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What is automation?

We know we need it but what does it actually mean?

Here are a few definitions:

System – something that we do in business to deliver an outcome. A way of working that delivers a result.

Task – any part of a System, a small piece of work that is self-contained.

Automation – a Task done by a machine. Something we no longer have to do ourselves.

So an Automation is a Task that we don’t have to perform manually. It allows us to make our System (for delivering a business outcome) quicker, more reliable, hopefully more cost-effective and require less manual input and brainpower from us.

Example:

My company, Trouser Tree Inc, sells bespoke trousers for the taller gentleman. We have a website where we do the sales and the customer service. We partner with a manufacturer who makes the trousers and ships them to our clients.

We have many Systems in place in order for us to make sure that we get the right trousers to the right customers in the agreed timeframe.

When a customer is interested in our trousers they choose their design, size and colour from the website and make an order. One of our customer experience representatives will then get in touch with them to talk them through options and if they want to see some samples and also guide them through the measurement process so that they provide us with the right numbers for our manufacturing. If everything works out then they’ll get their brand new, bespoke trousers within 2-4 weeks.

How do we make this work so well? We use a bunch of automations to make our lives easier.

Let’s explore just one or two of our Systems in more detail to see how they hang together.

The System

When the Order is made via the website, the Customer Service Representative (CSR) gets an email and knows they need to talk to a Customer.

The CSR works through a queue of Orders to ensure that each Customer is happy, and that they have all the information they need. If the Customer needs to see samples then we pause the Order while these are sent out. The CSR then gets a reminder to contact the Customer once the sample is received.

Only when the Customer is happy are they billed. Once payment is complete the Order moves to the factory for processing, manufacture, packaging and shipping.

When the Order is received by the customer our representative will follow up to ensure that the customer is 100% happy with the trousers.

The Tasks & Automations

In the above System we are describing the Sales and Fulfillment flow of our fictional trouser company. Each step in the System described above has lots of different Tasks and Automations. Let’s look at some examples of how these flow together:

  • When an Order is made by a Customer: Automation creates Order in our database and sends email confirmation both to the Customer and the CSR
  • CSR writes a personal email to the Customer based on a template (or a series of templates) to find out if they need any more information before completing their order. Customer has choice of email reply or to set up a phone call/Zoom to discuss options.
  • CSR processes the reply and updates the Order accordingly. Changes Order status to “Waiting for Payment” and payment request is sent out.
  • Once payment is received the Order automatically progresses to the Factory for processing.
  • Factory receives the Order and places it on the backlog for making the trousers.
  • Once the trousers are made (or if there are any problems) the Order status is updated with notes as necessary.
  • CSR keeps Customer up to date on status of Order.
  • Once shipped the Customer receives a tracking code and indication the the order is underway by email.
  • The Order arrives and the CSR waits a day or two before sending a final thank you and asking if everything is ok with the order.
  • Feedback is updated in the system by the CSR and the Order closed.

These are just some of the Tasks and Automations in our System for Sales and Fulfillment. Just SOME of them and there’s already a lot of steps!

Write Before Automation

So before you can hope to automate your systems you need to know what is in your System, right?

So write it all down – make a Standard Operation Procedure (SOPs) – make a list of steps. Write down as much detail as you can.

Before you start even thinking about automation, create procedures for all of your most important systems – be they manual or already partially automated. Understand what you’re doing no, later you can make it more streamlined and efficient.

Writing SOPs is not a simple process so don’t expect to take any shortcuts. But doing this right, taking your time, will ensure that you eventually have a better System that provides a better service to your Customer and allows you to serve more Customers with higher quality.

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