Employers: Are You Ready to Try AI? Follow These 6 Steps For Success

Paige Smith

Using AI in your business can increase operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience—but figuring out how to get started might feel overwhelming. That’s why we’re sharing the six steps to take to incorporate AI into your operation.  

Learn how to choose the right AI tools for your needs, implement them effectively, and optimize them for the best results. 

The benefits of using AI in your business

Most businesses use AI for one of three purposes: 

  1. Automation: AI automation streamlines repetitive business processes—from categorizing company files to running payroll. 
  2. Analytics: AI analytics tools give you insights on your sales tactics, marketing methods, and customer interactions, so you can make decisions that lead to greater growth and profitability.
  3. Engagement: AI engagement tools make it easier to stay connected to your customers and collaborate internally. 

Using AI for any or all of these purposes can benefit your business by:

  • Reducing your workload
  • Increasing operational efficiency
  • Jumpstarting idea generation and content creation
  • Improving customer service 
  • Giving you a competitive edge
  • Driving sales
  • Minimizing calculation errors
  • Lowering administrative costs

The drawbacks of using AI in your business

As with any tool, there are downsides to using AI in your business. Consider these drawbacks:

  • AI platforms can be expensive: Many AI-powered software platforms are costly, running you anywhere from four to five figures. It’s crucial to make sure the potential ROI justifies the upfront cost or monthly maintenance expense. 
  • AI-generated responses have the potential for errors and biases: Responses from generative AI—like large language models (LLMs)—might contain misinformation or biased information. So if you’re relying on generative AI tools for tasks like market research and content creation, do your due diligence to verify the accuracy and objectivity of the information you receive. 
  • Some AI tools take special training or technical knowledge to use: Successfully implementing certain AI tech can be challenging. Depending on the tool you’re using and what you’re applying it toward, you may need to hire an AI consultant or bring on an IT specialist to organize and update your company’s data beforehand. 

Learn more about how AI works and what its business implications are

6 steps to incorporate AI into your business

Ready to experiment with AI in your operation? Take these steps to set yourself up for success.  

1. Educate yourself on AI

To make the most of AI in your business, you need to understand what it can do for your operation—and what it can’t. You can learn more about AI’s capabilities and limitations by subscribing to newsletters like Ben’s Bites and AI Revolution or by enrolling in online AI courses through LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Udemy

You can also check out our blog post on the practical uses of AI in business. However, as a general rule, AI can help with:

  • Automating operational processes
  • Inventory management
  • Marketing analytics and market research
  • Customer service chatbots
  • Note-taking and business research
  • Content generation
  • Generating financial or business reports 
  • Business analytics
  • Accounting and forecasting
  • Project management

It’s important to keep the obvious in mind: AI is great at pattern recognition, information synthesis, and even content generation, but AI tools don’t possess the same level of creativity, compassion, strategy, or nuanced thinking that humans do. 

That’s why AI can’t build a viable business model for you, develop a product, plan an event, forge genuine connections with customers and clients, or lead a team of people. The success of AI depends on the people behind it: the employees who oversee the technology and supply the data as well as the business leaders and subject matter experts who turn AI-generated insights into smart business decisions and life-changing products and services.  

2. Pinpoint your business goals and problems

The most effective way to use AI is to apply it to a specific problem or function in your operation. Once you have a good handle on AI’s potential and practical applications, consider what you want to achieve or improve within your business. 

Start with your business goals. Maybe you want to raise customer retention by 10% over the next six months, for example, or hire a social media manager by next quarter. List out your big and small goals, then for each one ask yourself:

  • How urgent is this goal? 
  • What’s the potential payoff of reaching this goal? 
  • How much help do we need to reach this goal, and what kind?

Next, consider what problems or operational inefficiencies you’re regularly dealing with. Maybe you’ve been struggling to find the sweet spot for stock levels, for example, or to accurately forecast sales. Maybe there are no significant problems at the moment, but you and your employees are still spending more time than you’d like on administrative tasks. List out every business issue and inconvenience, then ask yourself: 

  • How significant is this problem or inefficiency on a scale of one to 10? 
  • What’s the potential payoff of eliminating this problem? 
  • Is there a tool or system that would either prevent or solve this problem?

When you review both your lists, check to see where there’s overlap in the kind of support you need; this will give you a better idea of what type of AI to home in on. Ideally, you want an AI tool that accomplishes two things simultaneously: 1) solves a recurring problem in your operation and 2) helps pave a smoother path for business growth. 

3. Prepare your operation for AI

The more prepared your business is for AI, the more you’ll get out of the technology. Before you sign up for an AI platform that promises to solve one of your key business problems, take some time to gauge your operation’s AI readiness and make a plan for overcoming the challenges you might face along the way. 

