artificial intelligence

Why SMBs Shouldn’t Be Afraid of AI

Data overload is a common challenge that unites businesses of all sizes; whether they’re multinational corporations with millions of customer records, or small and medium businesses (SMB) with hundreds of receipts to log. Large enterprises are handling their data by embracing AI in their droves – so why are some SMBs still holding back from adopting this revolutionary technology in 2022?

Encouragingly, the number of SMBs investing in automation continues to rise — 2 in 3 say it helped increase their productivity during the pandemic. But adopting AI to solve practical day-to-day challenges is the next key step for accelerating growth and beating the competition.

Like hiring any new employee, this takes trust. AI needs to quickly and clearly demonstrate its ability to take on the heavy lifting, to learn what it takes to make individual businesses thrive, to care for customers, and to make ethical and secure decisions with data.

AI continues to showcase its unrivaled benefits, removing friction and transforming business productivity. Here’s why more SMBs should place their trust in AI this year:

AI at work alongside SMB leaders

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 categorize 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.

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Intelligent tech spots what a busy SMB might miss

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.

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Taking customer care to new levels

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 customization.

Ethically and securely managing data

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 behavior 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 antivirus 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.

Placing trust in AI will pay off for SMBs

AI’s benefits for customer relations, cost efficiencies and innovative influence are unparalleled when paired with passionate SMB leaders thriving to make an impact to their employees, customers and communities.

Adopting AI is not a simple decision for small and medium businesses – we know it certainly takes trust. However, the evidence is clear that this investment has what it takes to help SMB owners and leaders make their business goals a reality. Placing trust in AI is a decision they won’t regret.

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