Effective sales strategies are the lifeblood of any thriving business. One of the most powerful approaches is to focus on proactive customer engagement. Customer engagement can be as easy as greeting someone when they walk through the door or being readily available during a home redesign.
The struggle is that there is a limited number of hours in a day. While larger companies can hire more employees to keep things running, small businesses do not always have that option. Fortunately, the development of artificial intelligence tools can allow businesses to boost efficiency, productivity, and customer experience for a relatively low cost.
Customer Centric Selling
People like being heard. They enjoy having their needs met. Even more, they like to feel special. It makes someone's day when the barista at a favorite coffee shop greets them by name and knows their order or when they get a cookie “on the house” simply because the server recognizes them.
For small business owners, creating this feeling for customers is crucial for continued support and, ultimately, for success. It's the personal details that set independent businesses apart from large corporations. People go to the locally owned pet store where the owner knows their poodle's name instead of a nationwide store because they feel like a priority.
Customer centric selling is the practice of putting the customer first. It means taking the time to get to know the clients likes, dislikes, and needs. Instead of pushing the same product on everyone, it is about customizing a solution for each individual. Although this practice requires more face time with the client, it fosters greater customer satisfaction and ultimately higher sales numbers. Happy clients are more likely to return and spread the word about a business.
The challenge, however, is that running a business is time consuming. Whether it is calculating payroll, interviewing new employees, or working the front lines, a small business owner's work never ends. There is not enough time in a day to get to know every client and create that personalized experience that will bring them back. However, customer centric selling has evolved beyond conventional human-human interactions. Advanced technology now serves as a viable substitution. A potential customer can get an immediate helpful response from an automated system with more accuracy and personalization than ever before. This sets the stage for a highly effective and well-informed conversation with you, ultimately leading to a successful deal closure.
How AI Can Help Small Businesses
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a widely discussed term in the media nowadays, often surrounded by hype. However, it's vital to recognize that AI is not just a buzzword—it's a powerful tool. While the idea of AI may seem overwhelming, perhaps scary, it does not need to be.
What is AI? Artificial intelligence (AI) is computer software designed to perform tasks or make decisions that typically require human intelligence. There are many branches of AI such as Machine Learning (ML), Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and many more. For more detailed explanations of these terms, check out Popular Science.
Software engineers and data scientists package AI into tools for use by companies. One of these tools is the chatbot; a well-known one is ChatGPT. Chatbots are a fantastic tool for small businesses. They can talk to customers, collect information, and assist with scheduling meetings.
AI tools like the chatbot help operations run more efficiently. According to Constant Contact, 33% of small businesses have saved over 40 minutes weekly in marketing after implementing AI and/or automation. There is an ever growing variety of AI technology, with each tool specific to a certain range of tasks.
Leveraging an AI tool enables small business owners to concentrate on the aspects of their business they find enjoyable, while simultaneously ensuring that less appealing tasks are efficiently completed. Imagine a baker named Bobby. Bobby, the baker, loves to bake. He has won awards for his chocolate chip cookies. His dream is to deliver his cookies to homes around the world. However, Bobby knows nothing about running a business, and the concept of marketing gives him a migraine. Thankfully, Bobby uses AI technology to handle those dreaded tasks such as an AI marketing tool to create social media posts showcasing his fantastic desserts and an AI chatbot to answer questions about custom birthday cakes. These tools leave Bobby the time to do what he loves, bake.
Until recently, AI tools were only available to large companies with hefty budgets, but this has changed. There are now resources available specifically for small businesses. AI tools can help with:
- Lead nurturing and sales
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Social media content
- Text and email messaging
How AI Enhances Customer Experience
Customer experience is everything for a business. Happy customers provide repeat business and spread the word, which brings in new business. One point of pride for independent businesses is that they can offer that personal touch that big companies cannot.
A customer's experience begins when they visit a company's website or social media account. The content they see will either hook them or it won't (find tips for creating web content from Semrush). If the customer is interested in the product or service, they will contact the business for more information.
