CAMBRIDGE, MA: For all the speculation about where the outer reaches of artificial intelligence may lie, brands can usefully deploy AI today in order to both make and save money.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review site, consultant Brad Power outlined how AI-powered tools are already making a significant difference to businesses as diverse as telecoms providers, software companies and imaging businesses.

"AI tools are the only way I can scale 'helpfulness' to a global community of 200,000-plus users with a team of two," one CMO explained.

Virtual assistants are able to send emails and manage responses, to conduct chats with customers and handle routine inquiries, to identify potential leads and pass the best ones on to humans.

For a business like RapidMiner, whose free trials of an analytical tool for data scientists were attracting 60,000 users a month, chat tools offered a way of managing far more interactions than its existing staff could ever do.

According to chief marketing officer Tom Wentworth, its chosen tool resolves around two-thirds of customer inquiries while also generating sales leads. "It's the most productive thing I'm doing in marketing," he told Power.

"I've learned things about my visitors that no other analytics system would show," he added. "We've learned about new use cases, and we've learned about product problems."

Power suggested that the ability of an AI agent to elicit information like a person – rather than simply looking for patterns in data – is a particular strength.

And because many of these tools are now offered as-a-service, it is simple for businesses to carry out trials and scale up.

"Clearly, it's worthwhile for companies to test AI-powered chat or email tools to see if they can convert more leads, and improve their understanding of what customers want and need," Power said.

Evidence of just how worthwhile it can be came from Epson America, the printer and imaging business: a 75% increase in qualified leads produced a claimed $2m in incremental revenue in just 90 days.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by WARC staff