Artificial Intelligence: Enemy or Friend to Small Businesses?

Overview: Everywhere you turn today, “AI” is a hot topic. But what does it mean? And how can small business owners navigate the strange, exciting new world of artificial intelligence?

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to technology headlines in the past year or two, you’ve undoubtedly seen two little letters pop up time and time again: AI. A quick glance at the “artificial intelligence” category on TechCrunch reveals that it’s not uncommon for that tech news website to publish a dozen articles on the topic in a single day!

If your small business involves any use of technology — especially internet technology — it’s safe to say that artificial intelligence will affect you in the future, if it hasn’t already. So unless you run a cash-only hand-squeezed lemonade stand, or you go door-to-door selling hand-made dolls of old ladies with faces made of dried apples, it’s important to be informed about the implications of AI for small businesses.

What Exactly Is Artificial Intelligence in 2023? 

Before we continue, we should narrow down exactly what we mean when we refer to “AI.” It wasn’t so long ago that the term conjured up images of sentient talking computers capable of performing the jobs of multiple humans, like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or lifelike androids like the ones from Steven Spielberg’s movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

>> Related Reading: Five Movies That Predicted the Coming of AI

But today we have a clearer picture of what AI actually means for life and work in the 21st century. On their website, IBM offers a good, concise definition: “Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”

By now, most people are familiar with current AI technology in the form of language learning models like ChatGPT, Bard, and others. Many people are experimenting with this specific type of AI and incorporating it into their work. But artificial intelligence goes way beyond ChatGPT — it encompasses any technology that’s intended to “think” and make decisions like a person.

How Can Small Businesses Utilize Artificial Intelligence? 

So how can you use AI to further the goals of your small business? In a variety of ways!

Chatbots: When customers visit your website, they’re likely to have questions about your business and your products. It would be difficult for you to make yourself available to instantly answer these questions 24/7, but installing a chatbot on your small business website is the next best thing!

A well-designed chatbot uses AI to interpret questions asked by users and provides relevant information. And a chatbot can respond right away, so your customers won’t have to wait for a reply. But chatbots aren’t perfect, so if yours receives a question it can’t “figure out” the answer to, it can simply advise the user to contact customer service to get an answer from a knowledgeable human!

Algorithm-based recommendations: You’ve probably encountered this in your own online travels. After you watch a handful of shows and movies on your favorite streaming platform, the platform starts presenting you with recommendations under a heading like “We Think You’ll Like…” And after you place an order from an online retailer, you receive emails suggesting additional items you might want “Based on Your Purchases.”

AI analyzes your habits as a consumer and comes up with recommendations for options that are similar — or that have been chosen by other people with tastes like yours. You can incorporate AI algorithms on your own small business website to encourage customers to check out items that match their previous decisions — and with any luck, to spend more money!

Draft correspondence: As we mentioned above, AI caught the world’s attention in a big way with the rise of ChatGPT and similar generative language models. If you’re the kind of person who dreads composing emails to clients, vendors, and colleagues, you might find it helpful to use an AI language model to help you write your first draft.

You can start with a prompt like “Write a businesslike email to a client to let them know their order will be delayed…” and then proceed to edit the results so it reflects your brand’s voice.

Cybersecurity: Yes, artificial intelligence can even help strengthen cybersecurity for your small business! AI-driven cybersecurity systems can monitor your business activity and search for unusual account activity, including large expenses or company credit card activity that seems out of the ordinary. It’s like having your own robotic security guard!

Don’t Let AI Negatively Affect Your Consumer Trust 

You get the idea: When used wisely, AI can be a great asset for operating and growing your small business. But let’s emphasize that word “wisely.” When you incorporate AI into your operations, don’t lose sight of the human element or you could end up turning customers away!

Careless overreliance on AI can leave potential customers frustrated. If they have a frustrating conversation with an unhelpful chatbot, if they have to deal with ineffective website search functions, or if they receive cold, impersonal AI-generated responses to emailed questions. When you implement AI tech for your business, make sure your customers can tell your company is run by people, not robots!

>> Related Reading: The Pitfalls of Overreliance on AI

 What’s the Immediate Future of AI Technology? 

Small business owners, giant tech corporations, and everyday users are all wondering: What’s the future of AI? But it’s hard to make precise predictions about where artificial intelligence will be ten years from now. Why? Because it’s moving so fast!

But in the immediate future, we can expect to see AI get better at “computer vision” –which includes interpreting images and videos. AI systems are also likely to become more efficient at performing repetitive data-related tasks, and “learning” how to respond to written prompts.

It’s also clear that debates about the ethical considerations surrounding the uses (and misuses) of AI will persist, especially as the technology carries the potential for spreading misinformation, and businesses continue to consider eliminating jobs and replacing human workers with artificial intelligence. But no matter what happens, it’s a sure thing that AI will be a searing hot topic for the foreseeable future.

>> Related Reading: What’s the Future of AI?

In Conclusion 

Artificial intelligence has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. For small business owners, using AI in company operations can greatly increase efficiency and boost customer service — as long as it’s employed under human supervision to ensure the best results.

At MyUnlimitedWP, we use AI to serve our small business website clients every day! Generative language models allow us to expedite correspondence. Integration of CSS with the website builder Elementor allows us to quickly add CSS to a new website. And we use the workflow automation system Zapier to run apps more efficiently — or as our tech experts put it, “now we can ‘control the robot’ and make things happen!”

We’d love to use AI to make things happen for YOUR business website and enhance your online presence. Contact us today to learn more!

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