Automation is the next big thing in business, and we are seeing it adopted at record rates. The goals of automation are simple; to save costs, streamline processes, improve productivity and efficiency, and free employees up to focus on more creative tasks. It’s crucial to keep these goals in mind when you’re planning your automation journey. For each element of your business that you plan to automate, you need to consider whether it will meet these goals and whether you can do this successfully.
Put simply, automation is great in certain areas and great when it works, but it has to work. An easy to understand example of this outside automation is complex spreadsheets. Have you ever designed (or had to use someone else’s) convoluted spreadsheet that just felt painful to use? Sometimes we envision a solution to a problem, but it doesn’t work out the way hoped, or evolves into an entirely different beast. In these situations, the spreadsheet becomes a point of friction and actually harms productivity. The same can be true for automation.
Here we’re going to cover 10 things you should and shouldn’t automate in your business. Let’s take a look.
10 Things You Should Automate in Business
1. Immediate Response to Email Contact Requests
Did you know that if you wait 30 minutes to establish contact, you decrease the odds of qualifying that lead by 21 times? You must make contact right away. Automated email responses to contact forms are a great way to make this contact early on.
2. Phone-Call Follow-Ups
This is great for both customer service agents and sales representatives. Often opportunities are missed because no further contact is made after the customer interacts with the business over the phone. You can set to automated follow-up emails that are programmed to be sent several minutes after a call completes. This lets the customer know you are invested in their wants and needs.
3. Collecting Consumer Communication Data
Every business wants to get contact information from people so they can make them a customer in the future. There should be an automated process of getting these contact details, as well as an incentive for the person to hand over their details. An eBook or webinar is a great idea here.
4. Customer On-boarding
New customers must be onboarded to avoid potential conflicts in the future. Sometimes customers move to a competitor because they don’t understand the product or how to engage with it. They may mistakenly think that your product doesn’t do everything they need, even when it does. Onboarding is key here.
5. Prompts to Encourage Customers Back
You should be collecting data about customer behavior. How often do they buy? Do people who buy product X also buy product Y? With this data, you can automate prompts to be sent to the customer to draw them back to you. When it gets close to the time they normally buy, send a reminder.
6. Abandoned Shopping Cart Reminder
Don’t be alarmed if your business gets a lot of abandoned shopping carts. This is extremely common, even for very successful businesses. Sometimes that person will never come back to make a purchase, but sometimes they just need a little push. Maybe they got distracted or had to run an errand while they were making the shopping cart, but then forgot about it. Remind them via an automated email or text prompt and see higher sales.
7. Social Media Posts
You can schedule and automate the posting of content on social media. Not every platform allows you to do this, but many do. You should automate content to be posted at the highest traffic parts of the day. You can also automate posting so that you can still post content outside of working hours.
Chatbots are excellent at bridging communication gaps and making yourself available to the customer at all times. Whether it’s for sales, customer service, or technical support, chatbots help improve the customer experience and drive more sales.
9. Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Other Surveys
Surveys are an excellent way of getting high-quality data from your customers. This data can be powerful when it comes to designing your next line of products, improving internal processes, defining your sales pipeline, and more. You can automate the process of sending out customer surveys so you can count on a regular stream of responses. You can set criteria for who should receive these surveys and when. When a customer meets these criteria, the survey will be automatically sent to them.
10. Business Processes
Simple and repetitive processes like data entry should be automated. Businesses often have many hundreds of these processes and completing these tasks can take a lot of time. In business, time is money, so if you cut out the time spent on these tasks, you will save money. When integrated with omnichannel platforms, automation can be used to automatically copy across customer data and reduce the workload on agents.
10 Things You Shouldn’t Automate in Business
This section will focus on the ‘don’ts” of automation, or more broadly on the areas you should be very careful about automating.
1. Multi-layered Phone Trees
Customer-facing IVR can be counter-effective when done poorly. Have you ever been stuck in a seemingly endless multi-layered phone tree loop? Or even worse, been disconnected because you failed to find an option that matched your needs?
These are problematic for several reasons:
- Customers want their problem solved quickly, and having to listen to 10 options, and then 10 more is time-consuming.
