Artificial intelligence isn’t just robots and autopiloted spacecraft. It’s here, it’s now―and it can be the future of your small business. Predictive computing systems, chatbots for your website, and automation of many “busywork”“ tasks vital to your small business can help ease the burden for small business owners who wear many hats, giving you more time to devote to building relationships with your customers and growing your business.
Tracking customer behavior online and using smart analytics can help you find the right customers and match their needs with your goods or services. Using data collected from site visitors, AI can display ads to customers after they leave your site, keeping you relevant through instant profiling. This user-specific profiling saves your small business money that might otherwise be wasted on ineffective ads, instead addressing your target customers in ways that speak to them.
For example, if you haven’t created Custom Audiences on Facebook, it’s a great place to target new customers or retarget customers who have interacted with your brand or purchased from you in the past.
Google Analytics can help you develop a website that engages site visitors, tells the authentic story of your brand, and showcases your goods or services in a way that attracts new business and inspires brand loyalty.
Google offers free analytics for WordPress users, and setting up an account is simple. Enter your site’s domain name and analytics tracking cookies to your website. You can also add other authorized users, such as your social media manager or web developer.
Once you’ve set up your account, you can track the number of unique users who visit your page and the length of the average session on your site. Pages that aren’t performing well are flagged, as are the pages users visit most.
You’ll also discover how users arrive at your page, whether it’s a click through from a social media site, an organic search (and the strength of keywords most users type to find your site), or paid ads. This gives you valuable insight into where to spend your advertising budget. Choose paid ads and social media banners where most of your site visitors come from, and drop campaigns that aren’t producing new hits or leads.
Another valuable tool from Google Analytics is the ability to determine the devices your site visitors use to navigate your page. A preponderance of mobile users means that (1) your site should be fully optimized for mobile use, and (2) shoppers are looking for businesses like yours while out and about.
You can also monitor the social media sites that are giving you the most engagement and then keep a stronger presence there. If you choose to engage a third-party social media posting contractor, such as Hootsuite, you can work with them to engage more fully with your friends and followers.
Google Analytics also allows you to track the length of time it takes for a conversion, giving you the chance to install pop-up ads and special offers encouraging visitors to return to your site for a discount or special offer on their next (or first) purchase.
Human Resources Tasks
Using sophisticated timekeeping and payroll systems can help small business owners properly manage labor―easily the largest controllable cost for small businesses. Linking your sales forecasts, which are based on your business’s historical performance, can help you determine how many staff member you need at any given time.
Scheduling and Payroll
Many scheduling software systems can also process your payroll and even cut checks for your staff. Linking sales forecasts, schedules, and payroll together gives you or your accountant a one-stop shop for handling the nuts and bolts of your labor.
Using computerized scheduling software makes creating schedules easier, especially in businesses where your staff has a set schedule. Simply load the shifts into a timekeeper and your employees can check their shifts online and easily punch in and out.
Applicant Tracking Software
Paper applications are almost a thing of the past. With large job sites like Indeed and Monster, many employers are opting for online-only applications. You can take advantage of this by creating your own online application with a link on your website for potential new hires.
Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) is a system that matches keywords in your job description to those listed on an applicant’s resume submission. For example, if you’re looking for a salesclerk, phrases like “cash handing responsibility,” “customer service initiatives,” or “reconciling receipts at the end of the day” indicate that this person has the experience you are looking for. You can set your ATS system up to screen the specific criteria you’re looking for.
Human Resources Streamlining
Once you’ve decided on a new hire, you can do basic company training online as well as load them into your scheduling system. The new hire can complete much of the initial hiring paperwork online. Company policies, new hire training schedules, and a list of what to expect in the first 30 and 90 days of employment can all be loaded into an easy-to-email document set. This streamlines the onboarding process and allows you to consistently introduce new employees to your company.
In addition to streamlining the new hire process, AI-based human resources software can help manage daily inquiries from your employees, such as benefits information, company policies, and the like. You can also manage performance evaluations, making sure that they’re scheduled in a timely manner, and create templates for your supervisors to ensure that each employee is being reviewed to the same standard.
Computerized training and testing can help reduce the amount of human time required to teach and train new employees. In addition, you can be assured that every new employee is given the same materials and that the policies and procedures you need each one to learn are addressed.
