What success looks like for Singapore SMBs in their AI journey

Ricky Kapur, Head of Asia Pacific, Zoom

According to a recent study published in March this year, Singapore small and medium business (SMBs) cited rising costs as one of their top business challenges. Recent guidelines announced by the government under new Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) Requests have added an additional challenge, where SMB leaders now have to ensure these requests remain viable for the business. This is while they continue to grapple with increased competition,  customer retention, and business expansion plans.

Many of them are constantly looking for cost-effective solutions that will help navigate the increasingly difficult business environment and employee demands while remaining on track to scale.

AI is an obvious option.  A recent Morning Consult survey commissioned by Zoom found that a significant majority of leaders (86%) and employees (84%) said they were favourable to the use of AI.

That said, not all AI is created equal. Here are some considerations SMBs need to keep in mind when deciding on the what and how of AI implementation.

#1 Choose AI solutions that improve,  not overhaul current ways of working

When it comes to AI adoption, SMBs need to be more purposeful than enterprises in ensuring that it aligns with their financial capacity. Return on investment (ROI) is the key consideration, so while there are many areas of a business that would benefit from AI, SMB leaders need to prioritise what can deliver a more immediate, meaningful business impact.

The way forward to maximise ROI with AI implementation is for a solution to integrate seamlessly into current processes, rather than entirely replace existing ways of working that teams are already accustomed to.  Only then, will the investment accurately reflect the business impact it brings.

SMBs who are looking towards customer retention as a business objective, for example, would benefit from integrating an AI-powered contact centre solution to support their lean customer service teams. Outcomes like automatically generated post-call summaries can help human agents save time on manual, repetitive tasks. Built-in data analytics, meanwhile, can help automate schedules and flag capacity issues for managers to resolve immediately. These are everyday tasks made more efficient – and faster – with the help of AI. For already lean teams, it is clear that AI can make a world of difference.

With the rise of distributed teams, integrating AI into day-to-day communication flows also drives more effective collaboration and connection with remote or in-person colleagues. With the FWA guidelines coming into play later this year, this will also help create a more equitable and inclusive workplace that is essential to help SMBs attract and retain talent.

#2 Think about how AI can feed into the overall customer experience

Whether SMBs are looking to prioritise customer retention or acquisition, customer experience (CX) remains king – and an area that SMBs should look to invest in.

As customer expectations for an always-on, consistently high-quality, and omnichannel experience heightens, SMBs need to identify the right AI solutions that help them meet customers where they are. After all,  customers are more than twice as likely to buy from a company after a positive support experience (87%) than after a negative one (35%).

Businesses in Singapore generally understand this as well: 9 in 10 companies acknowledged the importance of business transformation, with one of the top 3 focuses being customer experience/service (66%), in a survey conducted by the Singapore Business Federation.

Yet with lean teams and limited resources, SMBs have their hands tied when it comes to elevating  CX across multiple channels and modalities.

In this case, AI chatbots present themselves as a viable solution. Simple customer requests that do not require human intervention can be automated via chat, while human agents can spend their time on calls or video chats with customers that come with complex issues requiring a more delicate touch. 

In addition to retaining customers, SMBs can also leverage AI to capture new customer segments while keeping true to the same level of service. Teams sitting in Singapore, for example, could service clients abroad with automatic translation and transcription enabled by AI. They are able to communicate and reach new customers without needing to speak the language, or hire extra language specialists for the purpose of expanding abroad.

Ultimately, this helps SMBs elevate their professional image, while keeping cost-efficiency top of mind. 

 #3 Marry compliance and AI from the get-go, not as an afterthought

The final yet oftentimes overlooked consideration is in relation to compliance. Rather than having to forcefit compliance solutions after the AI integration process, SMBs should already have compliance top of mind when selecting these solutions for their technology stack.

While the rapid adoption of AI is encouraging for teams who need to work smarter and faster, it can cause headaches for IT administrators who must balance innovation with strict compliance and regulatory standards.  This is especially so for SMBs whose IT teams are lean, and for some, perhaps even non-existent.

Compliance management tools built into the AI solution can serve as an extension of the IT team. This platform approach allows administrators to monitor compliance collectively and are able to take immediate action without having to gather information from different sources.

The road ahead for SMBs

The same report by the Singapore Business Federation highlights that 2024 is expected to be more challenging due to domestic and international headwinds – more so for SMBs who are already a step behind their larger counterparts. As it stands, AI is no longer a luxury but a necessity for SMBs to survive and thrive. It is all the more important for SMBs to take the front foot in choosing the right AI tools to reinvent both their internal operations and external offerings. The difference between success and failure, however, is the ability of SMBs to pick the right tool for their right fit.