The inbox is inundated with inquiries from potential clients, but if the owner is too busy with current clients to get back to them, those potential customers may not receive a response for hours, days, or might not receive a response at all. Lead conversion rates are 8x higher when leads are responded to within 5 minutes, which can be an impossible number to achieve for small businesses without a team of sales folks handling inquiries. AI can step in to help a small business prevent the loss of clients. Chatbots, such as heyLibby, are assistants who work non-stop to handle that first customer engagement, getting a deep understanding of the customer's likes, dislikes, and needs and automatically logging that in a tool for future reference along with their contact info. People will be thrilled with the immediate response provided to their questions and will be more likely to become a customer. Learn more about how heyLibby works.
For businesses that offer a service such as hair stylists, mechanics, yoga instructors, and housekeepers, AI can allow customers to get questions answered and schedule appointments virtually. AI chatbots can provide information about the service and then help book a time. The flexibility AI tools offer means that clients can book a service on their time instead of being limited by the services's operating hours. It also means clients do not have to wait for calls to be returned and the service provider does not have to deal with returning those calls.
Another area that AI can help ensure personalization remains a part of the small business strategy is through optimization of email marketing. AI algorithms can analyze customer engagement data, preferences, and behaviors to tailor both email content and delivery timing. By understanding when and what types of emails resonate most with each segment of their audience, businesses can craft highly personalized and targeted campaigns. For instance, AI can segment the customer base, allowing businesses to send specific promotions or updates to a particular customer group, significantly increasing email open rates and conversions. This level of personalization and automation not only enhances the customer experience, but also the impact of the email campaigns and the time and resource savings for the business.
Privacy and Safety of Using AI
For many, AI may evoke a sense of unease, reminiscent of an 80s sci-fi movie. Since artificial intelligence is a relatively nascent field of study and AI technology is just emerging, concerns about safety are understandable. Trusting a tech product can be a cautious decision for consumers, especially regarding the protection of their personal information, considering the novelty of AI.
For example, heyLibby prioritizes privacy and is upfront about whether someone is talking to a human or an AI assistant. All data exchanged via heyLibby is encrypted, and all messaging is private. This means all parties interacting with heyLibby can rest assured that their privacy is a priority. Moreover, heyLibby maintains strict confidentiality regarding customer data, abstaining from sharing any data with external parties. The data is exclusively used to provide optimal service to their customers.
Getting Started with AI for Small Businesses
The idea of starting to use AI can be intimidating especially for those who are not tech wizards. There is a lot of jargon associated with AI that may make finding the right tool frustrating and overwhelming. These tips can make make getting started with AI painless:
- Need: Identify areas of struggle, unenjoyable tasks, or duties that take up the most time. A simple internet search using the identified area and “AI for small business” will provide many options. Example search: “marketing AI for small business”
- Fit: Look for a tool that is built for small businesses or if possible for a small business in your industry. Tools built with small businesses in mind will be tailored to your specific challenges and needs.
- User-Friendly: Some AI tools are targeted for companies with tech staff while others have intuitive interfaces making them user-friendly. Find an AI tool that is easy to use without a lot of training.
- Support: See what is offered with the AI tool plan such as tutorials, documentation, and user support. If questions arise, how much information is available to help find an answer?
- Price: The cost of AI tools varies. While some have a higher price, the value provided may make it the best option. Sticking to a budget is important but be sure to also think about return on investment.
- Stick With It: Give it a chance. As with anything new, there is a learning curve. As tempting as it can be to decide that it is too complicated and give up, stick with it. A little extra effort upfront will pay off in huge ways over time.
- Enjoy: Once the task of setting up the AI tool and understanding how to use it is over, it is time to relish the decrease in stress and extra free time it provides!
Artificial intelligence is not the future; it is here now and will only become more integrated into daily life. The sooner it is embraced the sooner businesses will benefit from it. Humans are creatures of habit, and change can be difficult. In these moments, a decision must be faced, adopt new ways, and go after success, or watch as the world goes by.
Embracing new tools allows small businesses to become more efficient. As processes are streamlined and customer experience personalized, thanks to AI tools, it gives small business owners more time to spend with their clients, or finally take a vacation and make memories with their families.