“Where do I even start?” It’s a question we hear all the time in the automation industry from businesses of all sectors and sizes. They know there’s value in automating their businesses, but they are overwhelmed by the possibilities and scale. The good news is that companies don’t have to compromise their approach or reinvent themselves to use digital technology effectively. The right automation slots into the way you’re already doing business and helps you get more growth from the sound instincts you have.
Here are five rules of thumb when deciding what to automate:
1. AUTOMATE THE THINGS THAT DELIVER VALUE—BUT THAT DON’T NEED TO BE DONE BY A HUMAN
Solving the time and priorities puzzle is one of the quickest wins that automation can deliver. First, identify tasks where the value doesn’t depend on human input (these are easiest to identify in the moment), and start jotting them down in a list. Then, know that automating these tasks could mean they can be completed faster, freeing up more time that employees can spend elsewhere.
One good example is billing—an incredibly important task for both businesses and customers. Correct invoices that are delivered consistently and in a way that makes it easy for customers to pay helps to manage cash flow on both sides of the relationship. Is a human hand needed to do this effectively? No. In fact, automating this task could result in greater consistency and fewer invoices falling through the cracks. The day at the end of each month that you spend pulling together invoicing could then be spent prospecting for new clients.
2. AUTOMATE TO SCALE NEW OFFERS AND SERVICES
More time means more opportunities to develop new ideas. Automation takes the heavy lifting out of experimenting. It means you can test out new products and services, confident in the knowledge that they won’t end up swamping you and your team if they turn out to be successful.
Let’s say you run a lumber yard. You realize there are a lot of people in your neighborhood with wood burners who might want to pay for boxes of perfectly sized logs to use for the different stages of lighting a fire. So you pack up some trial boxes, put out some ads, and find that you’re onto something. But suddenly, you’re fielding a lot of orders! An automated system could help you capture every order, update customers about their deliveries, plan batches that make it easy for your drivers, and follow up to capture repeat business.
3. AUTOMATE TO KNOW WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE EXPERIENCING
Some of the most valuable automations are those that alert you when a customer experiences something you should know about. For example, if someone who has just signed up for your service keeps visiting the help pages of your website, that’s useful information that you can use to anticipate a problem they might be having—then solve it before it becomes an issue.
Identify the touchpoints that indicate how people are getting along, and set up automations to ensure you know about them. You can also use automations to alert your customer service team to check in with somebody who’s struggling, or to send a message asking if there’s anything you can do to help.
4. AUTOMATE TO BE THERE AT THE RIGHT MOMENT
One of the most useful applications of automation is enabling you to get that timing right. It could be that you want to reach out to every customer a month before their renewal date. An automation that sends an email or alerts your sales team to make a call ensures nothing gets dropped. Or it could be that your restaurant is famous for its birthday cakes, and a great way of securing more bookings is to remind people of that a couple of weeks before their own big day. Or it could just be that you want to know how customers feel about an aspect of your service, and you need a way of asking them that doesn’t feel like it’s imposing on their time. An automated survey triggered by a customer touchpoint asks the question at a relevant moment when it’s easy for them to answer.
5. AUTOMATE TO IMPROVE EXPERIENCES (FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS AND YOUR EMPLOYEES)
Automating generates data, and that data gets more useful when you segment it. Segmentation is also a powerful tool for personalizing experiences based on everything you know about a customer. It’s a great asset when it comes to building marketing campaigns, but it’s also helpful in feeding the correct data to Sales or Support so that they can have more effective conversations.
The best ways to deploy automation don’t include thinking or trying to do someone’s job for them. That would take most of the satisfaction out of running a business. Rather, automations are there to do specific jobs at specific touchpoints in as personalized and effective a way as possible. They’re also there to build up data that’s intelligent, actionable, and helps you think of the next best step. If an automation leads to one of your employees having a conversation with a customer, the quality of that conversation and the value it delivers to you and your customer is proof that you chose the right role for automation.
Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, the Customer Experience Automation (CXA) category leader.