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Tampa entrepreneur says artificial intelligence can help your small business

Margie Manning

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Steve Tingiris

Artificial intelligence isn’t just a tool for big businesses.

Small-to-midsize businesses can use AI in several ways to cement relationships with customers, said Steve Tingiris, founder and chief dabbler at Dabble Lab, a Tampa software company specializing in artificial intelligence assistants for businesses.

Digital assistants and bots can help businesses stay on top of customer communication, Tingiris said at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s Diary of an Entrepreneur program Tuesday.

“The requirements on organizations have changed in a big way. Ten to 20 years ago if you had customers that needed answers, you could send them to your website and they could get answers to frequently asked questions. Now, everyone wants an instant response and it’s not FAQs that people want answers to. It’s the not so frequently asked questions.”

Artificial intelligence can provide that kind of customers assistance, he said.

Smaller businesses also can tap artificial intelligence to create content that customers can access via a device such as Amazon’s Alexa.

“Start using bots to make information available to customers. In the Alexa world, there’s something called a flash briefing that you can set up. It’s the equivalent of the old RSS feed. You can  subscribe to different flash briefing sources to get updates. It’s really easy to set up and you can start letting your customers know that they can subscribe to the flash briefings and these can be anything from the tip of the day, if you are a p,rofessional service organization, to company news. When you get people to subscribe, you are assured you will part of their daily routine,” he said.

The technology behind artificial intelligence will be more transformative than anything that’s occurred in the past two decades or more of computing, Tingiris said.

“It used to be that computing was mostly about us learning how to work with computers but the big shift now is that computing is moving toward a day where it’s more about the computers learning how to work with us. The biggest change for interfaces is happening in the world of voice.”

He demonstrated how his own Alexis digital assistant could provide a quick update on sales, marketing and operations at a fictional company. He also asked those in attendance at the program to text a number he provided; the digital assistant compiled the information from the texts and used that information to choose a random winner of an Echo Dot device from Tingiris.

“When I come and do a talk like this, I used to have to go around and ask everyone for business cards. I don’t have to do that, at least not for anyone who signed up for the raffle, because my digital assistant did that for me. As soon as you text back it asks for your name and your email address. I don’t have to collect business cards and go back in my database and put that in there. It’s all done. When I’m done with this presentation I’ll ask my bot to send all those people a thank-you note. So not only do I not need to ask for your business card, you don’t need to ask for my business card,” he said.

“It’s not a super intelligent AI that’s going to take over the world, but it’s an AI, a bot, that just saved me about 20 minutes. Expand that out to an organization, or even my personal calendar, 20 minutes is important. Time is the most valuable thing. Time is the thing you can’t replace.”

Tingiris isn’t concerned that devices powered by artificial intelligence will take jobs from humans.

“I think they are going to take jobs they should take because they are process-oriented jobs. It you ask the people doing them, they wouldn’t tell you they like the job. They would tell you they make a living from the job, and there is a difference,” Tingiris said. “What I think bots and digital assistants are going to do for businesses is free us up to do things that are more important and more human.”

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