Back in the 70s and 80s, many people were convinced that we'd have sophisticated robots to take care of all our dirty work by now…of course, we're still waiting for that utopian, neon-lit future!
But automation – unlike that robot butler we were promised – is here, and works to supercharge employees and workers to make them dramatically more productive. It is remarkable what the combination of humans and machines have accomplished. Just look at Chess. First, humans beat machines, then machines beat humans. But in the last 10 years or so, humans and machines working together in “Freestyle Chess” have beaten even the best machines. This is reflective of the stage of development we are in right now for many tasks the knowledge worker completes. (Palantir did a good writeup on Freestyle chess if you are interested – click here!)
Automating many of the processes of your business allows you to make your employees more efficient and more productive than ever before, saving time and cutting down on inevitable human errors. Here are 7 examples of ways you can embrace automation to give your internal processes a power-up and significantly improving your customer experience. We hope you find them useful!
1. Project Management
Even the largest of projects or transactions can generally be broken down into a series of smaller milestones and deadlines. The success (or failure) of the whole project depends on effectively managing these milestones, and ensuring everything is delivered on time.
Letting your team manage these steps in their own, individual way – e-mail inboxes, desk calendars, wall-charts and scrap paper – can work. But it's clearly much more efficient and transparent to set these milestones in a central repository where all stakeholders can easily view them, and see, at a glance, where the project is up to. This improves internal collaboration, helps your team plan out their workload, and allows you to flag up any possible delays at the earliest opportunity, managing customer expectations.
Popular Project Management tools include Mavenlink and Basecamp – check them out! They automate many aspects of your project management, right down to how much of your employees' time is committed to each project based on their availability.
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
As your business grows, so does your database, and it can be increasingly difficult to manage all those customers to the level you'd like. Without effective CRM, there's a strong chance you're failing to fulfil the potential of your contacts.
CRM software such as InfusionSoft can be a huge help in this area. It can automatically label hot leads and automate your sales funnel. RelateIQ (recently purchased by Salesforce) attempts to automate much of the data entry and help sales reps automate their follow ups.
3. Email Marketing
As your list grows, you'll want to be targeting those potential leads with relevant, targeted messages, and email marketing remains a supremely effective way to do this – 91% of consumers check their email daily, so it's a great way to engage with your audience.
One superb way to automate your email marketing is to use auto responders. These are automatic emails which can be sent out to different sections of your database at various points in the sales cycle. You can sit back and relax while the software implements your email strategy – and, hopefully, leads to a heap of qualified orders!
There are plenty of email marketing solutions out there, but MailChimp is perhaps the most popular.
Most businesses are aware of the importance of automating incoming payments. However, if you're still spending time at the end of every month manually paying your bills, automation could definitely make your life easier.
Automating your bill payments not only gives you the time to concentrate on other important tasks; it eliminates the risk of forgetting to pay, meaning no more late fees or unnecessary hits to your credit score. You can arrange payments directly through your bank, or authorize your credit card company or creditors to take and make payments on your behalf.
5. Social Media
This is probably more an example of ‘batch processing' than automation – but it's still a valuable tip. Nobody would dispute that effective social media management requires an ongoing, daily presence to engage with your followers.
However, that doesn't mean you can't plan and schedule the bulk of your output in advance. Tools such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, SproutSocial and Raven Tools let you schedule out your social media. By spending maybe half a day each month scheduling evergreen content, you can limit your daily ‘on-social' time to around 10 minutes. This should be plenty of time to check and respond to your messages.
6. Customer Support
Improving the customer experience is one of the most significant collective aims of businesses in 2014, with 68% stating that they planned to increase spending this year.
Of course, it's absolutely essential that you retain a multi-channel support offering, providing your customers with the personal help they need. Failing to resolve problems in a timely manner is one of the top reasons for customer loss.
But, if your customer support team are drowning in queries and unable to respond efficiently to problems, ask yourself: how many times are they answering the same questions?
By taking steps to proactively resolve issues, could you free up your team to deliver outstanding service instead of answering the same old question for the zillionth time?
Why not create resources to help them before the questions even arise – videos, instruction manuals, knowledge bases, FAQ sections and messageboards are all great ideas to essentially ‘automate' your customer support offering! You can even use automated ‘Live Chat' apps like Virtual Spirits, which blend automation with the feeling of a personalised experience.
Needless to say, signature collection is an incredibly important business process – perhaps the most important. And yet, many organizations still use a woefully inefficient process to get documents signed. The manual, paper-driven process of printing, hand-signing and faxing papers takes days, if not weeks.
Using eSignatures, you can refine this process to the point where it literally takes a matter of minutes. You simply add interactive fields to your document where signatures and other data are required, and send it over to your recipient. They'll be guided through the process, ensuring that the document is completed accurately the first time around.
Closing Thoughts – Striking a Balance
There's no doubt that it's important to remain flexible and allow the personality of your business to shine through.
But, equally, automated structures and processes can be a massive boost to your organization. It frees up the time of you and your people, and – executed right – it delivers a fantastic level of engagement and service to your customers, dramatically improving the customer experience.
How does automation work in your business – and what's your advice to others who might be looking to automate their processes? Let us know in the comments below!