AI for Small Business: An Engine for New Growth and Amazing Customer Experience

In the service and hospitality industries one thing that’s keeping small business owners awake at night is customer experience (CX).

CX is critical because it holds the key to a customer’s willingness to spend money with you now and in the future. According to a Walker study, by 2020, customer experience will be the most important thing that differentiates your brand, outgunning both price and product.

And a customer’s experience with your brand starts way before they hand over payment for a take-out or receive a beauty treatment. It starts with the impression they get from trying to make a booking via an app or your website, or the ease with which they get information when calling your store, or how quickly they get a response to an enquiry.

Customers are becoming ever more demanding. They expect the same – if not better – experience from a small business as they would from a well-resourced multinational. But they want it ‘their way’; mobile app consumption has hit a plateau as customers adopt chat as their new browser. By 2019, requests for customer support through mobile messaging apps will exceed requests coming through traditional social media. And data shows that by 2018, “buy” buttons will contribute 2% of brands’ digital sales. This may sound like a small amount, but it represents billions of dollars worth of business.

And that’s the conundrum: for a small business, providing an amazing omni-channel experience for customers could be a differentiator for your brand but getting it right could take time and money. You might need to invest more in your digital channels to respond quickly to customer requests. And what small business owner can afford to do that if it risks taking resources away from delivering a service to customers?

Here’s where technology can play a part. Small service-driven businesses like restaurants, take-away outlets or beauty salons could benefit hugely from the development of artificial intelligence.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by that and how it might work:

Imagine you own a beauty clinic in Texas with an ambition to grow. But investing in digital capabilities, promotions and hiring people to handle bookings and customer enquiries is expensive. If people are not dedicated to these tasks, you’ll miss out on bookings altogether.

So what if you implemented an artificial intelligence agent to take bookings and handle customer responses to specific promotions?

This may sound like science fiction, but it’s a scenario that we’re making real with today.

That Texan beauty clinic I was talking about is actually one of our clients. We implemented an SMS promotion which went out to 7000 customers on their database, offering them a reduced-rate beauty treatment. An automated ‘bot’ or virtual agent handled customer responses and we programmed it to answer the top 20 expected questions either on the phone or via digital channels like Facebook Messenger. Because the technology is integrated with the customer’s booking and point of sale system, the virtual agent can automatically take appointment requests and book them in. And working with the client, we’re able to continually grow the intelligence of the service by adding answers to new questions we hear from customers. This means the system gets even smarter over time, so the amount of merchant-to-customer interaction required continually decreases.

So by implementing a virtual agent, this business has been able to focus resources on the customer experience in their clinic. They’ve also implemented manageable promotions to drive repeat business at a higher margin than previous promotions have delivered, in a way that allows them to comfortably manage the ebbs and flows of demand. And this is critical because repeat business, referrals and recommendations deliver more profitable, long term value than something like a Groupon promotion could ever achieve.

AI agents cost less to implement than people and of course this raises a few questions. Firstly, some clients fear that customers may not like dealing with a bot and would prefer to speak to a real person when making a booking. Whilst that could be true in some demographics, it’s definitely changing as customers get used to using automated services even in mission critical activities like personal banking. Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will experience 85% of all service interactions without communicating with a person because bots can help you 24/7.

Secondly people fear that AI will take jobs away. Gartner research states that by 2025, up to one third of all jobs could be replaced by smart machines. But whilst AI will reduce the number of repetitive tasks done by people, it will enable business growth and investment into other roles. AI has the power to democratize customer experience, so that even SMBs can afford dedicated support which pays for itself by delivering business growth.

The benefits to customers are clear: using, SMB customers are increasing their revenues by at least 15%, whilst also reducing customer engagement costs by up to 70% and improving overall customer satisfaction. Those are huge wins. And in the case of our client in Texas, this means they can invest in additional beauty technicians to handle their business growth.

Getting CX right is critical, and mobile is becoming the most important part of an omni-channel strategy. Customers expect to be able to search for information, receive promotions, chat with agents and make bookings, all from their smart phones. Our platform provides multi-channel customer engagement over phone, SMS, messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, and multi-modal apps that enable voice and text interactions.

In Summary:

It will soon be commonplace for businesses of all sizes to use friendly robots equipped with natural language processing to interact with customers in a way that’s efficient and easy. There are huge benefits to be had by small businesses embracing what AI can offer today with a service like

  • It can grow your revenues by 15%+
  • It can reduce your customer engagement costs by up to 70%, making you more competitive
  • It can improve your overall customer experience and satisfaction rates, driving up loyalty and repeat business
  • It can increase response rates to promotions
  • It can reduce your customer churn and telephone abandon rates

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to implement AI today.