- You are forcing the customer to listen to options that don’t apply to them. This is why automated options need to be simple and the customer should only be presented with a few to choose from.
- If a customer gets disconnected for failing to choose an option, their frustration level will increase.
2. Excessive Targeted Marketing
When a consumer shares their contact details, whether that be an email address or a phone number, this should be treated with care. The person has given the company permission to contact them, and each person will have an expectation on what level of contact is appropriate.
If you met a new person at an event, a bar, or while playing an online game, you wouldn’t expect them to message you every day, or worse, several times a day. The same is true in business. If you just add a new contact to your email list and spam them with generic emails every day, then expect them to close the door on their communication with your company.
3. Voice and Translation Automation
This isn’t a “don’t do this” but rather “only do this if you have advanced technology”. It may be tempting to start using voice automation services that will make notes based on the customer’s speech when they are interacting with the company. The benefits are obvious:
- Agents don’t need to capture notes and can actively listen.
- Agents might not be required at all (save on labor costs for initial contact).
- There is a permanent text record of interactions on the phone.
However, there are issues with voice automation software, and particularly for low end or non-advanced software. These are:
- Environmental factors – The software needs to be able to filter out background noise.
- Accents and dialect – There is usually a bias when it comes to which accents and dialect the software understands. For most of its life, Apple’s voice recognition software, Siri, has struggled to understand non-American accents. Even outside non-American accents, there was a noticeable bias. Siri would find it easier to understand American accents than British accents, but it would also find it easier to understand southern English accents over Northern English accents. And Siri basically couldn’t understand a Scottish accent at all. These people were all speaking English.
4. Disaster Recovery
Some decisions in the business are too impactful to be handled solely by automation. Disaster recovery and failover of data centers is one area. Many businesses will automate most of this process but still have a “red button” which has to be triggered by a human for the process to complete. The benefit of requiring human input is that you can make the process more resilient to hacking, rogue employees, or a catastrophic code issue.
5. Uncommon or Unusual Processes
Automation is best for repetitive and highly time-consuming activities. A few decades ago, it was often the job of one employee to manually retype data into different systems. Then we started to write scripts that could do all of this in a few hours, even for an entire month worth of data. This is where automation shines. However, automation makes less sense for unusual or uncommon tasks. If these tasks aren’t routine and don’t take much time to do, then it doesn’t make sense to automate them. Or at least, automating these tasks should be the lowest priority.
6. When You Anticipate a Low ROI
A major benefit of automation is that it can save costs and result in a high ROI. However, this doesn’t apply to all areas of automation. You should calculate the estimated ROI of automation in different areas.
7. Extremely Complex Processes
This is about using automation to help employees rather than replace them. It doesn’t always make sense to automate a very complex process that has a lot of moving parts and relies on human decisions. Automate the simple and repetitive parts, and leave the decision making to the humans.
8. Inefficient Processes
Sometimes a task is extremely time-consuming because it’s fundamentally inefficient and broken. Before you automate these types of tasks, ask yourself whether you are doing them in the best way. Maybe the process needs an overhaul instead of being automated.
9. When Automation Technology Isn’t There Yet
This relates to voice automation solutions but is a wider point in itself. Sometimes the technology just isn’t yet strong enough to make automation viable and you are better off having humans do the work. Business isn’t all about saving costs, but also about offering high quality, and automation should meet both of these goals.
For example, neural language bots have been on the rise in recent years but aren’t yet perfect. Some people have made bots for Reddit and Twitter that will create entirely automated and fictitious posts based on using data from other posts. There’s a subreddit called r/subreddit simulator that uses AI to make new posts. Twitter user Keaton Patti announced in a tweet that they made a bot watch 1000 movies and then write a script. Here are some short snippets of the script the bot invented:
“Business man has flashback to when he was Business boy.”
“Shut your sound. I am from huge city”.
One day these bots will be great, but it’s not time to trust your Twitter account to AI just yet.
Don’t automate everything just for the sake of it. Think of what should be automated first, and what it makes the most sense to automate.