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Workflow automation: The key to efficient business operations

Workflow automation isn’t merely about keeping up with the times, it's about outsmarting them. By delegating repetitive tasks to automation, you can ensure consistent and error-free execution, optimize operational flow, and remain competitive in today’s dynamic landscape.

The majority of the customer service teams often find themselves wading through a sea of repetitive tasks — most of which can be resolved using standard procedures. 

Answering routine questions, troubleshooting basic tech hiccups, resetting passwords, handling refunds and exchanges, updating customer info, and chasing down lingering issues — it's a laundry list of tasks that, truth be told, 94% of professionals grapple with day in and day out.[1]

Enter workflow automation: a solution engineered to help businesses break free from these menial tasks, ushering in a new era of productivity and precision. 

Imagine customer service teams breaking free from the shackles of monotony, gaining the freedom to tackle more complex challenges and offer a personalized touch that customers crave. That's the power of automation —- a solution that not only saves time but elevates the entire customer service experience.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is a systematic method that ensures tasks, documents, and information move seamlessly through various work-related activities with minimal human involvement.

Once you've set it up, it runs independently based on predefined rules. It's a reliable, consistent process that liberates your frontline agents from overseeing every little task. This allows them to redirect their focus on what matters the most — customer issues that really need their expertise.

Simply put, workflow automation is your shortcut to efficiency. It's like having an assistant that can send emails, set reminders, assign tasks, and more, all without your team lifting a finger. It's about making work smoother, faster, and more consistent.

So, how does workflow automation work?

At its core, workflow automation involves using technology to perform tasks or processes with minimal human intervention. Think of it as a dependable tool that takes care of routine work, giving you and your team the freedom to concentrate on more intricate and strategic endeavors.

What is workflow?

Workflow refers to the sequence of tasks, actions, or steps that are undertaken in a systematic and organized manner to accomplish a specific goal or objective. It encompasses the flow of information, documents, and responsibilities from one participant or department to another.

Efficient workflows are essential for optimizing processes, enhancing productivity, and ensuring that work is completed in a timely and organized manner. This systematic approach not only saves time but also enhances the overall quality of output.

What is automation?

Automation is the practice of getting things done with minimal human interference, thanks to technology. It aims to streamline and accelerate repetitive or time-consuming activities, improving efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. Think of it as a versatile solution that follows a logical "If This, Then That" approach.

By embracing automation, businesses can allocate their most valuable resource – time – towards innovation, creativity, and strategic decision-making. This, in turn, helps drive growth and success. 

Why are companies investing in workflow automation?

In recent years, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have rapidly adopted workflow automation technology in response to evolving challenges. According to a survey by Zapier, an impressive 88% of SMBs view automation as a valuable tool for remaining competitive.1 For 66%, it has become an essential component of their daily operations.1

Fast-forward to 2023, and the automation wave is only getting bigger. A significant 71% of support leaders plan to increase investments in automation, notably in technologies like chatbots, within the next year.2

The buzz around automation isn't surprising. It seamlessly integrates into businesses of all sizes, from small companies to enterprises.

By entrusting routine tasks to automation, anyone can ensure a more consistent and error-free flow of operations. While it may not eliminate every challenge, it can significantly reduce order discrepancies, minimize missed deadlines, and contribute to a decrease in costly human errors.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. With cost savings, increased efficiency, enhanced transparency, and, most importantly, a spike in customer satisfaction rates, investing in workflow automation is a no-brainer for companies looking to stay ahead in the game.

Get our “The Intercom Customer Service Trends Report 2023” report for free. Gain insights, build a winning strategy.

Benefits of workflow automation

In today's fast-paced business landscape, staying competitive requires efficiency, precision, and a willingness to adapt. Workflow automation offers a strategic advantage, enabling businesses to meet these demands head-on.

Here's a quick rundown of the numerous benefits of workflow automation:

  • Increases efficiency by automating repetitive tasks.

  • Boosts productivity by reallocating efforts to higher-value activities.

  • Saves time by streamlining workflows.

  • Reduces errors by minimizing human intervention.

  • Offers scalability as operations grow.

  • Enhances collaboration and communication.

  • Ensures compliance with internal and external policies.

  • Provides transparency through audit trails.

  • Facilitates data analysis for valuable insights.

  • Improves customer satisfaction through quicker responses.

  • Optimizes resource allocation for efficient task management.

  • Supports innovation by freeing up time for creative thinking.

  • Lowers operational costs through increased efficiency.

Discover how automated customer service can propel your business to new heights.

