Contributed by Karthik Reddy
As a small business owner, you constantly hear about the “latest” advances in marketing. A few years ago, it was having a website. Then social media came on the scene. After that, everyone had to have an app.
Artificial intelligence is the latest “flavor of the month” and many companies, both large and small are jumping on the AI bandwagon. Chatbots are a great example of a practical application of AI, but there’s also virtual reality, like the HoloTech project and Microsoft, AI-augmented data analysis and much more.
Should I Care About Chatbots?
As a small business with a limited budget, the idea of a chatbot may seem better suited to a larger company. But you should be taking note as well. First of all, a chatbot can do a lot more than just marketing.
They can be used by the company to perform mundane tasks. Legal firms, for example, could use a chatbot to scan through contracts or to look up case histories. They can roam your social media pages and website, and be ready to answer questions that your clients ask you any time of day. Now, it might not seem like such a big deal not to be able to answer client’s questions immediately, and people do understand that a small business is not open 24/7.
The problem is that it is a missed opportunity. Let’s say, for example, that someone wants to know whether your company stocks a pair of shoes in beige and she sends a question through to your Facebook page late at night. You answer her question first thing the next day, but, in the meantime, she looked on other sites and found a similar pair in beige somewhere else. People may be understanding, but they are somewhat impatient, and they want to know what the answer is.
Even if they don’t go off looking somewhere else, there is the risk that they could lose interest or get distracted if they don’t get an immediate answer, and not all clients are understanding. We are increasingly living in a world where we get instant answers. Companies that don’t keep up risk being seen as out of touch or, worse still, uncaring.
So, a chatbot could help with maintaining a good brand image.
But maybe you still aren’t convinced. After all, it is going to cost a fair amount of money to get a decent bot designed. Is it worth the expense just so that someone visiting your site or social media page gets an answer straight away?
Let’s get back to our customer who wanted to know if you had the shoes in beige, and let’s see how things might go if you had a chatbot.
The client asks the question, and the bot is able to check what colors you stock immediately. (That’s one step saved for you and more time you can spend on a client in the store.)
The bot then asks the client what size she’s looking for, and which area she’s in, so it can check the local branch. The client will know immediately whether or not she can get the shoes locally. The bot can even offer to process the sale and allow the client to collect it in-store. This gets the client into the store and saves you time as well.
But, what if the bot also finds matching accessories for the shoes and makes suggestions about these?
Even if the client does not buy the shoes, you have some valuable information about her. A smart bot would be able to follow up with her. Perhaps it could ask her how the search for the shoes was going.
It could also, later on, send the client a deal specially tailored for her. Perhaps the next time something similar goes on sale, the bot could let the client know. Or maybe a personalized discount voucher would be a nice touch.
Think of the bot as an extension of your sales and support staff. It can build a relationship with a client and help improve customer experience and chatbots are a once-off expense – after that, they work 24/7.
All of which is excellent for your brand and company.
Not Just Chatbots
But chatbots are just one small piece of what AI can do. Want to make your accounts receivable process run more smoothly? AI can help with payment tracking, automatic reminders, and even helping your staff know which collections to prioritize.
It can help you make better sense of the data that you have on your clients and sort it in just about any format that you want it. It can allow you to drill a lot deeper into the data than you might previously have been able to do. So, instead of just sorting clients by address, you could also specify age, buying patterns and you could target your reports exactly as you want.
Not sure where to start with the reports? AI can help you to determine patterns that might indicate that clients are getting ready to buy. Or to monitor changes in patterns so that you can more easily determine if something has gone awry.
So, as it turns out, AI is more than just the latest buzzword and can help to give smaller businesses a real edge. It could help you save costs, offer better customer service, and increase efficiency. What more do you really want?