Assess the following factors: 

  • Your business data: If you plan to use an AI analytics tool that trains using large sets of data, do you have enough internal data to feed the tool? If so, is your data organized and stored securely in the cloud? Do you have an effective system already in place for gathering and protecting your and your customers’ sensitive information? If not, it’s time to get your data ducks in a row. 
  • Your IT support: Though many emerging AI tools—especially generative AI platforms like ChatGPT—are designed to be straightforward and easy to use, other AI-powered systems require technical knowledge to operate and scale. If you don’t already have an IT expert in your workplace who feels comfortable with AI, you may need to hire someone to oversee the tool’s implementation, resolve issues, and optimize the tool for greater results. 
  • Your resources: In addition to IT support, successful AI implementation requires time and intention. Not only do you need a clear, objective way to measure the effectiveness of your AI tool using key performance indicators (KPIs), you also need to establish internal guidelines around ethical AI usage. That includes rules around data privacy and transparency, as well as non-discrimination and bias. For more information on AI ethics, check out UNESCO’s ethical AI recommendations

4. Explore AI providers and platforms

There are countless AI tools marketed to businesses, so it’s important to do your homework to find the one that makes the most sense for you. 

In addition to searching options online, you can also ask your local business community for insight or reach out to your industry associations and online groups for recommendations. As you evaluate the possibilities, consider these factors: 

  • Functionality: Some AI tools are “off the shelf,” meaning they work the same way for every business. Other AI providers offer custom options designed specifically for your business’s unique needs. Off-the-shelf tools are great if you’re just getting started with AI or don’t need custom support; they’re easier to adopt, though they tend to have a limited range of features and functions. Custom tools, on the other hand, are more expensive and complex to adopt, but they can help you achieve the exact results you’re looking for—and scale with you as your business evolves. 
  • Cost: Weigh the monthly cost and potential ROI against your budget for technology and tools. Consider how long it’ll take before you see a return, and try to estimate peripheral costs like additional equipment needed to accompany your AI tool or extra data storage fees. 
  • Integrations: Does the tool integrate with your current tech stack, like your website hosting platform, customer relationship management software, inventory management software, or accounting software? Tools with integration capabilities tend to create smoother workflows, though they might come with a higher cost. 
  • Flexibility: Consider how much flexibility the tool has to grow with your business. Are there additional features or packages you can pay for in the future if your business expands or changes?
  • Security and privacy: Make sure the AI platform you’re considering takes security and privacy seriously. Consider these questions: Does the platform use your business data to train their AI models? What type of information does the platform use and how do they store it? What are the provider’s cybersecurity certifications (SOC2 Type I and II, ISO 27001, etc.)?
  • Customer service: Consider whether or not you need a provider who offers hands-on adoption support and guidance. If you’re not tech-savvy or don’t have an internal IT specialist, you might want to prioritize AI software providers with reputations for excellent customer service. Look at a provider’s online reviews and customer service options on their website, and don’t be afraid to ask questions during a demo or consultation. 
  • Specialization: Some AI tools are designed to address the needs of businesses in specific industries, like e-commerce, accounting, or manufacturing. If your business is in a specific industry or niche, you might find that a specialized AI tool checks more of your boxes. 

5. Train employees on AI usage

If your employees will be using your AI tools as part of their jobs, it’s crucial to train them how to leverage AI for the best results. The more your employees understand the tools they’re working with, the more value they’ll get from them. 

Before you bring in your employees, though, make sure you’re clear on the details: 

  • Who will be using the AI tools? Will everyone have access or only certain employees?
  • What AI tools will employees be using, and for which tasks or business processes? How can you set clear parameters around AI usage so you take full advantage of your tools while still using them responsibly and ethically?
  • When will employees be using the tools (daily, weekly, as needed, etc.)?
  • Where will they be using the tools? Do they have access to the tools only when in the workplace, or can they use them from their desktop monitor or laptop when working from home? 
  • Why are they using the tools? What problem are you hoping to solve, or what goal are you working toward? 

Here are some ways to educate employees on your AI tools:

  • Hold one-on-one training sessions where you walk employees through features, integrations, and day-to-day tasks they can apply the tool toward. It’s also a good idea to discuss your expectations for the tool, set goals together, and review ethical guidelines around AI usage. 
  • Give employees a PDF resource guide that includes tutorials, instructions, and FAQs on the tool, as well as best practices for using the tool responsibly. 
  • Make sure someone—whether it’s you or your IT expert—is available to answer questions and help troubleshoot in person or via email, chat, or Zoom. 
  • Assign your employees a key task to use the tool with over a set period of time, so they can get more comfortable and easily measure results. 
  • Schedule follow-up meetings to review the processes you used the tool for, discuss challenges and wins, and then make any changes needed. 

6. Implement AI for one or two tasks at a time, then measure results

Before you apply AI to every area of your operations, try using your new tool for one or two specific functions first. This gives you time to learn more about the tool, familiarize yourself with its features, and experiment with different functions to see how it affects your results. 

Let’s say, for example, that you find an AI-powered sales platform capable of analyzing data, suggesting outreach ideas, and scoring leads. You could spend a few weeks using the tool’s suggestions to shape your sales outreach emails and then measure the results. Compare your email open and click-through rates using the AI tool to the rates before you implemented it. 

Depending on what results you get, you can begin testing out other AI functionalities or build upon what you’re currently doing. 

Succeeding with AI

Incorporating AI into your business can be a worthwhile investment in your business’s operational efficiency and growth—as long as you do it with strategy and care. Make sure you take the time to understand AI’s capabilities, prepare your business for AI, and compare your AI options. 

Paige Smith Paige is a content marketing writer specializing in business, finance, and tech. She regularly writes for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies and small business lenders. See more of her work here:
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