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When Do Automated Business Tools Justify Their Costs?

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Everything’s automated nowadays, including our working environment. Forged further by work from home regulations in what is bound to be remembered as the Terrifying Twenties, now we’ve gone forward it’s unlikely we’ll go back to manual. 

Labour-intensive tasks eat into company turnover – it is not surprising we use available technology to save money. Savings can be passed on in part to the consumer, meaning enterprises that use automation can often undercut the competition that fails to use it.

Automation has many pros in terms of output (24/7 work), beating the competition and safety; the list of cons is, however, similarly long. Loss of jobs is a global worry, but the initial investment for businesses is also high, especially in countries where the average wage is lower. And not only the initial costs, upgrades and maintenance, electricity bills and even complete system overhauls are often not mentioned in the websites of automated services suppliers.

This article describes the budget-friendly and essential automations successful businesses implement to save on human hours and design-to-cost investments. It is often tempting to completely automate a company, however, all-in plans as well as individual cloud technology does not always cut costs – in many parts of the world, automation can drive prices up permanently. With an overview of the most common automated solutions, a business has an opportunity to cherry pick those options that will make the most time, energy and financial savings. There is no point in a very small business with less than 3 employees to heavily invest in HR solutions, for example.

Automation in Marketing

With practically every business online, marketing is one of the fastest-growing services in the world today. And this is one of the fields in which automation has the power to turn failure into success.

1. Website Design.

Starting an online business from scratch does not have to be difficult, time consuming or costly thanks to the great competition between website builder services. These often offer full packages including domain, website design and hosting. Website templates need neither be too basic nor unattractive. However, adders lie under the grass. Hosting and domain prices can rise steeply after the initial subscription has run out, migration of an existing site is sometimes not an option, and ending a subscription may mean giving up both your domain and website – at least for a time.

2. Visitor Numbers.

Website traffic is most commonly generated through search engine optimization, primarily on Google. Hundreds of marketing automations can  be found, from running campaigns to targeted messaging and social media kits. Yet without visitors, few of these pay for their costs. Keyword tools and all manner of automated SEO apps can help get your website visible. You can even buy website traffic that arrives on your selected pages and bumps up your user experience metrics for search engine crawlers.

3. Analytics.

Once visitor numbers are up, automated analytics tools are essential. The free Google Analytics tool is used by millions of businesses the world over and for good reason. While it may not offer every metric for every business, it’s easy to use dashboard and graphics mean anyone can see where their traffic arrives from, which pages or parts of pages it stays longest on, how many leave without taking even a peek, and how many convert in terms of clicks, sales, reading a blog, liking or commenting. All of these provide essential data that guides the future of your business.

Automation in Human Resources

If you employ less than 3 people, HR tools are probably unnecessary. Although some of the most basic will free your time for specialised tasks, they come at a price. However low this price, automation tool investment is cumulative. If you don’t need something, don’t add it.

1. Collaboration.

Free sharing tools can be found everywhere on the web; however, of these, only Google seems to get consistent positive reviews. The problem with free collaboration tools is that at some point these need to be upgraded by the developer. Open source tools can often be of extremely high quality but open source does not necessarily mean free. At some point, these services will need to generate income. For the subscriber, the questions are when and how much? Collaboration tools save considerable time in the sharing and editing of documents and assignments between colleagues and partner businesses. They act as an online office so to speak, and are much cheaper than renting a physical space. The negative side of the collaboration tool – and there is only one when a quality service has been found – is training time. Depending on your business, staff skills must be measured before deciding which tool. Resistance to change if, for example, an existing service is exchanged for something better or more appropriate, can also slow the learning curve.

2. Performance management.

Again, the size of your staff justifies or does not justify the use of performance management automation in your business. A suite of tools brings with it key performance indicators (KPIs), one-on-one performance check-ins, 360° feedback, management by objectives (MBO), annual reviews, reward and recognition programs, personal development plans (PDPs) and even wellbeing schemes. Especially when staff require regular training or when a business experiences high voluntary turnover for no apparent reason, a performance management suite is worth its relatively high cost. 

Automation in Sales

1. CRM.

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools should be high on every business’ automation list. After all, we all rely on some form of customer. Most tools come as suites, integrating the most popular tools into one plan or as selected units for a custom plan (often at a higher cost). A CRM can also be part of an all-in business suite that includes many of the automation tools listed in this article. The danger with an all-inclusive deal is not only the cost but also the learning curve. Instead of an employee only needing to understand the part with which he works, that employee is often required to navigate around the suite to find it. When searching for an all-in deal, ease of use should be one of your top criteria. Cloud and SaaS CRM tools are far and above the better choice over software based systems for small to

medium enterprises, especially with the current work from home trend and our tendency to work on the go. However, under 50% of companies who integrate a CRM label it as a competitive advantage or strategic asset.

2. Order and Inventory Management.

Where warehouses, manufacture and catalogues are involved, nothing saves more time than an easy to use order and inventory management tool. A streamlined supply chain process not only saves money, it earns you a positive reputation with your clients. Many include payment options and are based upon real-time demand planning. If they are not, find one that does. However, one should never balk at price when selecting a tool upon which the success of your client relationship absolutely depends. No matter how approachable your customer services department, if you don’t have the stock your inventory tool says you do or don’t have the order options the clients want, you will lose them.

Automation in Communications & Security

1. Customer support.

While chatbots can filter out many customer queries, are available 24/7 and avoid the additional cost of speaking directly to a company representative, technology is not yet ready for the idea. How many times have you encountered a chatbot that tells you, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand that question’? Younger generations may be more adept in talking ‘bot’, but apart from directing potential customers to the FAQ (which they are perfectly capable of doing themselves on a well-designed website), it’s hard to get a clear answer from a piece of code… at the moment. Other communications automation such as service hubs (with customer ticketing and email options) and live chat often integrate reporting so you can track the more common customer queries and opt to answer these clearly on your website. Every customer expects 24/7 support today, because that is exactly what your competition is providing.

2. Identity verification.

AI customer identity verification must comply with the laws of those countries and customers that use them. This means that most providers of such verification tools are government approved and must be able to prove this. Full stack global identity checks come at great cost but prevent criminal acts – they often earn their cost after the prevention of a single act of fraud. A business has to weigh up between the irritating process of getting one’s ID out of a wallet on the side of the customer and the additional security this provides to the seller on the other side. Any glitch in the system can cause huge frustration. Document and identity verification is a topic of today and we have the technology to ensure a sufficient level of security. The temptation may be to cut costs with a service that has permissions limited to your highest converting target country; however, by doing so you limit your audience. Naturally, identity verification is not necessary for most businesses and many consumers are still wary of sending their details electronically. Today, most use apps – it is much cheaper and customer-friendly to integrate the APIs of the most popular apps.

Automation – Here To Stay.

Your business cannot avoid automation in any way but it can be selective about its choices. Small businesses can reach the world 24/7 with their use, huge enterprises can avoid costly fraud and manage thousands of staff members on an easy to implement interface. 

The only problems involved in automation for any business are justifying the cost of one or more tools as opposed to the suite and balancing learning curves, updates and upgrades over time and money saved. Automation tends to snowball; when you have become used to one you look for the next. By ensuring the first in the row is of the highest quality, you give yourself the ideal point of comparison for every future addition.