Where SMBs should start on their AI journey

This is a guest blogpost by Pierre-Baptiste Béchu, Aircall co-founder and CTPO

The SaaS industry is being reshaped by AI. More and more companies are turning to AI to innovate their products, and in doing so, they are having a profound impact on the work weeks of employees everywhere. Whether it comes down to simplifying how we manually write up notes, transfer data, integrate information across multiple technologies, or any other number of time sucks that currently dominate the working day.

The promise AI makes is a bold one, and with that, businesses are now figuring out how to balance its potential benefits with some understandable concerns. AI has been thrust even further into the spotlight recently, with the rise of ChatGPT and Google Bard – and Elon Musk outlining his own planned alternative. But with the increased chatter around these AI technologies, there has also been a fair amount of caution and, in some cases, misinformation about what this means for the workplace long-term. From fears around lost jobs, less pay, and even the end to human-to-human connection.

Finding the pathway between opportunity and anxiety is a challenge for organisations of all sizes, but particularly small to medium businesses (SMBs) who are looking to achieve increased performance and productivity in a challenging market. Yet, as I’ll come to explore here, an AI journey is one well worth starting. And when it comes to that crucial first step, a good place for SMBs to start is through their sales and support teams. Let’s dive into why.

Why AI can be transformative for sales and support teams

The reason business owners should look to bring AI and automation into their sales and support operations is that this area of the business holds the most urgent need for attention. The value of customer interaction has always been high and while businesses are under increasing pressure right now, this does not mean there is any less expectation from customers about the quality of service they expect.

In fact, in most cases, it’s risen, with research from McKinsey & Company showing that 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions. It is unfair timing that the current economic climate makes it near impossible for sales and support teams to find space in the day for personalised human interactions at a time when they are at their most valuable.

This is why the potential for AI for sales and support teams is so high. To put one of the main associated fears to bed – AI is not about replacement, but about partnership. Suggesting businesses give it a greater role to play in sales and support does not mean handing over the reins entirely to chat bots and interactive voice responses (IVRs). Instead, it means using AI to do the legwork that can create breathing space for sales and support teams to flourish.

Saving time to make connections

Another reason that sales and support marks the best first step for SMBs embarking on their AI journey is because, currently, there are a great deal of processes and practices that rely on manual work. Take for example the daily schedule of a sales rep. There is the compiling of daily calls, retrieving customer information from a CRM or spreadsheet, note taking or manually transcribing call recordings, and much more. Following this, any insights worth sharing between team members are either manually inputted into a CRM, or passed on via email or messaging apps.

Once you account for these hours, it’s hard to imagine where your team will find the team to personalise its interactions, let alone unlock new customer knowledge and bring further innovation to their roles.

While automation has played a major role in revolutionising this to-do list for the average salesperson, AI can now take this to the next level. If we look at the above list of actions, the main one – perhaps the only, yet most important, one – that sales reps must focus on is the conversation. AI has the potential to absorb almost everything else, and ensure that time is not only returned to your employees, but that human error does not creep into transcribing calls or voicemails, or inputting the right customer information in the right place.

Through a partnership with AI in this way, your sales team is able to invest more in a conversation and establish that human interaction that both the customer and they want. All without any trade-off with productivity.

Making growth a possibility

An often overlooked area where AI can deliver transformative benefits to sales and support teams is learning and coaching opportunities. We’re not ready to hand the mortarboard and blackboard over to the machines just yet, but with AI transcribing our calls and voicemails, it is in the perfect place to provide insights on how customer service can improve.

Take for example a support team. There will undoubtedly be a right and wrong way in how customer support delivers. Businesses might have playbooks and best-case examples already, but AI helps these assets continue to evolve. Over time, products are launched, bugs are identified, and customer behaviours change. Yet finding the time to identify these trends and connect the dots can be hugely time-consuming. Instead of team leaders having to rewrite the playbook every time and sift through hours of calls, AI takes away the hassle and helps identify trends and alert team leaders to potential issues before they turn into problems – keeping your performance benchmarks evergreen and your team focussed on calls.

Sales teams would equally benefit from these assets, and in today’s environment where burnout remains a persistent issue and businesses need to onboard new team members quickly, spending their time on timely onboarding just isn’t possible. Yet with AI-supported assets that include learning from real-world examples and absorbing basic questions, quality onboarding and corrective coaching – to not just deal with turnover, but growth at scale – are possible.

Humans aren’t done yet

Human connection and the voice remain the most powerful tools available to businesses. This is why, despite the rising tide of new AI technologies, those looking over their shoulder can breathe easy.

The personal touch is the edge SMBs have over enterprise competitors. And it’s key for them to understand that AI isn’t going to take that away – it’s going to enhance it. This means that for those businesses concerned about their own survival, they shouldn’t be running away from AI, but towards it. Because not taking advantage of the potential of AI in the workplace will mean they are unable to deliver both the results and the quality customer experiences that today’s business environment demands.


One major thing to flag to businesses is to walk, not run. The reason so many, including ourselves, are at the beginning of their journey, is because when it comes to the benefits I mention above – it is still a relatively new technology. Business leaders should therefore have a clear vision for its use. This includes putting processes in place for accountability and investing in supervision, awareness and training – all things that must be regulated as AI continues to evolve. An internal charter can also help when it comes to providing strict guidance on how AI is used in conjunction with sensitive customer data for instance. Eliminating these blind spots will ultimately mean that how you use AI will accord with your culture, business model and objectives.

For business leaders, this is the start of something exciting. And while we shouldn’t rush in, it is one that undoubtedly needs to get underway sooner rather than later.

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