Smarter Website Experience
Using AI to enhance your customers’ interaction with your website allows you to give real-time answers to questions and process payments or special orders without a “manned” website. In fact, some experts estimate that by the year 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.
Although best practice for small businesses is to build a relationship with their clients through authentic interaction, websites designed with AI interfaces can help you serve your customers what they need, when they need it. AI can also save you money―current versions of many chatbots can reduce customer support costs by as much as 30%.
Chatbots and 24–7 Customer Service
Help website visitors more easily navigate your site, get them answers to specific questions, and engage them in an automated dialogue using a custom chatbot. These can help online stores run around the clock, processing straightforward orders and guiding your customers to the right product. They can also enhance a brick-and-mortar store’s after-hours service and offer sales even after you’ve physically locked your doors.
Depending on your program, chatbots can also generate tailored content for emails based on each customer’s profile by tracking their behaviors; they can then provide follow-up product recommendations. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, chatbots are capable of giving human-like replies to complicated questions. The natural learning processes of these bots helps you, as a business owner, analyze common keywords that your site’s visitors use. This, in turn, can help you with your web copy, addressing specific SEO strings and keywords you may not be aware of.
Automated Email Senders
Writing an email to every customer to thank them for their business, remind them about upcoming service appointments, or offer them a limited-time promotion or discount is time-consuming. Many small business owners, however, still do some of this manually. You may have a master email contacts list for your business and send out a promotional email every month to everyone as an email blast.
Tailored Promotional Emails
You can group your customer base together by interests and past purchasing habits. You can also track new users and determine their needs. Using these groups, your AI email client can create personalized emails that include each customer’s name and offer limited-time promotions and discounts according to their preferences.
Tailoring your promotions to each customer, instead of sending out a generalized promotion, gives them something of value that they’re more likely to use. Even a sale at 20% off is still more of a sale than offering something that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. Addressing your emails to each customer by name is an easy task for your AI client and builds an authentic relationship between you and your clientele.
Customer Service Reminders
If you’re in the service business, sending out automated reminders for upcoming service appointments is just good business. An AI client, especially one that’s tied into your booking software, can automatically send out reminders and have a link for customers to confirm their appointments with you, helping to reduce no-shows and cancellations that can cost you money.
If your customers don’t have a scheduled appointment, you can also use email senders to remind them that they need service, whether it’s an oil change, hair color touch-up, or doctor’s visit. These emails, too, can be tied into your scheduling program and allow your customers to click a link to book their appointments online.
Using automated emails to schedule and change appointments, rebook reoccurring services, and manage cancellations frees up a lot of time for small business owners. Your customers receive the same personalized service you want to give them in a way that’s convenient for them to respond to.
Predictive Analysis and Sales Forecasting
Along with using data analysis to predict customer behavior and create targeted, effective advertising, AI algorithms can be used to predict customer purchasing behavior. Predictive analysis uses data mining, statistics, and sales modeling to forecast trends for online businesses. As AI machine learning and data collection become more sophisticated, digital marketers can more accurately measure the success of campaigns and shift their focus to specific digital strategies that make the most sense for their business.
AI can group your customers together into different target groups. This can be especially useful for small business owners whose marketing plan indicates that there are a few key demographics―which may have little overlap―that drive most of their sales. When you’re able to isolate a few discrete user groups, you can run multiple campaigns that feature different products that appeal to each target customer profile’s needs.
In addition, different target customers may have different online behavior patterns. The social media sites they use, for example, can help determine what types of ads work best on which platforms. A target customer who primarily uses Facebook will naturally be more receptive to Facebook ads, but if your demographics are younger Millennials, then Facebook advertising, even the Custom Audiences feature, probably won’t have much of an impact.
Once your AI programs have segmented your primary customer base into groups, predictive analysis can help you realize more new leads and increase your lead conversion, as you have a better understanding of the target customer’s journey through the sales funnel. You can nurture advertising campaigns using behavioral data from each group and increase your bottom line with target upselling or cross-selling, thanks to AI’s detailed research on your customers’ preferences.
Using Artificial Intelligence for the Small Business Owner
AI can be a valuable tool for the small business owner, streamlining busywork tasks and enhancing the virtual customer experience. It can also help you be a more efficient business owner, ensuring that client appointments don’t slip through the cracks, your employees are properly paid and managed, and your website is optimized to turn casual visitors into leads and conversions. Investing in one or more AI tools will cost little to start but can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run.