Artificial intelligence is having a moment — or maybe a decade. The technology is already so ingrained in our lives that most people don’t even realize they’re using it. In 2019, the AI market was valued at $39.9 billion. By 2025, it’s predicted to be a $390 billion industry.
Startups might not have the troves of data that giant corporations do, but they can still leverage artificial intelligence to streamline and optimize their operations. In fact, startups stand to benefit the most from AI because it frees up human team members to do more high-value work.
Instead of spending the day fielding routine customer questions, virtual assistants can help customers 24/7. And rather than spending hours poring over spreadsheets, your team can act quickly on insights revealed through predictive analytics.
With all these advancements, AI is rapidly improving startups’ ability to grow faster and more intelligently. Here are three ways AI can help you scale your business this year:
1. Hire the Right Candidates
Talent acquisition is one of the most costly aspects of scaling any business. In the U.S., the average employer spends about $4,000 and 24 days hiring a new employee. For startups, scaling comes with the added difficulty of trying to maintain company culture. (For hypergrowth companies in particular, talent acquisition is their No. 1 challenge.)
Finding great people and assessing candidates for fit is one area where AI can help. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, algorithms are actually better at hiring than humans because they don’t get caught up in trivial details that can lead to hiring the wrong people.
Many solutions have sprung up in the past few years to help businesses of all sizes recruit. Ideal uses AI to screen résumés, grade candidates, and research applicants’ previous workplaces. It also claims to eliminate subconscious bias by establishing a diverse candidate pool. Arya uses machine learning to identify the right candidates based on your existing team, and its pattern-recognition technology can even gauge whether a candidate is likely to switch jobs.
Once you have a candidate pool, there are also tools that can help you assess those applicants and interview at scale. HireVue is a platform that allows candidates to record responses to a consistent set of questions on their own schedule. Then the platform performs an algorithmic audit of their responses and scores candidates for HR.
2. Provide Instant Customer Support
Providing customer support gets expensive as you scale — even if you choose to outsource that service. Businesses that route their calls to support centers in the Philippines are paying roughly five dollars per call, and customers still aren’t getting a great experience.
People don’t like to wait on hold or be forced to navigate a lengthy telephone menu. They want instantaneous service — even if it comes from a virtual assistant. Millennials would rather use chat than pick up the phone, and 37 percent of customers would prefer to get help from a bot right away than wait on a human agent.
While chatbots work great for answering frequently asked questions, many companies are moving away from bots that work off a limited script to more advanced conversational solutions such as intelligent virtual agents. IVAs are unique in that they can understand language context and learn over time to have more human-like conversations. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies began using IVAs to provide automated HR and IT support to remote workers.
Just last year, cloud contact center solution Five9 acquired Inference Solutions to add intelligent virtual agents to its lineup of tools with the goal of improving the customer experience. As Five9’s EVP of Strategy and Operations James Doran points out, using IVAs allows human agents to offload tasks and focus on higher-value tasks at a fraction of the cost. As you scale your contact center, IVAs can help you provide instant support without breaking the bank or sacrificing customer experience.
3. Forecast Customer Demand
Six in 10 small-business owners struggle with cash flow issues, which can lead to missed opportunities and lost profits. One thing startups can’t afford is to purchase inventory or invest in developing products that their customers don’t want.
This is where AI and predictive analytics come into play. These tools can gather data to help forecast trends, predict consumer demand, and facilitate supply-chain optimization. Research shows that AI can help reduce forecasting errors by 30 to 50 percent and reduce sales lost due to product unavailability by 65 percent. Demand-forecasting systems can also detect irregularities that would otherwise lead to ordering errors.
There are many successful startups using AI to understand what their customers want before they even develop those products. Take Finesse, for example — a startup that uses natural language processing and deep learning to predict fashion trends. By identifying emerging trends, the company can design in-demand statement pieces and have them ready for purchase in about 25 days.
Then there’s ThirdLove — the direct-to-consumer lingerie company. ThirdLove used AI to design better-fitting bras based on real women’s data. The company found that many women fall between cup sizes, which led to ThirdLove offering half-cup and extended sizes.
There are a million ways you can use AI to scale your business without losing your humanity. When used correctly, AI can reveal critical insights to help make your business more profitable and responsive. AI is no substitute for a stellar human team, but it can reduce costs, minimize risk, and help you deliver a better customer experience.