When your business meets its market pressures successfully, the growth rate develops into a serious management challenge.
It’s imperative to scale up front office and sales operations to stay in front of the growth curve, or that success can rapidly become a serious burden. This is a threat for any business that’s running lean to stay agile in the marketplace.
Rise to Meet the Challenge
While this challenge is serious regardless of company size, small businesses are in a unique position to transform this challenge into a competitive advantage.
Larger corporations that are built and managed well can position themselves to absorb increased demand.
However, small businesses approaching critical mass can adapt and modify internal structures at far less relative cost. Quantum leaps in revenue and customer management are not only possible; they’re likely as long as they’re positioned to scale up before rapid growth takes hold.
Automation Is the Key
Automating business processes that are recurring and repetitive during the early stages of business development builds in competitive advantages from the very beginning. If you haven’t automated them already, it’s time to start.
You need to automate business processes as soon as you can manage it. Your competitors are already doing it.
A recent McKinsey study on business process automation showed that 57 percent of business in every region intends to implement automation in the next year, but only 38 percent have already begun.
If your business installs process automation in the next 24 months, you’re going to enjoy a marketplace advantage over competitors, both large and small.
What is Business Process Automation?
The term “business process automation” or BPA refers to a method of using software to perform tedious or repetitive tasks that frequently need to be done. The idea is to free up your workers to do more valuable work, those things that require human interaction, decision-making, or special training.
The more daily tasks you can turn over to BPA, the more time you make available for your employees to do what they do best. With more time, less stress, and fewer tedious tasks, your employees can concentrate on delivering better-quality work.
Here are just a few benefits that can be realized when you automate business processes.
1. Eliminate Mistakes in Record-Keeping:
When humans process long lists of information like purchasing records or customer data, there are always mistakes. After all, they’re only human, and it’s hard to maintain a high level of concentration when faced with long, tiresome lists of numbers.
2. More Value from Employees:
Moving people off this rote, repetitive, and mind-numbing work frees them to do high-value work that creates revenue or customer satisfaction. That’s a better return on your employee investments than punching numbers into a spreadsheet.
3. Happier Workers:
Nobody wants to sit in front of a terminal doing menial, detail-oriented work that provides no mental stimulation. This kind of work kills motivation and loses promising young employees who could provide real returns in the future.
Applying BPA to these kinds of jobs allows employees and interns to do more meaningful and satisfactory work.
4. Position Your Business for Future Success:
Installing automation into your current business processes will make your operations more efficient for the present.
In the future, there’ll be new processes installed that don’t even exist yet. At that point, your company will have the knowledge and experience to automate those processes from the ground up.
Clarify and Streamline Your Business Processes
Processes like order processing and employee onboarding are often developed over a long time, step by step, with no deliberate examination of the process as a whole. Automating any process requires mapping it out step by step.
Mapping these processes out provides the opportunity to determine whether certain steps should be performed in a different order or whether they’re even needed. You’ll find new opportunities to streamline tasks and improve the overall process efficiency.
The result will be a new clarity regarding individual processes and provide insights to apply on other processes as they’re automated in turn.
Mapping and streamlining will also create documentation and insight that will be invaluable as training aids for employees, enabling them to implement, maintain, and improve processes as time goes by.
Take Advantage of Custom Software
While some of these processes can be automated within existing software applications, for instance, with macros inside standard business software packages, most off-the-shelf office and business software just aren’t robust enough to handle serious process automation needs.
Custom enterprise software can be tailored to provide precisely the processes required for any company’s needs. There’s no need to give up the standardized office software already in use, like word processing or spreadsheet packages.
Custom enterprise software can incorporate those packages into an overall hybrid strategy that makes use of existing software while adding new company-specific software that doesn’t currently exist.
With company-specific solutions custom-tailored in place, hours previously spent trying to support cobbled-together systems of macros and retail software can be dedicated to more productive tasks like IT and customer support.
Take Advantage of BPA for These Processes
1. Employee Onboarding
One of the most labor-intensive tasks in any business is the process of getting the new hire ready to work. Once the employee’s information is put into the system, automation can take care of tasks like benefits and insurance enrollment, 401K provisions, and the assignment of equipment and offices.
Other common tasks ripe for automation include scheduling the new employee for training sessions and intake interviews with their department heads.
Process software can also provide automatic team assignments, provisioning of resources like printer time, phone and internet access, and also handle assignment of projects and responsibilities.
2. Data Management
One of the most time and labor-intensive areas of business is in managing data. Customer information, personnel records, order processing, payroll, accounting, logistical information, and insurance all need to be kept current and maintained daily.
These kinds of records need to be updated in their respective software packages. They need to be cross-referenced, for example, to check for benefits changes like increased vacation time or bonuses. Then it all needs to be backed up locally and uploaded to the cloud.
For some companies, this process may require several employees just by itself.
There’s also the need to dedicate at least some IT personnel to deal with human problems like misunderstanding menu choices or dealing with lost or forgotten passwords.
Expensive IT techs are better used on actual technical issues with hardware and software rather than as internal customer service.
3. Office Management Tasks
One of the most powerful ways to take advantage of BPA is in integrating the software packages already in use by management to run the business. Custom solutions can be created that incorporate spreadsheets, word processing, database, and presentation software to create new ways of managing the day-to-day tasks of the business.
When changes are made in a database record, every other package can make use of that information to update benefits, record progress on a project, and generate reports and emails that notify company stakeholders like executives and human resources.
This type of automation can shave minutes off of countless tasks. Minutes make hours by the end of the day, and hours make weeks by the end of the year.
4. Sales Management
Whether it’s prospect marketing that generates inbound leads or tracking customer relations to close the deal by sales personnel, automation has the potential for considerable increases in efficiency and revenue.
Automating processes like collating and recording prospect information and compiling that information takes a big load off the sales force and any supporting personnel. Software can create prospect lists and make cold contact with email, texting, and even dialing.
When a prospect responds to contact, the software can route the individual either to automatic systems that allow them to request more information from a menu or to the salesperson who’s responsible for nurturing that inbound contact.
All of this saves time, provides quick response to inquiries, and improves the sales closure rate when sales personnel can respond more calmly.
When it’s time to follow up on previous contact or requests for information, the system notifies the appropriate level and people in sales. Once the sale is closed, the system can request satisfaction surveys from the customers by phone or email.
Follow-up and thank you messages are generated automatically and reminders sent to salespeople to check on the client’s order progress and make sure the customer is happy.
By automating business processes that consume time or labor resources, you eliminate or free workers that can do more productive work.
Someone may still be necessary to monitor a given process, but human labor will be much reduced. Expensive and valuable human resources are concentrated where they will provide the most value instead of being diverted to deal with minor and time-consuming customer service tasks.
— Guest Submission by Heather Redding. Opinions are of the author.