It sometimes feels like the whole world is talking about automation for business, but if you haven’t used it before or aren’t sure that automation works for your business, figuring out where to start can be difficult.
Before starting, it’s important to understand what business automation means. When you hear the term, it may conjure images of robots or complicated chains of technical commands. But it can be a lot simpler than that.
Automating business processes can be as simple as setting your Out of Office before going on holiday. It refers to taking a process that could be time-draining or difficult to replicate and taking out the human touchpoint. In the example of your Out of Office, this means sending an automated reply instead of needing someone to watch your inbox.
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There are several reasons to introduce automation to your business processes. Part of the benefit comes from simply clarifying your process enough to begin automation. Before you start creating automatic processes, you’ll need to understand them thoroughly.
This means that just by preparing for automation, what you do will become clearer and more streamlined.
In addition to providing clarity, automation can be a huge time saver. Although there is some time investment required during set up, having automated processes in place can remove manual work that fills up the day-to-day which could be better spent on clients.
Speaking of clients, automation is key to consistently delighting clients. Not only do you remove human error, like the possibility of forgetting to send an email, but you can also include immediate responses that make clients feel seen and heard, even when you can’t do that directly.
With automation, you can create processes that are clear, standardised and personal without increasing your team’s workload.
Audit your processes
The first step to introducing automation to your business, regardless of size, is to audit your processes. This means reviewing the process for each thing that you do, to better understand which processes are ripe for automating.
During this audit, there are a few key considerations to take into account:
Time and effort
How much time and manual effort does this process take? Is it something that uses a lot of the team’s day?
What is the margin of human error possible in this task? Would automating this make it more consistent and less prone to human mistakes?
Is this a core factor in our offering? Would automating this process make your offering more scalable or available? Or would automation here remove a key human touch point?
This ties back to the earlier point. How well do you understand this process? If you decide to automate, do you have clearly defined, repeatable steps to take?
Some of the most frequently automated processes include:
- Thank you emails after a contact takes an action (such as downloading a guide)
- Posting to social media
- Booking meetings
- And even using chatbots to gather website visitor information or to signpost answers to frequently asked questions
Ensure you have the tools for success
Once you’ve reviewed your processes and chosen ones that are suitable for automation, it’s important to ensure that you have the right tools to make these possible. Most likely, you will need:
- CRM (customer relationship manager) - For managing contacts and facilitating much of the automation process
- Calendar software - If you decide to automate meeting bookings
- Social management tool - For scheduling and automatically posting to social media
- Email platform - To begin automating emails that respond to a trigger
This may seem like a lot of investment, but many of these tools have free or affordable versions that will be well-suited to starting out. That said, it’s important to choose the right tools for your situation. Be sure that whatever you decide on can do the job you need it to.
Implement in stages
After you have audited your processes and made certain that you have all of the correct tools, it’s time to begin implementation.
Kicking off digital transformation projects like automating your processes can feel overwhelming. This is why it’s best to begin slowly and work through them in stages.
The best way to start is with low effort-high reward projects. Consider the repetitive tasks that are low skill, but frequently done. These tasks are optimal for automation because they are not complex, but can be significant time users.
Another good contender for automation are any regular communications that act only as touchpoints for clients. These can include acknowledgement or thank you emails and renewal reminders.
Things to be aware of
There are some things that you will want to be aware of as you start your automation journey.
Though this will save time long term, this is not a once-and-done process. Automation requires regular reviews to ensure that it is still working the way you need it to.
Change is inevitable in business and sometimes older automation gets ignored. That can lead to things like automated emails being sent out from people who are no longer in the relevant role or outdated offers being sent to clients.
Like any other process, automation needs to be regularly managed, reviewed and refined.
Taking these steps is a great way to introduce automation to your business processes and to begin implementing digital transformation, thereby helping your business become better prepared and more resilient in the face of change.