Today, three challenges for local businesses and nonprofits stand out:
- There’s a lot of catch-up to do in sales and operations to regain momentum.
- There’s more of a need to create customer engagement than ever
- It’s more difficult to attract and keep the employees needed to serve customer’s needs.
Note: I use the generic term “customer” to include more specific terms like “patient”, “client”, and nonprofit “supporter”.
In the same way that labor-saving inventions (think washing machines) changed the game for users, online, telecom, and social media tools are available to help any business better communicate with and engage their customers, while making the whole operation easier and less time-consuming. This three-part article series will serve as a guide for customer automation strategies and tools that can help local businesses create new ways to engage their customers at reduced costs.
In the last 5 years, software developers all over the world have created many innovative, effective, and affordable automation software options that enhance the customer experience. Sadly, all those options have introduced confusion for potential business users.
Confused minds never buy, so many businesses don’t bother to investigate options. Instead, they do what they know – hang on to things as they are. They don’t realize that customer expectations are changing and that they’re missing out on opportunities to strengthen their business.
They may think that new tools are too complicated to learn or that they’re a poor fit for their business. Some get lost in choosing from a long list of features and options. Others are skeptical of the benefits and are wary of the costs involved.
Most damaging is that many see automation tools as expenses instead of aids to better customer engagement and profitable growth.
What Are Smart Customer Automation Tools?
The first thing is to define what we mean when we say “smart automation tools”. A smart automation tool is any software application that helps a business to improve their customers’ experience while streamlining the workflow involved. it’s about doing things that achieve the twin goals of making the customer feel more personally attended to and the business easier to run.
So much to choose from! If you’re put off by the jargon or length of this list – don’t be. They’re all simple in concept and most businesses only need one or two of them to make a difference. Of course, there will be some learning curve when adopting new tools. In addition, there are often light or free versions of these tools that can do the job for some businesses.
If you’re looking to make your business more competitive or to increase its online presence, brand strength, or market share, you’ll need to utilize one or more of these tools. Why? Because they’re becoming more important to your customer.
Customer expectations for how they engage with a business are ratcheting up. People want their questions answered or their problems solved instantly! They hardly want to wait a few seconds for a website to load. So, if you’re not making your customer’s experience better and more convenient, they’ll be looking for a business that will do so.
The best automation tool for a business depends on its customers’ needs. For example, a real estate office will need to interact with their clients very differently than an auto repair business, and a senior care facility’s needs will be different from both of them, and so on.
This is why a one size fits all automation software solution doesn’t work. Automation tools and strategies need to be flexible enough to form themselves around the needs of the customer and the business.
The good news is that thanks to the ingenuity of software developers, these tools have become affordable and available to just about any business or nonprofit.
When smart automation tools are used correctly, they make it easier for customers to interact with the business to get the information they want in less time (who likes wading through a phone tree, getting put on hold, hoping to talk with the right person?) and frees up the staff to handle more complex issues.
More on tools in Parts 2 and 3
How To Begin With Smart Automation
Just because you can automate something, it doesn’t follow that it should be automated. Each business needs to first determine the specific improvements that will make the biggest difference.
The first thing that needs to be done is to consider how the customer interacts with your business and decide what you need the automation to do – for the customer.
Ask questions like: do you want your customers to get information faster or questions answered 24/7? Do you want to give them an option to set appointments online? Or help them make product or service choices? Are you looking to help them with returns, or provide an alternative to voicemail or phone tag? etc.
Next, decide what you want to achieve – for your business. Questions like: Do you want to generate leads? Or answer routine questions with a bot? Do you want to create a more effective recruiting or sales process? Do you want to automate appointment setting & reminders? or drive more traffic to your website? Do you just want to be able to target groups of customers with relevant specials or deals? Or do you want to be able to answer customer questions during off-hours?
Thoughtfully answering questions like these is job #1. Once there’s clarity, then the search for the right automation tool becomes easier.
If you don’t do it this way, you could end up wasting time and money on a solution that doesn’t really solve a problem for you or the customer.
Also, it’s a good time to remember that if there are fundamental problems with products or services, they need to be fixed before you automate anything. As Bill Gates said: “Automation applied to an inefficient process will magnify the inefficiency”
The Case Of The Facebook Bot Grand Opening
As an example of the kind of clarity you’ll want, a few years ago we built a Facebook Messenger Bot for a client who was building and opening its third pet resort facility. The purpose was to use a chatbot to automate a process to pre-sell area pet owners on bringing their pets in as new guests.
We ran Facebook ads that sent people into a bot that asked them if they wanted to see progress videos of the new facility as it was being built. If they opted in, they could watch drone videos of construction progress – and the bot delivered the videos to them automatically via FB Messenger. It provided subscribers with other useful pet information and got prospective customers interacting with them before the doors opened – including potential employees.
With the bot in place, they could focus on recruiting and other opening preparations while the bot engaged prospective customers.
By the time the facility opened, hundreds of early adopters had already been exposed to brand-building messages about the company’s commitment and dedication to a fun, safe pet-friendly environment.
This created a buzz that pre-sold most of the facility by opening day, and they had hundreds of followers to their new Facebook page.
After the successful opening, I showed them further options to use the bot for customer engagement – running contests, customer service chats, etc. but they opted not to use it for those purposes. They simply decided to handle customer engagement in different ways – without the bot.
The point is they asked themselves the right questions and were clear about their use for this automation and how they wanted it to fit in with their customer experience and their workflow. It had worked for them to build the marketing buzz and pre-sell their facility, and that’s all they wanted to do. Each business that takes on any automation should be as clear about what they want to accomplish.
Know Your Customer’s Preferences
Finally, it’s important to understand your customer’s interaction and channel preferences. For example:
- If your customer base is social media-oriented, then Facebook or Twitter chatbot strategies may work well. But for other businesses that don’t really use social media very much, this may not be the best automation strategy.
- A customer base that is thirsty for information, specialized knowledge or technical information may benefit from an autoresponder-delivered newsletter.
- An audience that is cost-conscious may be most interested in text notifications of deals or coupons.
Customers today have so many options for products and services, and it’s easy for them to find dozens of alternatives for anything they want in just one, three-minute Google search.
It’s also clear that their expectations for speed, quality of service, and personalized attention are getting higher every day. Each business needs to decide how they will meet these demands, or risk being left behind. Smart Customer Automation Tools are some of the best ways we know of to provide a better customer experience and stay competitive for the future.
Smart automation is about creating the best experience for people interacting with your business in a way that builds the brand, creates customer loyalty, and reduces the time and effort to do it.
By implementing these tools, you’re meeting your customer’s expectations and allowing them more choices to interact with your business using their preferred method.
The challenge in implementing automation is to make the technology feel like a person-to-person experience for the customer.
In Parts 2 and Part 3 of this series, we’re going to give an overview of two of the most popular smart customer automation platforms and their related features that can be implemented by any business on any budget.
Related tools include apps that can be integrated with the two main platforms and give it the custom functionality that the business needs.
We won’t be able to discuss in depth all the tools shown in the Smart Customer Automation Tools diagram. But we hope to give you enough guidance to create a solid strategy.
Next Level Local Business is a reputation, marketing and advertising agency dedicated to helping local businesses create an effective online presence. Learn more at nextlevellocalbusiness.com. Our automation systems provide local businesses with text automation options. Call or text us at 941.867.4520.