Automation for small business is often regarded as something to be feared. Prognosticators suggest that in the not-too-distant future, soldiers, doctors, and customer service reps will largely be replaced by robots and automation. Now that sounds like bad news, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of solutions out there for helping to keep worker replacement from being catastrophic for the individuals.
But like with all big changes there is also a lot of disagreement and politics about what the best solutions might be. One thing is for sure – robots aren’t only useful to huge corporations, Jedi, and supervillains; there are a lot of ways you could be using automation for small business!
Automation can simplify many of the tasks that just slow down production while eliminating redundancy in task completion. One of the things that automation excels at doing is reducing needless repetition.
The IT field is full of many automation solutions that already exist, including some that have been around for quite a while.
Phone Systems – Where Automation for Small Business Began
One area where automation has been being used for decades is also RCI’s entre into the IT business – telephone systems.
Useful automation features for your small business telephone system include auto-attendant, automatic call distribution, and more.
Auto attendant is simply an outgoing message that also allows callers to reach departments and individuals within the company they’re calling.
Auto-attendant most often uses touchtone for callers but can sometimes also use voice recognition.
Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
Automatic Call Distribution is an excellent feature for companies with large sales or customer service departments.
ACD helps to distribute calls in the way that the employer sees fit. Most commonly this is through even distribution but it can also be used to route calls to the employees most experienced in the caller’s issue or even employees in particular geographic areas.
Automated Message Scheduling
Somewhat (though not very) more recent automation developments include scheduling holidays and other outgoing message greetings months ahead of time.
Most modern telephone systems allow you to either have a standard holiday greeting or record specific greetings for each holiday months ahead of time and then schedule the messages to automatically switch at the correct time.
That allows an employee to only think about that programming feature once a year (or every couple of years) instead of forgetting instructions, finding them, relearning them and then forgetting how to program again before the next holiday.
John Whitcomb likes to say, “Everything is easy when you do it often. Nothing is easy when you don’t.”
Apps have really done a lot to democratize technology. Most apps exist in the cloud and you can access them via a smart phone or computers. Many apps are available for little to no cost that make some automation for small businesses easy and affordable.
Applications aren’t really my beat per se, but if you are looking for some automation apps that will save you time and/or increase efficiency there are many out there. I’ll mention a few that I’m either using or hearing about and let you do your own research from there.
We’ve all experienced headaches when trying to schedule a meeting. With Calendly, you can eliminate nearly all of them. Calendly integrates with other calendars (such as Google) and shares your availability with those you are trying to schedule time with. You can have customized meeting with different time frames or availability settings and only share specific links with specific people. Or you can share your links on your website or email signature.
Hubspot is a free customer relations application that has some premium features you can pay for.
Hubspot allows you to keep track of your customers and allows permissions for specific employees. For example, permissions can be granted to add, delete or edit customer info and interactions.
All customer interactions can be kept in one spot and all employees (or whichever have access) can see what that each customer is talking about to everyone else. In addition contracts can be stored in there and there is a space for where each contract is in the sales funnel (lead, proposed, approved, etc.). Best of all, in addition to each contact being listed, tasks for each customer can be assigned to specific employees and reminders can be automaticaly emailed out when it’s time to follow-up.
One current popular application being used by many business leaders is Zapier. Zapier is an automation app that integrates with hundreds of other applications and programs including Gmail, Google docs, Calendly, Hubspot and many more.
Zapier automates repetitive tasks and is basically only limited by your own creativity.
You set rules within Zapier and it completes tasks you would normally have to do manually. For example, if emails that contain a particular word in the subject line need to go to a certain group of employees, you can set Zapier to automate that for you. You can also set Zapier to automatically put documents in particular places, share posts from one social media account to another or email people when a post is responded to.
You can even set up a rule that if you can’t answer a call or email the sender is automatically sent a link to Calendly to schedule a meeting with you.
Since Zapier is controlled by what you choose for it, it’s at the bleeding edge of automation for small business!
Time Sheets, Payroll and Building Access Control
I’ve written about Access control and how it can integrate with your telephone system before. But did you also know that you can use your access control devices to automate your timesheets and payroll?
By programming a particular (or multiple) access control devices to clock employees in with their ID cards (or a individual access code) you can not only keep your building secure but also track employee hours and create time cards!
The craziest thing about this is it’s an extension of a telephone system! I bet Alexander Graham Bell never pictured that.
And so we begin where we started with how phone systems can use automation for small businesses like yours. But even this end end is just the beginning. New automation features are debuting all the time. You need only look for your small business’s needs and you will likely find that something already exists or is in development.