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How Can AI and Cloud Technology Help Grow Your Small Business?

This article was updated on June 2, 2024

In the not-so-distant past, cutting-edge technology was a competitive advantage for bigger businesses, giving them an edge over smaller companies that didn't have the resources to buy, build, or deploy the latest software. Then came technology like AI and cloud communications — digital equalizers that leveled the playing field.

 

Today, small businesses can leverage these solutions to work outside-the-box. This can help them save time, cut costs, automate workflows, and deliver quality customer experiences.

 

Read on to learn how technology can help your small businesses grow, become more efficient, and edge out the competition.

Illustration showing icons for AI and the cloud and how they can impact business communications

Big Challenges, Smart Solutions

Small businesses are faced with challenges like rising prices and navigating inflation amid current economic conditions. In fact, a recent “Survey of U.S. Small Business Owners” published by Slack surveyed 2,000 owners to uncover their outlook for 2024. According to the report, 40% believe that 2024 will be a "make or break" year for their business.

To combat these challenges, 43% of survey respondents indicated that they are “exploring new technologies to increase productivity and efficiency.” So what are some of the technologies? 

  • 50% indicated AI

  • 41% indicated productivity or collaboration solutions

  • 34% indicated communications

In short, more small businesses are ready to tap into cutting-edge technologies, solving big challenges with smart solutions. According to the Intuit QuickBooks Small Business Index Annual Report 2023, small businesses using eight or more digital tools to manage different areas of their business were twice as likely to report revenue growth than companies using two or fewer digital tools. They were also three times more likely to have expanded their workforce over the past year.

The Benefits of AI and Cloud Technology for Small Businesses

When it comes to digital innovation, there are many new tools that small businesses can use to improve customer experiences, cut costs, and increase productivity, all helping to boost the bottom line. Among some of the most popular, two traits stand out: AI and cloud-based. Let’s look at some use cases for these solutions.

Boost Customer Experiences

Today's multitasking, multi-device-using, channel-hopping consumers have high expectations of businesses. They expect to connect with businesses using their preferred channels and to switch channels whenever it's more convenient for them, from phone calls to live messaging.

However, according to the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report 2024, only 42% of respondents felt very satisfied when communicating with businesses. That's due to factors like long wait times when contacting a business, having to contact customer service multiple times to resolve issues, describing problems again to different agents, and being unable to get questions answered.

Small businesses can avoid these pitfalls by using technology to deliver quality communications and personalized customer experiences across channels. This is where tools that leverage AI and the cloud can help. Let’s break this down a bit.

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) brings together multiple channels — voice or video calling, chats, personal or group text messaging, and voice or video conferencing —  into one platform. The platform operates using the internet instead of a traditional set up of complex wires and costly equipment. Many cloud-based UCaaS solutions offer features or capabilities that are enhanced by AI.

AI-enhanced features in cloud-based communications can include chatbots and virtual assistants that answer FAQs, fulfill more straightforward requests, guide self-service, and even complete transactions. These features can shorten customer wait times and power 24/7 support, enabling businesses to provide customer service even when human representatives in customer service teams are experiencing a high volume of calls or when businesses are off the clock or closed for holidays.

With virtual assistants offloading common queries, human agents have the time to focus on more complex issues. Customers who need (or prefer) to talk to a person don't have to wait as long, and intelligent routing ensures they're connected with an agent who has the right expertise to solve their problem the first time. They don't get shuffled around from one agent to another, having to repeat themselves.

AI virtual assistants also bring natural language understanding (NLU) into the equation, enabling the technology to capture insights from verbal cues. It can find meaning in words, speech patterns, and contexts that enhance the initial routing of the customer call to determine whether or not the question requires a human employee or not. AI-enabled features can also equip customers service teams with background information on the customer and intelligent insights about how to resolve their issues, helping to deliver prompt, effective service on the first interaction.

Improve Productivity and Employee Experience 

Cloud-based technology, like unified communications, have changed how teams collaborate, how they interact with customers, and even where employees work. Why? Adopting a cloud-based communications solution means that employees can work remotely from home, in a hybrid environment with specific office days, or from anywhere with varying locations. It all happens via an internet-connected device in channels like voice calls, video, and messaging or chat.

Unified communications allows teams to easily distribute files, video conference with screen sharing to collaborate on a project, or address questions over messaging in real-time. Many of these solutions also integrate with the productivity tools like Microsoft Teams or customer relationship management software (CRMs) like SugarCRM that small businesses may already use. This brings greater efficiencies to the workday, eliminating time spent toggling back and forth between apps to get work done.

This technology also positively impacts new hire onboarding and recruiting. New employees can be onboarded whenever and wherever they are working using their internet-connected device to connect with colleagues and review resources — like training videos and process documents — across channels.

Bringing in the right talent matters, and operating in the cloud enables small businesses to tap into a wider talent pool, recruiting from a variety of locations. Gone are the days of being limited by where potential candidates live in relation to fixed office locations. Also consider if your small business is impacted by seasonal changes that mean staffing up at certain times of the year. With unified communications, you can scale the number of users up or down simply by adjusting your subscription.

Reduce Costs

Overhead costs associated with physical office locations, complex equipment set ups, and traditional communication infrastructures can be a challenge for small businesses. Adopting cloud-based technology reduces these needs and frees up budget that can be put to use in other business areas. Being cloud-based also means that system updates are easier and often rolled out automatically.

It also gives small businesses the chance to reduce the number of communications providers needed. Imagine consolidating video tools, local and long-distance phone services, and IT maintenance with a single partner. The end result? Streamlined costs and less time coordinating needs and issues with multiple vendors.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Small business leaders often fall into the trap of spending so much time working in the business that they don't spend enough time working on the business. While they're in the trenches putting out today's fires, it can be hard to clearly identify and address future problems.

AI-powered business tools can continuously capture data and generate actionable insights. They can monitor processes and logistics, apply predictive analytics, and alert leaders to potential problems like production bottlenecks.

This technology can also inform decisions about workforce improvements, like additional training in certain teams. Simply put: AI uses data to see the big picture of how a business operates and can zoom in on problem areas and make recommendations about how to solve them.

Working Toward Tomorrow

Deploying cloud-based and AI-powered solutions can help you work toward innovating and growing your business. It means using AI to save time on routine and redundant tasks and empowering them to focus on higher-value (and more interesting) tasks. It means empowering employees to be more productive and collaborative wherever they’re working. It means delivering quality customer communication and experiences. And using these intelligent solutions in an intelligent way is likely to make this growth happen quickly, while improving customer and employee experiences.

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