Blog: Ontraport - Business Automation
If you’re approaching new technology for the first time, those fears are valid and understandable. But your team absolutely can focus on re-humanizing interactions with customers instead of wasting time on monotonous tasks. And you can preserve human connections while streamlining your vital business processes. The best of both worlds awaits with business process automation (BPA).
Bye-bye busywork, hello BPA
Have you ever felt like your team members were underperforming and/or not producing their highest quality work? It’s probably not because they’re lazy or unmotivated. On the contrary, it is likely because they are overloaded with busy work and spending their time working on low-value tasks that require little ingenuity or creativity. Most employees who actually want to stick around in your business would rather be doing things that require more specialized skill or expertise (and are more engaging for the employee and high value for the business).
As a business owner, you probably have a list of things you could be doing right now — but you find yourself lacking time, resources, and labor. Here’s where automation can shine. You can automate the busy work that would normally keep your team members’ heads down in order to free up time for meaningful interactions, improved innovation, and anything else that can give your business a competitive edge.
BPA helps you lift these limitations by streamlining a multitude of processes. In fact, most departments have numerous processes that can be automated. Some of those include:
- Appointment scheduling
- Marketing and sales outreach
- Customer communication
- Record keeping and management
- Employee recruiting and onboarding (HR)
- Events and media outreach (PR)
- Drafting and sending proposals and bids
- Payment accounting and billing processes
Automating all or portions of mundane and repetitive tasks like these can enhance the human-to-human experiences in your business rather than take the meaningful substance out of them.
Asking the Right Questions
With so much promising data and so many success stories to suggest that BPA can lead to faster customer acquisition and revenue growth, why aren’t all companies investing in it? And why are businesses that have existing automation still under-utilizing its capabilities?
Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions that entrepreneurs, managers and business owners ask when considering whether to implement BPA in their businesses.
1) What happens when we let automation take over formerly human-powered activity?
Many people still believe that automation technology is inherently cold, inauthentic and impersonal. This is especially common for marketing and sales technology that takes advantage of artificial intelligence to replace management and personalization. To avoid this, you want to be mindful of which processes you automate. Try applying automation to frequent, low-stakes tasks so your team is available for interpersonal interactions that require critical thinking, empathy and creativity. After all, robots aren’t buying your product — so they shouldn’t be selling it.
By automating simple and predictable tasks, you can actually create more valuable, personal connections between your brand and your clients. When approached thoughtfully and intentionally, automation can lead to a higher number of human-to-human interactions and maximize the quality of those interactions as well. Using automation to facilitate day-to-day processes paves the way for more quality work and more satisfied employees who consequently get to use a wider range of skill sets. The primary aim of implementing automation in your business should be to handle the least productive and most repetitive tasks that take up your team’s time so they can attend to what matters most in your business.
2) Will automation distract from basic skill development?
Another worry that many business owners and managers share is that the focus on automation could divert attention away from training and basic skill development. The argument is that by automating basic business functions such as scheduling, reporting, data entry and analysis, businesses are neglecting to invest in their team by teaching them to perform those important, yet basic, tasks. Leaders fear that by placing an emphasis on automating everything, they are failing their teams and that this approach could lead to poorly trained teams.
However, when automation is used properly, it can allow individuals to be more successful — maximizing potential and improving efficiency. Using automation, you can improve your consistency and define the correct processes in your entire business, which makes it easier to train new people, measure trends in your performance over time, and optimize your best practices for growth.
BPA can also reveal which strategies and processes are most effective and efficient so that you only use what works best. By automating your business processes, even if they involve manual (non-automated) steps, you’ll be making them more consistent. When there’s a process, you can identify the places where it is not working and optimize it.
Creating and automating processes will also yield useful data that will reveal which employees stand out, allowing you to incentivize them accordingly and provide more training for those who struggle. Finally, automated processes reveal valuable KPIs for your team’s performance and notify you quickly when something goes wrong, providing additional training opportunities. It makes it easier to measure trends in a business’s performance over time and optimize your best practices for a consistency
3) Does automation really improve competency?
What happens if you and your team begin to rely too heavily on automation and eventually your team begins taking less ownership of their tasks?
Robert M. Virga, founder of Ei Dynamics and business automation expert, puts it this way: “As the old adage goes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ This could not be more relevant than with automation. Often, when we automate something people forget about it and then a few months go by and the owner of the company starts asking why something slipped through the cracks, and nobody knows why.”
His objection is tied to the underlying fear that over-reliance on technology will reduce individual responsibility on your team. Even though automated systems do not forget about tasks or commit human errors, it is still humans who program and run them — which means they are still imperfect and prone to mistakes. In fact, since your team members will assume that the automated system is handling all the details correctly, they may fail to notice these issues when they do occur.
Although Virga’s concerns are valid, it’s important to recognize that any tool can be used for harm or good. If you can view automation as a productivity tool, not a replacement for responsibility, you’ll be in a much stronger position for implementing automation into your business. This concern is only a problem for those who abdicate responsibility when they choose to automate their processes. Automation is not meant to be a replacement for human intelligence but rather as a supplement. Even with automation in place, managers and small business owners still need to constantly search for opportunities to improve. The potential for growth is never-ending.
4) How do I know if my business processes are optimized enough for automation?
Are you wondering how you’re supposed to automate your business processes when you don’t know if they are ready for automation? Maybe you aren’t even sure you have processes to automate.
What most entrepreneurs find is that their processes will never be perfect, but automation can help iron out the kinks. If you keep waiting until your processes are perfect to go ahead with automation, you’ll be waiting forever. By making business process automation a priority, you can accelerate the development of effective processes by getting data on what’s working and what’s not, much faster.
By focusing on creating repeatable, successful business processes as you implement automation in your business, you’ll stimulate growth and change much faster than if you just deal with ineffective processes when they begin to create a problem you can no longer ignore. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your business processes. In the end, you’ll have a clean, organized collection of processes that you can automate, which will make your systems more consistent, make it easier to train your team, and make it easier to see areas for improvement.
Business process automation is a powerful tool, and when used intentionally, it can lead to serious business growth. By now, it should be apparent that the question to ask yourself is not whether you should invest in business process automation but whether you can afford not to. Let computers and machines do what they do best, so that your human team members can do the same.