duran

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