For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it can be hard to keep up with rapidly changing technologies, which means they can be left behind when something new and innovative hits the market. With limited resources, rising operational costs, and time constraints, SMEs often neglect building a robust digital presence in their digital transformation journey. However, according to Erin Louw, Brand Executive at Retail Capital, there is a new secret weapon for the estimated 2.6 million SMEs in South Africa, and it comes in the form of ChatGPT.
Although content AI (Artificial Intelligence) and algorithms have been in the market for a while, ChatGPT has been all over the news recently when Elon Musk tweeted in December “@sama ChatGPT is scary good. We are not far from dangerously strong AI.”, yet there is still plenty of controversy as to what it is, how it can be best used, and what its limitations are. In simple terms, ChatGPT is a free online programme that uses algorithmic artificial intelligence (AI) and a sophisticated understanding of human languages to perform tasks which usually require human creation.
“Since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT has gained a global following because, for the first time ever, it’s given everybody access to an AI tool that’s no more difficult to use than WhatsApp,” says Louw.
The convenience and capabilities on offer, create an opportunity to level the playing field, and it can be a game changer for SMEs in all sectors. According to a recent National Small Business Chamber study, the single biggest mistake a business can make is failing to market your business, and this is exactly where ChatGPT can make a significant impact. ChatGPT enables SMEs to create solutions and content that is responsive, relevant, effective and brand building – at the click of a button.
“Considering the time and resource constraints most entrepreneurs face, it is virtually impossible for them to keep their eyes on everything they need to, and unfortunately, we see that SMEs neglect their digital platforms to just keep the lights on (literally). Apart from the obvious lack of experience and appetite for content creation, small business owners simply do not have the budgets to compete with bigger companies who have agencies on retainer that can create and monitor digital content that elevates their online presence. ChatGPT gives SMEs the opportunity to turn this on its head, allowing them to craft enriching, effective content to boost their SEO, build a stand-out website or even create eye-catching social media posts,” adds Louw.
If you get to know the tool, the possibility for productivity-enhancing opportunities on offer are potentially endless. Just a small snapshot of how SMEs can use the tool include:
- Content repurposing: ChatGPT can automate a wide range of tasks from handling customer requests, generating blogs, cutting content into social media posts and create customer journeys all in the fraction of a time it would take a paid marketing team.
- More acquisition channels: By engaging with new website users and gathering contact information, ChatGPT can even send personalised messages to potential leads on the channel of their choosing.
- Generate reports: SMEs can use ChatGPT to help handle more tasks and request tools and templates at a fraction of the cost and time it would take them to create them yourself.
- Enhanced customer service: Because ChatGPT interprets language, the technology allows business owners the opportunity to automate responses on digital channels providing an always-on experience with real-time customer feedback.
- Recruitment and hiring: Saving SMEs time and money, ChatGPT can be used to sift through recruitment criteria and relevant experience to identify the most suitable candidates for a particular role.
But, as Erin points out, a sticking point is knowing how to use it, and how to vet the information ChatGPT delivers.
“Because it cannot distinguish between fact or fiction or form an opinion, ChatGPT is most effective if you ask the right questions or phrase the problems you are trying to solve in the correct way. It is still just a search engine with advanced language processing and therefore factual information needs to undergo the necessary vetting. If you ask it, for example, to provide all the information it has on the COVID-19 vaccine, then you need to know how to verify it. You will need to be able to distinguish how much of the content is truth/fact and what is biased opinion or a trending thought. There are still also lots of questions to be answered about who controls the narrative and how the algorhythmic information is prioritised,” says Louw.
You also need to know that the programme doesn’t use information gathered after 2021.
ChatGPT cannot run your business for you just yet. Things like building a financial model, fully understanding human and supplier dynamics is still very much outside of its scope. And the ability to create content that is truly unique and authentic is not yet within the capabilities of ChatGPT.
But, despite the unknowns, Erin feels there is still plenty for SMEs to be excited about.
“Although it has been around for a while, the launch of ChatGPT is a platform with far more tangible, short-term impact than something like the metaverse. Apart from the obvious benefits to business owners, it also provides new business and revenue opportunities for those adventurous enough to start playing in this unknown territory. ChatGPT can change competencies, workloads and create new opportunities even if those aren’t 100% clear at the moment. Right now though, it’s all about adoption. SMEs should become familiar with it, because like any tool, the more you use it, the better you become with it. And it can have an impact, especially when applied creatively to give your business a competitive advantage in a world where everyone is fighting for the same piece of the pie.”