If you've ever spent an entire day at the office slogging through a mountain of paperwork or felt your eyes glaze over while staring at another simple customer inquiry on your screen, you know the feeling of wishing you could be doing almost anything else. Lucky for you, you can be. You can likely solve some of your most annoying problems with process automation.
In our last post, we delved into some truths and myths about process automation. In this one, we'll explain how automating your processes can help you get to inbox zero, respond to customer feedback, deploy software and more.
1. You need to send emails to leads, customers and sales reps
The situation: You've collected a few hundred email addresses from regular clients and leads you've met at conferences, and added them to your list (with permission, right?). You hate letting them languish in your CRM, but you're not sure how to reach out.
The fix: Make marketing hassle-free by setting up email workflows using marketing automation software. Imagine if instead of having to chase each lead individually, you tracked your visitors' actions on your website. When they subscribe to your blog, fill out a contact form or download your content, it triggers an email to be sent - and all you had to do was set up the workflow once. Businesses are seeing the value in automating their marketing - according to an Invesp infographic, marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead.
Bonus: Don't lose your best opportunities to miscommunication. If you create a workflow that emails your sales person the info they need about visitors who engage with your pricing or contact page, you'll never let another lead fall through the cracks. Even better, your system sends the emails so you can focus on nurturing relationships.
2. You're overwhelmed with customer feedback and support requests
The situation: Have you ever had one of these days?: You get back from lunch and your phone is ringing with your 1:00 call. A regular customer is asking a question via chat. You've just received a Facebook message from a lead wanting more information on one of your products, and an email from a dissatisfied customer awaits your reply. Of course, all of them expect immediate attention.
The fix: Automating your processes will let you prioritize which of these can be handled purely through automation, solve performance problems and free up your support staff's time for the most urgent and complex issues.
Leverage machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to significantly improve your customer experience. By using a chat bot to answer simple questions received through social media and your website, you can streamline your service department, eliminate inefficiencies and send the most complex problems to your staff to be addressed. Machine learning and natural language processing can also be used to define types of requests and segment them.
For example, if you run an online store visitors might have questions before ordering, need to return an item or require help with a shipping issue. Accurately segmenting these requests means they will be handled faster and in a more organized fashion.
3. Everyone dreads entering data and creating reports
The situation: You loathe the thought of having to hire, train and manage another employee for such a simple task, but you've got hundreds of spreadsheets to manage and reports to generate on a regular basis. It's become a running joke on your team about who gets stuck doing it every month and worse, errors creep in. You can't be sure it's getting completed accurately and you think there must be a faster way.
The fix: Statistics prove your instincts are correct - about 10% to 20% of human work hours are spent on dull, repetitive computer tasks, state figures published on Towards Data Science.
You'll want to automate your most repetitive, error-prone processes like data entry and report generation first.
Have your process automation software start with scraping data from documents, place the data in Excel and even email the completed spreadsheet to your contacts.
One caveat: understanding the types of processes you're automating and the nuances of process automation is critical. For example, for data entry your best option might be an attended bot, which runs on a computer and helps employees complete simple, repetitive tasks more quickly and accurately. Avoid using bots to automate complex, higher value tasks as this can cause further problems, as explained in this Forbes article.
4. You need to push software updates on a regular schedule
The situation: In software development, the race to release is real; you've got to beat the competition to the punch on the next great feature. Iterating quickly and releasing more often lead to less bugs than releasing on an infrequent timeline. Schedule pressure, or "time crunch" is another issue and happens when developers are under immense pressure to push releases faster than proper QA (Quality Assurance) testing can be completed. This can reduce the quality of the final product and lead to user dissatisfaction, and a number of other problems.
The fix: To eliminate as many bugs as possible before release, risk management and testing are key. Best practice is to release regularly, largely because it forces teams to automate and organize their processes. With better processes, you can release more often and spend your time making minor updates to address bugs and user feedback, as opposed to releasing based on large milestones and struggling with major issues.
Continuous Integration (CI) "is the process of automatically detecting, pulling, building" and testing units as source code is changed. CI identifies changes in source code repositories using several different methods and tests them to validate the code. Developers test the software continuously to ensure its quality and continuous deployment brings the end product to users, shortening feedback loops substantially. A continuous delivery pipeline brings together all the different tasks involved in turning source code into software. The completion of one process kicks off another, and almost all parts of this pipeline should be automated, with people potentially interacting at specific points, such as testing for usability after a major update.
Continuous Deployment (CD) brings the end product to users. A continuous delivery pipeline brings together all the different tasks involved in turning source code into software. The completion of one process kicks off another, and almost all parts of this pipeline should be automated, with people potentially interacting at specific points.
Needless to say, a lot can go wrong at critical points in these processes, with dire consequences for users, stakeholders and the credibility of the company releasing the software. Luckily, automating testing lets you test more quickly, achieve more consistency in your results and restructure your pipeline to add new tools, updates and frameworks.
5. You need your legacy systems and new applications to communicate
The situation: Think about all the software and applications you use in the span of an average week in your business - probably a dozen or more, right? Some are legacy programs while others are newer cloud-based or onsite applications, and they need to interact seamlessly so data can be transferred quickly between programs. You may have heard of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) - these are critical because they let applications interact with one another and exchange information. When programs provide poor interfaces, it makes it more difficult for them to cooperate smoothly with other software.
The fix: Business process automation software can help your most vital systems "talk" to each other, glitch-free. At Custom Programming Solutions, we specialize in assessing your software and technological challenges and building the right solution to address them.
A new system that integrates all of these programs will improve efficiency and eliminate the frustrating bottlenecks that happen when applications don't interact properly.
Inefficient processes, outdated systems and tedious manual labor can make running a business feel like a Sisyphean challenge. By automating your processes, you can streamline your operations, improve profitability and give your employees the tools to do their best work so you can focus on building your business.