Automation essentially means delegating tasks to a machine. While there are periodic media articles about the effect of automation on employment, there is also a strong case for arguing that automation, when done correctly, is actually not a threat to SMEs at all. In fact, it’s a huge potential benefit since it provides SMEs with a very cost-effective way of dealing with mundane tasks and thereby allows them to focus more of their human resources on areas where the human touch can make a real difference.
To show how this can work in practice, here are three business areas and some ideas on what to automate and what to leave to humans.
Basic data entry is a clear candidate for automation. Receipts can be scanned straight into accounting software, which is a joy to anyone who has ever experienced the tedium of manual expense processing. On a similar note, automation can also be used to alert human professionals when actions need to be taken, for example when people need to be reminded that invoices need to be raised or when they need to be paid.
Financial management, however, at this point, is still very much a candidate for the human touch. Automated systems can be great for reminding you to chase up an invoice, but the actual act of sending the message or making the phone call is probably best left to a human when sensitive messages need to be sent or negotiations need to take place.
Like finance, sales can often benefit from automation of basic data entry, especially if you work in an environment in which contact data is captured the old-fashioned way, such as via business cards.
Similarly, work environments can also benefit from the automation of basic time-management tasks, such as reminders of when certain actions need to be taken. For sales, however, possibly the single biggest candidate for automation is the creation of sales-related reports; the data-crunching involved in which can be a painful, headache-inducing task for humans, but no problem at all for machines.
The actual act of selling, however, is almost certainly best left to humans, especially in SMEs, which are often far better equipped to compete on relationships and, in particular, trust, than they are on price.
The concept of customer service has moved on a lot from the era of phone and email. These days, it can involve interacting with people through a variety of channels including social media and, SMEs often wish to have a presence on as many channels as possible so that they can broaden their reach as far as possible. Automation can help to answer the question of how to resource each channel. When it comes to customer service, often the best approach is to have automation and humans working together. For instance, Facebook private messages to businesses can sometimes be managed by bots, which can answer basic questions like when your opening hours are. This can leave your staff to deal with more complex enquiries.