When to use workflow automation

Automation isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It thrives in specific scenarios where its benefits can be most consistently felt. Let's explore the situations where implementing workflow automation can make the most significant difference for your business:

High-volume, repeatable, and standardized tasks (e.g., help desk operations)

Automation is a game-changer for tasks like logging, categorizing, and assigning within a customer support helpdesk. Employing automation for these tasks liberates your team to focus on more complex customer interactions and problem-solving, resulting in accelerated response times and enhanced support efficiency.

Tasks where accuracy is vital

Automation is invaluable in scenarios where precision is critical, because it guarantees complete accuracy in every transaction. Following predefined rules, it performs tasks with consistent precision. This includes functions like streamlining quality control processes and managing data transfers.

Streamlining a series of simple tasks (e.g., customer onboarding)

Automation works wonders in streamlining tasks like customer onboarding. Every time a new customer signs up, it can efficiently handle routine tasks, swiftly guiding customers through the onboarding journey. From account setup to personalized introductions, automation ensures a consistent and seamless onboarding experience. There's no room for oversights, and each client receives a structured introduction, minimizing variations and setting the stage for a standardized onboarding process.

Examples of workflow automation

Workflow automation is a versatile approach that finds applications across many industries and departments. Its potential for streamlining processes and enhancing productivity is virtually limitless.

Although it has numerous possible use cases, let's delve into some of the most compelling examples from the automated customer service industry:

Increasing efficiency by directly routing customers to the relevant support team

In a busy customer support center, automation uses data like keywords or customer profiles to swiftly categorize and route inquiries. This accelerates response times and ensures specialized assistance from the start.

Streamlining the inbox by following up with inactive customers

Automation systematically monitors customer interactions, setting predefined intervals for follow-ups. This approach guarantees that every customer is cared for. Such proactive re-engagement demonstrates a company’s dedication to customer relations.

Optimizing customer experience by prioritizing responses

Workflow automation can intelligently monitor ongoing conversations, promptly flagging those requiring a teammate's response. This increases customer satisfaction (CSAT) and fine-tunes the support team's efficiency by allocating resources where they're most needed.

Organizing and unearthing data trends with intelligent tagging

Automation identifies keywords or phrases in incoming queries, enabling systematic categorization and in-depth analysis. This proactive approach addresses recurring issues swiftly, increasing customer engagement and strengthening trust.

AI and automation are reshaping customer service. Spend a few minutes catching up on the latest changes to customer service metrics in the AI era.

Step by step to start automating your workflows

Now that we’ve established the fundamentals, let's dive deeper into how to automate a workflow. 

Regardless of the platform and technology you use, automating a workflow largely depends on what you're trying to achieve. You'll need to make a list of realistic goals, collaborate and communicate with your stakeholders and team, and map out the implementation process.

Here's a structured approach that can help you achieve a steady progression toward a highly efficient business automation workflow:

Choose a task or process you would like to automate

Select a task or process that stands out as a prime candidate for automation. It could be a repetitive task, a multi-step process, or anything that can benefit from a more streamlined execution.

Identify stakeholders and tools

Understand the work environment where the automation process is going to be implemented. Consider listing all the systems, applications, tools, and individuals involved in the chosen process.

Map the workflow

Create a visual representation of the workflow, outlining each step from initiation to completion. This provides a clear blueprint for automation.

Build a testing version of the workflow

Develop a testing version of the automated workflow. This allows for thorough testing and fine-tuning before full deployment.

Test and retest 

Conduct rigorous testing to ensure the automation functions as intended. Repeat as needed to address any glitches or opportunities for improvements.

Prepare your team

Inform all stakeholders about the planned automations. Clearly communicate how automation will impact their roles and identify key points in the workflow journey that will be most directly affected. 

Deploy the automated workflow

Once you’ve completed successful testing and conferred with all stakeholders, deploy the automated workflow into your operational environment.

Monitor and optimize

Keep a watchful eye on the automated workflow's performance. Identify areas that are candidates for optimization, fine-tuning, and improved efficiency.

Create a wishlist with all the tasks and processes you would like to automate

Once the first automation is fully established, it becomes easier to identify other tasks ripe for automation. Maintain a wishlist of tasks and processes that could benefit from automation, and prioritize them based on importance and ease of implementation.

Best workflow automation tools

When choosing the ideal workflow automation tool, consider your organization's requirements and goals. Each tool offers different capabilities for optimizing specific processes. When we analyze tools that employ automation features, it’s possible to identify different types of solutions, each designed to address specific organizational needs:

  1. Multi-purpose automation tools: These versatile solutions serve multiple purposes and facilitate seamless connections across different departments.

