Artificial intelligence quickly becoming business' new best friend

When most people think about AI, they envision self-driving cars and autonomous robots. But not all AI innovations are quite that sexy. In fact, many current AI applications are rather inconspicuous. But not at all inconsequential.

In this article, we’ll dive into AI’s role in improving four areas: sales & marketing, manufacturing, customer service, and business operations.

The perfect sales & marketing team

Every company wants to increase sales. Some ramp up their marketing, some slash prices to attract more consumers, and some leverage artificial intelligence. AI platforms can analyze marketing and sales performance across search, mobile, social media, email campaigns, and other channels. These smart systems track key metrics, allowing human staff to revise their messaging based on real-time customer feedback.

But AI isn’t just a reporter for creative and business teams. It’s also capable of autonomously adjusting ad spend based on campaign performance, and the rapidly advancing technology has even outperformed human-led agency teams.  

The telecommunications company CenturyLink uses an AI assistant to vet sales leads – essentially evaluating which prospects are most likely to buy and therefore deserve the attention of a salesperson. CenturyLink’s AI platform, which relies on a virtual assistant named Angie, has generated $20 in new contracts for every $1 invested in the system. Angie not only sends 30,000 emails a month, the program analyzes prospect communications to identify promising leads and automatically schedules appointments for them with the relevant sales associate.

Given that most employees spend more than half their workdays on email and other non-urgent tasks, Angie’s administrative abilities alone save the company both time and money. But the analytical side of the AI allows the sales team to direct its resources into the prospects who are most likely to become customers, leading to better returns and higher profits across the board. 

The benefits AI offers to sales teams are many. In addition to time-saving perks, such as automated scheduling, AI can also monitor customer calls to spot problematic patterns. For instance, a salesperson may often talk over clients without realizing it. When the AI points this out, he’s more vigilant about his communication style, and he sees a boost in sales.

A manufacturing ninja

When Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, wanted to increase production of its A350 model, it used artificial intelligence as the cornerstone of its efforts. The company needed to anticipate and reduce disruptions in its production process, so it deployed a self-learning AI platform that analyzed both new inputs and historical production data.

The AI system learned to match current problems with solutions that worked on similar issues in the past. When a worker encountered an obstacle, the system would recommend a strategy for addressing it. As the company’s vice president of digital transformation explained it, “The problem might be new to them, but in fact, we’ve seen something very similar in the production line the weekend before, or on a different shift, or on a different section of the line. This has allowed us to shorten the amount of time it takes us to deal with disruptions by more than a third.”

Charming customers one AI-assisted agent at a time

Chatbots are becoming the darlings of enterprise customer service programs, for good reason. AI-powered bots enable companies to respond to customer inquiries quickly and accurately while freeing human agents to focus on complex issues and requests. China Merchant Bank recently began using a messenger bot to field basic questions from up to two million customers. The majority are seeking information about credit card balances and other easily accessible data, so it makes sense to offload those questions to a computer. A single bot can do the work of thousands of customer service employees who can now focus on higher-priority tasks.

AI-assisted customer service enables companies to respond faster because they can anticipate the questions and deliver immediate answers to simple queries. Rather than having workers sit through every introductory chat or call and decide which ones warrant more in-depth attention, the AI can make those judgements instantly and then answer questions themselves or pass the messages on to human representatives. Such speed and responsiveness lead to improved customer relationships, which ultimately leads to greater sales and profits.

New insights transforming business operations

Data is a business’ most important asset. Which products are most popular, how many recurring customers you have, which processes eat up most of the budget, which are most inefficient – these are powerful numbers that can help you run a smarter, more profitable company.

GE Power expects to save $66 billion over the next 15 years using sensor-based systems to transform data into insights that help optimize operations. The company collects a terabyte of data each day from sensors attached to 1,700 turbines, and it combines that information with 100 million hours of data about its operational procedures and maintenance records. The insights gleaned from those sources allow the company to make better operational decisions and improve its overall processes.

Data collection and analysis can produce groundbreaking insights for companies in all industries. AI can help your business predict market conditions that will affect your sales a few years down the road, along with anticipating potential supply chain disruptions or a shift in demand among your core audience. Instead of being reactionary or relying on past data to make predictions, AI allows you to look into the future and make decisions based on a long-term view of where your company and market are headed.

The potential for AI to transform business operations exists in every industry. Consider the energy sector. The ability to detect and react to potential problems before they become crises is invaluable, both within companies and within the energy industry supply chain. It’s no secret that the power grids in the U.S. are outdated, overworked, and ill-equipped to manage a diverse array of energy sources. Smart grid initiatives will rely on deep learning and other AI techniques to monitor energy usage and direct resources where they’re needed most, which can help reduce blackouts and outages, and in turn reduce business interruptions.

Artificial intelligence includes a wide range of tools that can help your business grow sustainably and your employees work more effectively. By augmenting your team’s talents with AI, you empower them to deliver greater value and help you build a better company.