5 Signs You Need Workflow Automation
Why workflow automation?
Whether you are building a business or looking for ways to improve it, chances are you've heard about this topic.
If you observe carefully, you'll notice that workflow automation is everywhere around us:
It's in the confirmation emails you receive after making an online purchase.
It’s in the email asking you for a review after an online purchase gets delivered
It's behind the chatbot answering basic questions before you get referred to a customer support representative
It's how brands monitor Twitter for mentions
Now, you might be wondering why you need to automate. We'll get there, but first, let's define what workflow automation is.
Workflow automation: A definition
Workflow automation is the design, implementation, and automation of business processes based on preset, logic-based rules. The purpose is to automatically route tasks, data and files between people, apps and systems, and also to reduce recurring and operational human labor.
Admittedly, it's understandable to harbor doubts when coming across the subject for the first time. This happens for several reasons, including:
The broadness of the term. Not all people think of the same thing when hearing the word “automation”. Assumptions about what it entails differ, depending on who you’re asking
Thinking automation is reserved for engineers or otherwise technically versed people only (it’s not)
Convincing yourself you need to stick to “How you’ve always done it”
Being fearful of trying out new methods. As with everything new, there will be an initial learning curve and growing pains to bite through (and rewards to reap at the other side)
Having a hard time identifying what to automate, or simply not knowing where or how to start
There are a few key points to consider if you want to embark on this journey. In this article, we will take you from zero to knowing where to start with workflow automation.
Bear in mind, automating your time-consuming workflows won’t let you sip margaritas on a beach. However, it will help you create more value and get closer to the operational excellence you hear people talking about.
Why do companies use workflow automation?
Turning manual processes into self-sustainable “machines” enables business owners to strategically go ahead with their next steps.
Common reasons to automate workflows include:
Speed up data entry tasks
Connect people, apps and processes
Gather data at scale to make smarter decisions
Spend less time rummaging in the inbox
Free up time that is normally spent on boring, low-value work
Omit manual tasks that are done by humans (and therefore prone to human error)
Workflow automation represents one of the biggest productivity leaps of our era, comparable to the introduction of personal computers four decades ago.
As you can foresee, it’s a hot topic too:
A quick search on Google Trends shows a steady upwards interest for the search term “workflow automation”.
It’s safe to say the pandemic contributed to this upswing.
Since Covid-19 disrupted our lives, businesses had to deal with closures, declining sales and employee layoffs. New ways to communicate, work and produce had to be implemented practically overnight.
In other words, the situation served as a catalyst to go digital. Consumers flocked towards online channels, and companies followed suit.
Now, back to the original question: How to tell if you need to automate?
5 signs you need workflow automation
The following signs will help you judge whether workflow automation is a viable next step for your work and business. Let’s dive right in.
1. Your days are filled with busywork
Ever feel like you’re endlessly moving information around? What you’re doing is necessary, but it’s not necessarily you who should be doing it.
Copy-pasting is the pettiest of all time-wasters, and the clearest sign you could use workflow automation. Plus, where humans work, mistakes will be made. Fatigue can cause incorrect data input or data loss, and even compromise data security.
If the process of moving around data is always the same, automation is likely to free you from the burden of doing it manually.
You might be tempted to think that this is not an issue, but a lot of time and money is wasted this way. A survey found that full-time US workers spend an average of 520 hours per year on tasks that can be automated.
Think employee onboarding, document review, manual password resets. If you take the average hourly labor cost of $30.01, this translates into a $15k+ yearly loss per employee on non-productive tasks.
2. Declining customer satisfaction
Data shows that “poor customer service” is the second reason why shoppers stop buying from a brand (“higher prices” being the top one).
The reality is that customers want prompt responses.
Around 80% of people expect a response within 5 minutes when engaging with your company, in disregard of the channel used.
Image Source: Drift
Needless to say, automation can help you provide faster responses to your customers. But first, let’s address the obvious: How do you keep up with incoming requests? Is each message replied to promptly, or do some slip under the radar?
If your team is drowning in a large volume of inquiries, workflow automation will be a good ally.
From setting up automated Slack notifications for new tickets to creating tasks on your project management tool, automation will make sure no inquiry gets lost.
For a more holistic approach to customer support automation, you can start by mapping out the entire customer journey. This will allow you to identify where things go downhill, and automate according to your exact needs.
3. A struggling workforce
Are employees struggling to get work completed within the given timeframe?
Where are the instances of manual reviews and checks, and what do they look like?
Where do unfinished tasks slip between the cracks, causing an unnecessary delay between the start and completion of work?
Employees want to feel like they’re making progress in their careers. However, this won’t happen if they spend their days frustrated, waiting for pending approval from the next link in the chain.
Your employees are wasting time, while you are wasting resources. What’s most, inefficient processes are all around us.
Think, for example, forms. Do you have employees doing data entry tasks for form answers? Worse - are forms being moved over slow channels like email?