  2. Automation tools for specific use cases: Tailored to automate tasks and activities within particular areas or initiatives, such as customer service and project management.

  3. Automation tools for connecting other tools: These tools work as a middle layer, enabling other software programs to integrate more quickly while also simplifying the automation process. 

Now that we have a grasp of the different types of workflow automation software, let's explore some top-notch options tailored to specific purposes.

Best for customer service: Intercom

Intercom, a frontrunner in customer service automation, offers a complete customer service solution that combines an AI chatbot, help desk, and proactive support with advanced automation features. It excels in automating workflows, reducing the workload for support agents, and allowing them to tackle more complex customer issues.

The automation capabilities enable things like ticket routing, notifications, and directing customers to the right support agent. It seamlessly integrates with popular platforms like Slack and Stripe, simplifying automation across multiple applications.

Additionally, Intercom provides robust analytics and reporting tools for valuable insights into customer interactions and support performance. These features allow companies to make more informed decisions and continue to enhance their support resources and protocols over time. 

Check out how automating your company’s knowledge base can help boost customer service.

Best for multipurpose enterprise automation: Nintex

Nintex is a leading platform in enterprise-level automation, with a diverse set of features. This low-code/no-code tool empowers organizations to automate a broad spectrum of processes, spanning customer service, sales, marketing, HR, IT, and beyond. 

It features a massive library of prebuilt connectors for seamless integrations, as well as a powerful workflow automation engine to build complex and sophisticated workflows.

Nintex's user-friendly drag-and-drop interface sets it apart, making it accessible to users with varying levels of technical expertise. Additionally, this workflow automation software is highly adaptable and scalable, capable of evolving alongside organizations as their workflows and processes change over time.

Best for multipurpose, beginner-friendly automation: Kissflow

Trusted by more than 10,000 brands, Kissflow strikes a perfect balance between simplicity and functionality. The platform’s intuitive drag-and-drop workflow builder empowers users with or without coding experience to effortlessly create and manage workflows. 

Kissflow also provides a library of prebuilt templates for standard business processes like customer onboarding, sales management, and project management, allowing companies to implement automation quickly and easily. 

With this comprehensive workflow automation tool, you can automate standard approval processes, manage projects with complete visibility, track and resolve issues, and communicate and collaborate with teams using chat and social feed features.

Best for project management automation: ClickUp

ClickUp is a leading name in project management automation, streamlining workflows for teams of all sizes. Its robust features include task management, collaboration tools, time tracking, and goal-setting.

The platform integrates seamlessly with popular business applications, enhancing collaboration within your company and providing a unified hub for all your project management needs.

ClickUp also offers a customizable interface, allowing teams to tailor their digital workspace. This unique flexibility means that the platform is capable of adapting to your unique project management style, promoting efficiency and a sense of ownership.

Best for connecting different apps: Zapier

Zapier is the go-to choice for seamless integration and workflow automation across multiple platforms. It dynamically links various software applications, enabling them to work together harmoniously.

Its strength lies in an extensive library of over 4,000 prebuilt app connections, making tasks like connecting Gmail, Slack, and Salesforce all but effortless. Whether it's linking your CRM to email marketing or automating data transfers between project management tools, Zapier makes sophisticated, high-level integration possible.

What truly distinguishes this tool, however, is its user-friendly interface and the ease with which businesses can quickly incorporate automation into any number of processes. With Zapier's workflow builder, anyone can design complex workflows that connect multiple apps and automate tasks.

Experience the power of customer service automation with Intercom

As businesses continue to evolve, staying ahead of the curve is crucial. Workflow automation can no longer be simply written off as a business buzzphrase or temporary trend. The reality is that, as more and more companies start utilizing workflow automation to enhance productivity and inch closer to optimization, it will become a strategic imperative. 

By embracing automation today, companies give themselves the opportunity to remain competitive not only now, but for years into the future.

Ready to embark on your automation journey? Start by exploring the vast capabilities of Intercom, a pioneer in customer service automation. Our multifaceted solution helps you quickly build powerful automation with bots, triggers, conditions, and rules that create amazing customer experiences, all in a single centralized hub. 

Start a free trial to discover how Intercom can transform your customer support operations and elevate your business.

Sources

  1. Zapier, 2021 State of Business Automation. Zapier surveyed 2,000 US knowledge workers from SMBs.

  2. Intercom, The State of AI in Customer Service Report 2023. We surveyed 1,775 global customer service leaders and decision-makers.