Scroll through some recent headlines and you may start to think that Artificial Intelligence is as great a threat to the globe as climate change, radical politics, or the (wholly hypothetical) return of Barney the purple dinosaur. Critics foresee AI swallowing jobs, quashing creativity, and sucking the humanity out of our business interactions.
Doomsday reports make for sensational reading, but they also fly in the face of business realities. For example, a recent Salesforce survey reports that 66 percent — two thirds — of the nation's IT leaders are prioritizing generative AI initiatives in the next 18 months. That's an impressive adoption rate for a such a threat to humanity, isn't it?
So, what are these businesses planning to do with their newfound technology firepower?
Meet the equalizer.
I make it a point in my conversations with small business owners to call AI "Augmented Intelligence." Because that's what it's really doing — enriching your operations with better informed decisions that save time and resources. For starters, consider these areas where AI is well equipped to help your enterprise level compete more effectively against the big names in your industry.
1. Enhance the human aspect of customer service.
One shorthand example of AI "horrors" is the narrative that chat bots will take over customer service, ending human interaction as we know it. Okay, that's true if you also think Barney the dinosaur really can make a comeback. But back in reality, we know there's a need for human interaction in serving customers well, as my colleague Michael Hollander discussed in his recent column.
Imagine an AI application that could learn individual customers' behaviors and preferences — everything from how they want to be greeted to what sort of offers and/or resolutions they respond to best. Or think about the very human advantages of a real-time AI monitor that can, through "sentiment analysis" analyze a customer's tone of voice and offer the customer service rep options for how to engage? They can pick up on the customer's keywords or phrases to ensure appropriate responses.
Using AI, you can supercharge service agents with the tools they need to be more engaging and effective in their jobs. And when sales and customer service teams lead the charge in AI adoption, they become AI evangelists within your organization.
2. Develop more relevant marketing content.
A recent Gartner report predicts that the percentage of AI-generated outbound marketing messages will rise to 30% by 2025 — as compared to 2 percent in 2022. Part of that growth will come from products such as Google's recently announced Product Studio, an AI application joining its re-energized Merchant Center. Product Studio will enable a firm to create unique images and text — everything from headlines and copy to multiple product images — for free.
Product Studio and its related tools can help businesses reach the right people with the right message, improving their marketing ROI. You can, for example:
Input the text of your web site to generate specific marketing assets — social media posts, blogs, etc. based on that information.
Take a single photo of a product and place it into multiple targeted scenarios.
Model a piece of clothing on a variety of models — without the expense of a studio, photographer, and talent.
It's like having the resources of J. Crew or Proctor & Gamble at your keyboard. Surely, you'll want and need human intervention to refine these materials, but what a great start, isn't it?
3. Create a more responsible, responsive manufacturing and supply chain.
AI is also valuable in less but equally as important areas like logistics and supply-chain optimization. An AI app can:
Constantly monitor inventory, demand, and even mitigating events like market trends, weather, and other current events.
Help you order inventory more accurately and conserve materials, thereby cutting overhead and staying competitive.
More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents to a survey by platform developer Blue Yonder report that they're leveraging artificial intelligence in the supply chains. Top uses include:
Inventory and network optimization (33 percent)
Warehouse resource management (29 percent)
Supply chain risk management (26 percent)
Manage job concerns
When evaluating any new technology, it pays to understand potential areas of concern. In the case of AI, job preservation is an often-raised objection. But as the ever-astute Bill Gates observed in his recent blog, "Word processing applications didn't do away with office work, but they changed it forever. Employers and employees had to adapt, and they did." Typists became word processors, then administrative assistants and project coordinators.
In answering the jobs question, consider the customer-service example I've mentioned here. The CSR should feel relieved, not threatened, since AI will help them, help their customers more easily and more quickly, with better outcomes. That's great for their career growth.
Taking those first steps
As the Google Merchant Center release shows, AI platforms in the cloud can provide small businesses with accessible and affordable solutions instead of having to build their own. What's more, the ease of these applications will encourage management in your organization — whether they're in sales, marketing, finance or HR — to try AI with confidence. They can be empowered to explore in their respective areas and not be intimidated by the technology.
Yes, challenges remain. But if your firm creates a solid plan that monitors implementation and progress, it can harness AI to level the playing field and compete effectively with larger corporations.
Master AI Lingo
Before you jump into AI, you should understand the nuances of its terminology. For example, what's the difference between "AI" and "Generative AI?" Are these terms interchangeable? Here's the thumbnail rundown:
- Conventional AI
- is the ability of computers and software to analyze data, detect trends, and make forecasts, as a human would do.
- Machine learning
- is a subset of AI. It refers to the set of technology tools that endow computers with the means of detecting patterns, drawing conclusions, and bettering themselves by absorbing and interpreting more data.
- Generative AI
- applications use the information they're given to create new information.
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