How to...

Integrate operational AI into an SME Agency landscape?

AI isn't that complex, it's the new evolution to how we run our business.

We're looking at a new evolution in how we run a business. How we handle inbound, outbound, lead generation, finance, operations, and logistics are all being upturned and changed by integrated AI.

According to a recent survey by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), a staggering 75% of small businesses are embracing AI tools to bridge the gap. However, the question remains: Is AI a job threat, job displacement, or can strategic way of leveraging a win-win attitude to efficiency and human connection?

I know this optimism isn't universal. I'm an early adaptor - I have been banging on about "the next big thing" for 25 years. But I genuinely cant help it. Its fundamentally shifting how we approach problems, increase revenue, decrease costs, and stay current in a crowded landscape. BUT....I do hear you, I am not the majority here...

Consider a small restaurant that introduced an AI-powered reservation system to streamline seating. The system often overbooked tables or miscalculated wait times, leading to frustrated customers and operational chaos. These contrasting experiences highlight a common dilemma: SME's need help determining the best ways to educate and implement AI without disrupting operations. Your team shouldn't need a degree in engineering or computer science to understand why we're suggesting this change!

Effective automation is a balancing act. For small businesses, especially those in creative, production, agency, and marketing sectors, identifying which tasks can be handled better by AI, and which should remain under human control can make sure that AI becomes a tool that complements, rather than complicates, your business processes.

Getting the right balance: SME Agencies

SME Agencies must choose where the the right tasks are for AI automation.

For my consultancy, integrating AI is at the foundation of the entire operational, marketing, and financial infrastructure. We're measured on our understanding, personal relationships, and expertise in the field - which means that our consultants spend 90% of their time looking outwards - at our clients' problems. So, we use AI to keep the ship steady, automate validation, and qualify the next opportunity, and keep track of everything related to running a growing business. It wasn't plug-and-play; we had to rework our workflows and change how things "used to be done".

But its far better now! At the heart of this movement is a desire to focus on what's important to my business....The Clients - without taking our foot off the gas on inbound and lead nurture.

It's like functional content...But this is LIVING CONTENT.

Capable of evolving with reactive influence but remain on brand and accurate!

We've built knowledge bases, evolving templates, Persona's, and automated CX responses to make sure that what's being said is accurate, relevant, and expandable. But this is a really small team, of agency expertise too! The biggest potential is in the agency and production landscape.

Where we work...

The integration here requires understanding, compassion, education, and levels of training for all levels of the business. To solve this, (of course) we used AI to develop a solution that integrates at different levels, and connects with various platforms, allowing  businesses to adopt to these technological opportunities without disrupting their established workflows, or causing a "change crisis" across the business. Its not a linear thing. People learn at different speeds, the curriculum needs to adapt to this too!

Agencies we work with

Tasks ideally suited for AI outsourcing.

In my experience, AI dramatically improves efficiency in analytical, organisational, logistical, and research phases - these are all the bits BEFORE and AROUND the bits that we love doing - the creative and production phases. I used to suffer from huge "blank page" fear. A new brief lands, and I have to come up with a creative strategy, a GTM plan, and a creative approach. I can literally do anything. Anything. Any..thing. I would struggle with the impromptu spark of inspiration at that moment to help me down a path of creative gold. Having AI handle research, keyword clustering, marketing and platform trends and insights isn't taking away from the creative process...its shortening my 'mental blocking'. We use CreativeAI to act as inspiration, and excitement in the room - We follow this through to find the best time to shoot an idea, and FIND the best way on supporting the dependencies of a shoot around it.

And its the same thing with logistics? Comms and client liaising?

AI tools are not replacing me and my comms, but they are shortening that window. Have you ever accepted the predicted next word in a WhatsApp message? That's AI!

A recent survey by Ascend2 and RPE Origin found that 57% of enterprise marketers now use AI for email and planning, citing benefits like improved personalisation and retargeting. While this data focuses on larger businesses, the rapid adoption of AI in email suggests that small businesses must also embrace these tools to remain competitive.

There are some processes that are best reserved for human interactions...

While AI excels in many areas, specific processes just benefit from that human touch. Client Services is one such area. 

AI can handle components of these routine inquiries, but complex questions and sensitive customer issues require empathy, expertise, and understanding. Agencies are intrinsically human based relationships. We're working for brands and marketing teams to help them understand and educate their consumers better! Its a human centric loop right? And that's true for the creative responses too! If you've ever used an AI agent to brainstorm creative campaigns you'll understand. AI starts the conversation, but we're applying the narrative, nuances, and vision of the relationship.

The Automation Decision Matrix

A decision matrix can streamline the process of determining which tasks to automate in across departments.

First, consider whether a task demands empathy or personalisation. Humans are adept at understanding emotional cues, so handling sensitive client comms or offering tailored creative responses should remain with humans. Agencies can then evaluate where and whether a task becomes repetitive and rule-based. Data entry, inventory tracking and scheduling, which follow consistent patterns, are prime for automation.

Balancing AI & Human actions across Insights In Business Operations

AI is a powerful tool that can handle routine, data-intensive tasks efficiently and allow business owners to reallocate human resources to areas that benefit from personal touch, such as customer service and strategic planning.

Finding the right mix between AI and human oversight can also open up opportunities for staff to develop new skills and focus on higher-level functions. Leveraging AI where it excels and maintaining a human touch where it matters most, businesses can harness the best of both worlds, ensuring a harmonious blend of technology and personal service that resonates with customers.

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