Build workflows that bypass the back-and-forth emailing and uploading of documents, and you'll save your employees valuable time.
Then, there is the problem of employee burnout.
A recent survey featured in the Harvard Business Review assessed the state of burnout and wellbeing during COVID-19, and the results were staggering. 89% of respondents felt their work life was worsening, and nearly 60% felt that the pandemic governed their work.
These are serious issues, but how can automation help? Let’s take a look at some pointers:
Multitasking: Humans are notoriously bad at it. The more projects they work on, the more time is wasted due to a phenomenon called “attention residue”. Automation can easily take repetitive tasks out of the way, and help employees focus on what matters the most.
Overdependence on email: The average person sends and receives 121 business emails per day. Reading, processing and responding to email can easily eat up a whopping 28% of the workweek. Luckily, email is easily automatable. On a low level, this starts with automatically labeling, archiving, or deleting emails. On a higher level, this means using automation to save attachments to Google Drive, create Trello cards for certain emails, or get notifications on other channels as well.
Interruptions: The temptation to check the inbox or your phone impacts productivity and zaps away mental energy. After each distraction, it can take around 25 minutes to get back on task. Automation can help limit the number of interruptions. For example, while keeping the inbox closed, emails that meet certain criteria can be posted to Slack, so that you are only “bothered” by what’s truly important.
The list goes on, but the key is to look at where employees are struggling the most, and start making their lives and work easier.
Image Source: Visualistan
4. Your business processes are not clearly documented
A lack of overview can lead to chaos and insecurity. With ambiguity about who is responsible for what, important tasks end up getting neglected.
Mind, the solution is not to kill any out-of-the-box thinking or attempts at innovation, on the contrary. By documenting processes, each individual knows what is expected of them.
Clearly defined processes also facilitate finding ways to cut down costs and optimize your business.
You will be able to assess if the processes make sense. If they don't, workflow automation will be your lifeline.
5. High costs, low margins
If your operational costs are growing, it’s essential to take a hard look at your business.
Before experimenting with pricing strategies, consider streamlining your operations.
The lean manufacturing framework distinguishes 8 types of “waste” that drive costs. These can be universally applied to detect bottlenecks, and are known as “DOWNTIME”:
Defects: Incomplete or inaccurate services, products, or information (e.g. products that break down, apps that keep crashing)
Overproduction: Making more than what is required (resulting in surplus stock)
Waiting: For people, parts, or information (e.g. waiting for approval or information)
Not utilizing talent: Employees working on the wrong tasks, not listening to improvement suggestions
Transportation: Unnecessarily moving things around (e.g. misaligned process flows)
Inventory excess: Hoarding stock beyond what is necessary (e.g. letting products gather dust in a warehouse)
Motion waste: Any movement that doesn’t add value (e.g. repetitive keystrokes)
Excess processing: Doing the same task more than once (e.g. duplicating data)
Lower your costs by locating areas of wasteful spending, and start automating to increase your margins.
How to get started with workflow automation?
To determine what to tackle first, it’s important to identify where the automation opportunities are.
Find automation opportunities
The precise operations you carry out on a regular basis will be unique to your company and industry.
Nonetheless, your workflow is likely built on commonly used apps, tools, and software. To name the obvious, we all use email and a calendar, don’t we?
Reading through the above will help you identify the inefficiencies that are holding back the growth of your business.
Remember, each broken link in the chain is an opportunity waiting to be seized.
Evaluate your options
When it comes to automation, there are several options you can evaluate:
Direct integrations via API, which require coding
Native integrations, when available
Third-party integration platforms or workflow automation software like Make
Each company chooses its path, or a combination of automation technologies. However, if you want to keep things simple and cost-efficient, nothing beats a platform like Make.
Test the waters by automating one simple task. Your first automation doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly complex. It just has to work.
It can be as simple as saving attachments from emails to a designated folder automatically.
As with most things, the key is to start.
Automate your first workflow with Make
Make is one of the leading integration platforms for workflow automation. Our visual builder makes it easy to automate workflows, in disregard of how complex these are.
We’ve made it clear how email can be a time-sucking black hole. Let’s save time here and implement your first workflow automation inside the inbox.
How to forward emails automatically
We bet you don’t like feeling like a carrier pigeon, forwarding emails to relevant people.
To automate this task, all you have to do is use the following template:
This solution will check whether the content of an incoming email contains a word you specify.
If it does, the email will be automatically forwarded to the relevant party. You won’t have to monitor a thing.
Magic? No, workflow automation.
The hype around workflow automation is real, and we understand how it feels to be left out of a trend. It isn't pretty.
However, avoiding workflow automation can have more dire consequences than momentary sadness. For many companies, it can translate into a loss of competitiveness, talent, and business.
Then again, this is not about getting discouraged, but quite the opposite. The reasons why automation is necessary are many, and so are the available solutions.
We’ve walked you through usual signs that reveal the need for automation. Once you pinpoint where the potential gains are, workflow automation will be the next natural step.
Now, it's all up to you.