Organizations often credit strategy and managerial nous with successful business turnover. But the fact is that business is rife with manual, procedural tasks that don’t require a great deal of thought but are time-intensive and key to the overall business. Manual data entry and meeting scheduling immediately come to mind. They’re the kind of activities that aren’t necessarily applauded for playing a transformational role within the company. In fact, they only draw attention when something goes wrong. However, they provide a backbone for the business to function and they consume labor hours.
Workflow automation, much like the phrase suggests, is the automation of processes that are handled manually by employees. Automating workflows results in improved productivity and efficiency for the organization as a whole. It’s also an issue that’s relevant at every level of the organizational hierarchy. CEOs spend as much as 20% of their time on tasks that can be automated.
In practice, workflow automation involves creating “rules” to determine the next steps in a process. Automation software, once it’s set up, can assign and schedule tasks, send emails, trigger campaigns, and more, all without human intervention.
Let’s look at something as simple as reimbursing employee expenses. Think about all the steps involved in doing this manually. The employee has to write up an account of why the expense was necessary and submit it to their manager along with the necessary receipts. The manager has to review these papers, approve the expense, and manually send them on to the finance department. They in turn will have to punch in the necessary data into the system records before writing out a check for the employee.
This is for one expense. An employee is likely to have dozens in a month, multiplied by all the employees authorized to make expenses. It’s a pretty routine activity, but it can feel incredibly bureaucratic for everyone involved in the process, and often does. With automation software, you can simplify this exponentially:
- An employee can fill out the data fields in the software interface, attach snapshots of their receipts, and send them to their manager.
- The manager can review the digitized information and press “Approve,” in which case it’s forwarded to the finance department. Alternatively, the manager can add a comment asking for clarification of an expense. Once the employee supplies this in the interface, the manager can approve it and send it on.
- If the manager has a lot going on, the software can also send automated email reminders for pending approvals.
- Once it’s with the finance department, the data, including amount, date, and name, can be automatically pulled into the system.
- The reimbursement amount is then added to the employee’s next paycheck.
It’s worth analyzing this example to see all the benefits automation delivers. First, the employee and manager are both able to deal with the process via the software on their own time, without needing to meet to discuss routine expenses. Once the information is digitized, the receipts needn’t be preserved or manually carried from one department to another. It also saves the need for multiple instances of data entry. Finally, everything is on the record via the software, including clarifications and comments. This makes it much easier to audit an expense or department, if need be, in the future.
Moreover, this process can be modeled to suit your organization’s structure. You can opt for standardized automation software or custom software development services.
Whether you’re a newly founded online business or an established conglomerate spanning verticals, workflow automation software has something to offer. It provides utility across the value chain for every team and department. Here are a few examples of workflow automation in various functions.
This is one of the most well-known use cases of workflow automation. Businesses often employ it across customer touchpoints, sometimes to the annoyance of the customers. However, if done right, it can significantly improve not just productivity for you, but also customer experience, satisfaction, and retention.
Take automated customer chat on your website, for example. An AI bot, like AlphaChat, helps attend to your customer the moment they reach out, solve frequently asked questions, and if necessary, filter and direct their query to the appropriate destination. How quickly the system is able to get ahold of a human respondent often plays a big role in customer experience. Here again, workflow automation software can make a significant difference.
Once a query gets to the backend, it becomes a ticket and gets dynamically assigned to a free operative. If it remains unresolved, it gets recorded as a case, prompting the system to ping the assigned stakeholders to take action. How well you’ve defined the “logic,” or the rules of this process, determine how efficiently the case is handled and how satisfied the customer is.
Marketing is often credited as the “growth engine” of a business. However, you’d be surprised at the number of redundant tasks your marketing executives have to deal with as a part of their job. Take meeting scheduling. The amount of back and forth it can take to schedule one meeting can fray the nerves and clog up your inbox. An automated meeting scheduler, like Doodle, saves you time and can even help generate leads.
There’s a host of other ways you can use workflow automation in marketing. Every time a user downloads a resource from your website or subscribes to your newsletters, they’re automatically added to your database. They’re ripe for drip campaigns via an email marketing service. If you have a large social media following and rely on it to increase your website traffic, you can use online tools to schedule and automate social media posts. If you run an e-commerce store, you can use automation for retargeting and follow-ups. Smart marketing automation can be a powerful tool to improve customer lifetime value for any business.
Lead management is often mind-numbingly dreary for your sales execs. It’s also one of the few processes you simply can’t afford to get wrong, unless you’re in the business of losing money. Fortunately for you, CRM and sales workflow software makes the whole process a cinch for your sales team; in fact, it often precludes them altogether from the lead recording.
Take Class5 Technologies call tracking software, for instance. Every call your team handles is automatically recorded and you can use those metrics for granular analysis of your sales team’s productivity. Leads can also be funneled directly into your CRM software. Some of the best software tools can persistently track a lead at every stage of the pipeline and offer a host of options to help convert it.
As you’ve seen in the example earlier, workflow automation has obvious advantages for your finance department. You can use it to streamline not just your reimbursements, but also to manage vendor and contract approvals as well as travel requests and expenses. If you have to routinely issue payments to creditors and suppliers, you can use automation tools to prioritize your transfers.
For highly structured companies, you can also use workflow automation to approve departmental or operational budgets, subject to certain parameters. Just its ability to track an expense approval from start to finish can save you a lot of hassle when your accountants reconcile your books at the end of the year.
Operations don’t come across as fun or exciting, but they’re indispensable for your organization. Data entry is tedious, but it’s inconceivable to think of a company able to function without data. This is where automation of operations workflow comes in handy. Automation helps reduce the need for manual data entry and improves accuracy, automatically detecting and deleting duplicate entries.
Workflow automation can help establish priorities for different business processes. You want your business services set up before your sales and your sales set up before your marketing. You can also assign and change permissions for your employees across these teams.
Recruitment and HR processes are another typical use of workflow management solutions. You can manage and keep potential candidates informed of their progress throughout the recruitment process and after it as well, for future opportunities. You can use it to send automated notifications to employees.
Automation also saves you a lot of time when you’re recording data for new employees. Once the information is in the system, it can automatically be pulled into various other systems such as payroll and insurance.
- Efficiency: By cutting down on manual tasks, workflow automation can speed up processes and outcomes for your teams.
- Accuracy: When employees don’t have to manually copy data from one system to another, it eliminates inaccuracies. This helps you trust that organizational data is sound and enables your managers to make decisions confidently.
- Productivity: Automation frees up time for people across your company’s hierarchy to focus on tasks that matter and create revenue. It also helps you cut down on unnecessary manpower by letting your software handle tasks. It’s particularly useful if your business generates passive income and you want to minimize expenditures as much as possible, so as to maximize your profit.
- Job satisfaction: It improves job satisfaction for your employees when they no longer have to handle tiresome, bureaucratic work
Businesses often hesitate to automate their workflows, dreading the expense of the software and the perceived hassle of familiarizing their teams with it. It’s important to recognize that these are both one-time investments that will generate significant returns. The whole point of using these tools is to save you time and money.
To put it in perspective, 66% of organizations are pursuing increased automation in or more of their business units or functions. The workflow management software market was worth nearly $7 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a whopping 30% through 2028. This is clearly a trend that’s here to stay and one that businesses need to adopt if they’re to be future-ready.