By Srivatsan Laxman

Today it is easier and more affordable than ever for small businesses to deploy AI technology for a truly smart and reliable 24/7 resource for customers, and to boost brand loyalty – which translates into client retention, improved productivity and a boost to profits.  While AI technology is typically associated with large businesses, recent advances in technology, ease of use and affordability have made AI more prevalent – particularly in the form of AI assistants, in the small to medium sized business (SMB) sector.

For instance, the service industry, including salons, spas, and fitness studios, that require heavy front desk duties, can engage conversational “virtual assistants” to be on duty 24/7 helping with scheduling, payments, promotions, cancellations, wait-listing and much more.  One example of a franchise having success with a virtual AI assistant is TruREST, the fastest growing flotation therapy spa franchise in the U.S.  Flotation therapy, also known as Reduced Environmental Stimulus Therapy (REST), is a popular wellness service used for relaxation, pain relief and improved sleep – a place customers go for a tension-releasing experience.

“When a customer or potential new customer wants to schedule or change an appointment, or find out more about our services, the last thing we want is to make the process stressful,” said Amir Adib, director of Franchise Operations for True REST.  “So, we subscribed to an AI assistant to ensure we never miss a customer call regardless of how busy our receptionists are or if it’s after hours. The automated AI-agent can respond to most any customer query immediately and in our brand voice, which helps offer our customers a consistent service,” he added.

According to Gartner, the end of 2018 saw that 30% of people’s interactions with AI was through “conversations” — whether through a bank menu or other customer service portals.  This year, we will see virtual assistants become “smart” enough to engage with clients and customers in a much more pleasant and positive way, and fostering the following benefits for the SMB sector:

The Adoption of Voice-Operated Devices in Homes Will Spill Over into Business

By 2020, end-user spending on consumer-based voice-activated devices such as Google Home, Alexa and Cortana will reach $2.1 billion, according to Gartner.  The advancements around conversational AI based capabilities made in these consumer-oriented solutionswill positively affect the  business arena, especially to SMBs that have heavy front desk and receptionist needs.  Time intensive activities such as appointment scheduling and answering service questions will be solved by AI assistants that will finally have the sophistication necessary meet the problem-solving capabilities of a receptionist or front of desk team.

Customer Support will be mostly AI assisted

Today when a customer calls an organization such as a bank, they are greeted first by voice assistant. At this point, these assistants can do nominal tasks and take customers through a menu of options such as paying bills, making an appointment, and more.  In 2019, we will see the “AI element” improve these capabilities by “learning” and growing with each customer interaction.  These functions include interacting on a more personal level with customers such as remembering their preferences, capturing information from a customer, directing them to the proper department and help desk function, and more.

Data Analytics for Everyone

One of the important outcomes of the prevalence of AI-powered assistants for small businesses will be the ability to collect information on customer calls and interactions that can later help in other functions such as marketing, customer support and work-flow efficiencies.  AI powered dashboards will help organizations to procure customer results in a more meaningful way, offering businesses deeper insights.

In 2019, we will see the coming of age of “conversational AI” and AI assistants – a true windfall for SMBs looking to increase operational efficiencies and revenue.  As AI-assistants become smarter and more affordable – organizations from franchises to mom and pop stores, will be able to benefit from the many assets and tools the AI assistant solutions can provide.

Srivatsan Laxman is the founder and CEO of Frontdesk AI, which was founded in 2017 and is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA.  FrontdeskAI creates AI solutions for the un-sung heroes of the global economy – the small business and is the fastest adopted AI solution for the salon and fitness studio industries.

AI stock photo by maxuser/Shutterstock