Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence and SMEs

When people say the words “artificial intelligence”, it probably conjures up thoughts of science fiction and questions about the difference between androids and humans. In the real world, however, artificial intelligence is still at a much lower level and could probably be more accurately described by the alternative term “machine learning”. Nevertheless, it offers exciting opportunities for businesses large and small.

Here are three reasons SMEs should be getting excited about artificial intelligence.

1. Better decision making

The DIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) hierarchy is the idea that data is the foundation of wisdom. In order for data (discrete, observable facts) to become wisdom (the ability to increase effectiveness by understanding the reasons why something is so), it must pass through the intermediate points of information (data with meaning and purpose) and knowledge (information put into context gained by experience).

Undertaking each of these steps takes time, which is an increasingly scarce commodity in the modern world, where sometimes speed of reaction is what determines the difference between success and failure.

Using artificial intelligence to undertake as much of the early stages of this hierarchy as possible, particularly the date/information stages, frees up humans for the knowledge and wisdom stages and can help with better (and faster) decision making.

2. Better upselling

If you’re in the habit of shopping online, the chances are you’ll have experienced artificial intelligence being incorporated into the sales process, even if you haven’t realised what it was. Large retails sites such as Amazon track customer behaviour and use artificial intelligence to predict which products are likely to interest them.

This has now gone way beyond simple concepts such as understanding that if you buy a product that requires batteries, you may want to buy the batteries as well. Amazon can learn your taste in entertainment and make meaningful recommendations of products you are likely to enjoy.

As this form of AI becomes more mainstream, SMEs are becoming able to do the same.

3. Better customer service

Those who can remember the early days of call centres may remember thinking that some companies trained humans to act like robots and stick to a rigid script without any room for individuality or, indeed, humanity.

Thankfully, by this point in time, most companies have grasped that this is a horrendous idea, but AI can still play a useful role in the customer-service process.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with customer service knows that, in spite of all efforts to help customers to help themselves by FAQ sections and such like, the reality is that a lot of the questions directed to customer service teams are actually fairly standard (read repetitive) and are often actually answered on the website.

AI can be used to filter these out and ensure that human agents can focus their energy where it actually serves a purpose. One example of this is the growing use of AI-driven chatbots as front-line customer service agents. These are already quite capable of answering simple queries, thus cutting response time and helping to increase customer satisfaction. The introduction of bots on Facebook Messenger, as well as in pop-up customer service chats on websites are great examples of where this technology is going.