With rapid advances in technology, we are edging closer to the time when Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be able to perform many tasks and even whole jobs currently done by human workers. Though the full realization of this transformation is still far off, the affects of AI are already been seen and felt today, allowing companies to perform more effectively and efficiently and to do so a fraction of the cost.

AI Isn’t Just for Big Corporations

Over the past few years, a lot of attention has been focused on the use of AI technology at big corporations, such as Amazon and Facebook. But many smaller businesses are reaping the benefits of AI, too. Nowadays, small businesses can plug an assortment of AI-ready tools into every part of their business operations. If a task involves data, then AI has their back.

The result is that small businesses are already using sophisticated AI to help their employees do their jobs better, improve the customer experience, and make operations more efficient. Plus, AI has meant great leaps and bounds in the area of data analysis, allowing small companies to instantly draw useful business insights and accurately predict customer behavior and fit.

In short, as competition heats up in countless markets and industries across the globe, AI is giving small businesses a much needed competitive advantage.

How AI is Being Used in Small Companies

Since smaller companies are often working with limited resources, one of the keys to successfully introducing and implementing an AI solution in a small business is to prioritize the areas that will offer the biggest ROI. Here are five such uses of AI among small companies:

1. Customer Service. Customer service has two aspects to it: one client-facing, the other back office. AI has been making a tremendous impact on both. In client-facing customer service, small businesses have been using automated chatbot systems on their websites to help scale and streamline their customer service experience. As natural language processing continues to advance, developers have made been leaps and bounds in the ability of a chatbot to answer more complex or detailed questions. Unanswered customer inquiries are then fowarded to the appropriate person or department

Chatbots not only provide businesses with an around the clock virtual customer service representative, they also allow the small companies that use them to gather important data from their customers. This data in turn helps the business to improve various phases of the sales and support process.

While some customers may object to non-human support, chatbots at the same time create a less confrontational way for them to air their grievances and offer vital feedback to the business about the product, service, or customer experience.

In the realm of customer service, there is also Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM systems gather information about consumers across email, phone conversations, social media, and other channels. They then both present and analyze that data in a way that helps customer service and sales department representatives to take the most effective and efficient marketing and lead generation activities.

2. Market Research. Even if a small business has narrowed in on their ideal customers, often the market that is being served is greater than those core clients. Knowing which consumers are buying their products or services as well as how they are feeling about their purchases, can help business owners craft more effective marketing and sales strategies. Product and/or service features can also be smartly added or tweaked based on consumer sentiments and attitudes.

Up until now, collecting feedback from customers required sifting through written, verbal, video or image-based data to determine where and if there are any patterns. These days, small businesses can give AI platforms raw customer data in various forms and get categorized customer sentiments in return.

3. Marketing. Most small businesses take a hit or miss approach to their marketing. They try a few different strategies to see what “sticks” and then just keep doing the same things as long as the sales conversions keep coming in. It often doesn’t matter how good the ROI on these methods really is. Small businesses often have limited time and tools to invest in the oversight.

With AI, much of the guess work is eliminated. Some AI platforms are starting to collect, analyze, and learn from an assortment of customer data, and then assist marketers and sales team members by making effective suggestions. Content creators also use these insights to craft content and advertisements that speak directly to their target audience.

Best of all, this complex analysis is not only pretty accurate, but it is conducted in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing.

4. Competitive intelligence. Not only is a typical small business generating a tremendous amount of data, but so are their competitors. Thus, staying on top of the movements of any competing companies can be practically impossible. Luckily, there are many AI-powered competitive analysis tools on the market that are designed to track a company’s activities across multiple channels, such as social media, online media, and their company website.

This is a real goldmine for small businesses in particular, since these AI tools can not only recognize variables, such as price changes, PR activity, and online reputation, but they can make savvy suggestions, too. Some platforms can also reveal product gaps, competitor strengths and weaknesses and untapped market opportunities. This helps small companies quickly adjust their business strategy and marketing tactics.

5. Time Management. The final area where AI is having the biggest impact on small companies is time management. Thanks to the surge in personal assistant applications, such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, small business owners and their employees are better managing their schedules, accessing pertinent information on the fly, and having an easier time staying focused on the things that matter the most.

In short, when it comes to small companies and the integration of AI-enabled tools, the possibilities are practically limitless. AI is fast becoming a prevailing and necessary component of any business’ operations.