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The machine learning (ML) market segment is growing at a rapid pace. According to Research and Markets, the global market for ML is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 44.1 percent between 2017 and 2022.

"Machine learning" as a term, was first coined by Arthur Samuel, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and machine learning, in 1959. It basically means the ability for machines to learn and improve actions and results, without explicit programming.

It has taken more than 50 years for the technology to catch up with the concept, but artificial intelligence (AI) and ML have now become within reach of businesses--even the smallest ones. And both are giving small businesses a big boost across all aspects of their operations.

Machine learning and AI might conjure up visions of "SkyNet" or another computer becoming self-aware and taking over. Fortunately, it's not as ominous as that. Machine learning is quite a positive thing for businesses.

Here are five ways machine learning can benefit small businesses.

1. Improve the customer experience.

Research carried out by Salesforce revealed more than half of all customers will switch brands if a company doesn't anticipate their needs. With ML, businesses can anticipate those needs using the large amount of data they have already collected about their customers.

Machine learning can predict actions for your company to take that will make customers happier.

Customer preferences can be predicted, in order to create a personalized experience, by accurately finding correlations from the data. Businesses can quickly resolve (or head off) customer service issues, make additional product and service recommendations, and identify which leads may be ripe for a purchase decision or which ones need more time to research a solution.

2. Make more informed decisions-faster.

The right business strategy is key to ensuring the growth of your company, but not everyone can make the right decisions. By analyzing large volumes of data, ML will allow you to make fast and strategic decisions.

Small business leaders may mistakenly believe they don't have enough data to use the technology effectively. But any business with a digital presence--including a website, social media, or ecommerce store--probably has more data than they realize. Properly compiled and analyzed using AI and ML, that data can deliver results which identify future strategies with automated insights.

3. Automate and streamline your business.

One of the challenges small businesses face is streamlining operations to make them more efficient. This is especially true for companies with a small staff. Every hour saved is a big win when you have a small team.

Tedious tasks such as creating appointment reminders, responding to email, sending billing notices, generating leads, and engaging on social media are some of the many tasks you can automate.

Using ML, you can set many of these tasks on automatic, and the machine will automatically schedule the next step and know when to flag something for human attention, leaving your workforce to carry out value-added tasks instead of routine drudgery.

4. Strengthen your digital security.

Running a business in today's digital world means dealing with relentless cybersecurity threats. Unless you are an expert, monitoring your digital presence will cost you time and money. However, a breach can be even more costly when considering the possible financial liabilities and loss of reputation for your brand.

ML can be used to identify suspicious activities much faster. An ML-enabled security system can detect attacks and react when there is a breach of automated processes in the network and on premises. For small businesses unable to afford a full-time security expert, ML can provide viable alternatives.

5. Boost your marketing.

Marketing in a digital age requires an understanding of data, analytics, and automation. ML allows small businesses to use data more efficiently to improve marketing performance.

For example, ML might analyze and parse data to identify more detailed sales projections based on past experiences than you ever imagined possible. It can also allow you to optimize your marketing mix by better predicting customer profiles and delivering targeted and personalized marketing.