AI is not a nice-to-have – it’s essential to the future of SMBs

AI is not a nice-to-have – it’s essential to the future of SMBs

21 Nov    Finance News, Opinion

AI has rapidly revolutionised how marketing teams work, with 63% of UK marketers reporting that they had experimented with ChatGPT or generative AI as a part of their marketing and customer experience efforts.

This figure will only increase over the coming year, and it is vital that businesses start to plan how they’ll use AI in the long-term to keep up with an increasingly competitive market.

As Emmanuelle Benoliel, Chief Marketing Officer at Aircall explains, This is especially true for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) who, owing to less revenue and leaner teams – but the same expectations – see their investments placed increasingly under the microscope. The immediacy of AI technology makes it a very tempting prospect for content and idea creation, but the long-term benefits it will deliver remain unclear and SMBs need to better define the ongoing role they want it to play.

This byline will explore how generative AI can revolutionise marketing through enhanced customer experience and boosting human creativity. It will discuss how SMBs, in particular, can implement AI technologies without downgrading the input of their marketers or making ethically unsound decisions, and will look ahead to what the future of marketing for SMBs might look like, with AI and humans working together in high-performing harmony.

AI can revolutionise customer experiences for SMBs – so what’s holding them back?

In a challenging business environment, delivering impactful customer experiences is central to the success of businesses worldwide, but, on average, customer-facing teams spend just four hours of the working week on meaningful interactions with customers. It’s no secret that during a downturn such as we’re seeing now, customers are more likely to leave quicker – at a time when you need them to stick around. Simply put, these four hours aren’t enough, especially for SMBs.

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The better experiences and improved retention SMBs need calls for investment, time and attention – factors that aren’t always possible for leaner organisations. When we consider how, according to the B2B Institute, 80% of business clients are not in the market for the product businesses are selling at any one moment, it becomes clear that this isn’t about turning the tap on and off again, but about weaving AI into customer engagement that can bring benefits in both the short and the long term.

Through its time-saving capabilities, generative AI is helping SMB marketers connect to their customers in a more personalised and dynamic way. Customers want to be understood and feel like they are heard, but this isn’t about asking ChatGPTto do that for you; it’s about leaning into generative AI’s capabilities to automate the time drags that marketing teams face as part of their customer engagement strategy. For instance, predicting future customer behaviour, audience segmentation, programmatic advertising, SEO, suggesting and then generating more personalised content – the list goes on! Implemented effectively, AI’s enablement (not replacement) of human performance unlocks the competitive advantage for SMBs in a crowded marketplace and helps to keep teams’ heads above water.

Without collaboration between humans and AI – there’ll be no future

Our AI Index report found that 64% of employees are optimistic about AI in general – rising to 68% of those aged 25 to 34. But despite this, more work is needed to get the most value out of AI. Greater education is required around the uses of it to support the daily work of teams, with 63% stating that there is a lack of understanding of what AI can do.

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AI has enormous potential to help marketers to work more effectively and efficiently, but efforts must be directed towards establishing the right partnerships between people and AI. Crucially for SMBs, using AI doesn’t endanger their creativity, but it can make marketers’ lives easier. One option is bouncing ideas off generative AI in the same way you would a colleague. For example, when planning an advertising campaign concept, you could expect ChatGPT, Google Bard and co to provide the most common or entry-level answers and ideas; the ones that cover the main bases. This gives us a unique benchmark to build our human creativity up from – honing in on our human difference and providing something altogether more special and born from experience.

While I’m keen to avoid the melodrama of the movies we’ve all watched about the rise of AI, it’s true that if SMBs fail to work together with the technology, then there might not be a future for them. Not through the fault of AI – but their own inability to innovate and keep pace with a changing world. The tightrope SMBs are asked to walk gets higher and higher the more the economy tightens, and right now there’s an unmissable window for them to lay the foundation for a partnership that holds to the key to business survival and success.

Taking businesses to the next level

Navigating the AI revolution requires careful consideration in how we integrate new technologies, with a focus on human-centricity. After all, AI is only as good as the people who use it. It is encouraging, therefore, to see that almost half (48%) of employees want more guidance from their employers on how to use AI – and 39% say that a lack of AI training impacts their decisions to join a company.

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At Aircall, we’re meeting SMBs halfway by creating AI-supported tools that might have traditionally been out of their reach. That’s because AI is the future and it cannot just be for big businesses. By democratising this technology, in both an easy-to-use and affordable way, we are empowering them to gather customer insights and make data-driven decisions to perform at their peak.

AI has evolved at a rapid pace and it shows no signs of slowing down. But with question marks remaining over its safety and ethics, it is important that we pause and take stock of the progress made so far, before deciding where to turn next in its implementation. Indeed, half of employees are concerned about moving too fast with AI, but we must educate and train to put these concerns aside. Because with the right partner and tools, we can get our processes right and seize the potential to bring humans and AI together for a brighter future of marketing and SMBs.

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