Automation Service: beyond task automation

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Automation Service: beyond task automation

Service automation is a term used to describe the ability to automate complex business processes. It is all about automating an entire service, end-to-end, instead of merely automating a task. At its very basic, it can increase efficiency, reduce costs, eliminate human error and/or improve the customer experience. At its best, it can generate businesses income continuously, while requiring minimal efforts from the business once it has been built.

Service automation was largely born out of ERP systems, which have been around for decades. ERP systems have traditionally been used by large enterprise companies to integrate their business software applications. The most common use cases include supply chain management, product planning and logistics, production control and customer relationship management (CRM).

In its essence, automating services underpins many tech start-ups, where their entire offering, from sales to service delivery, only requires human interaction very occasionally, but running autonomously the vast majority of the time. It is, by its very nature, the reason startups can be so massively scalable. And that ability to scale – to offer their services to many more people without needing more employees – is why they can command higher valuations. Once the service is created, the cost of providing it to one more person is minimal, yet it can bring in huge revenue.

That is not to say that automating services is only in the domain of well-funded tech start-ups. Many businesses, including small and medium ones, can automate some of their service offerings.

In more recent years, service automation has become more accessible due to a number of new technologies, including the cloud, APIs and machine learning. These technologies have made it easier for small businesses to automate their processes without having to invest in the resources required to build their own systems from scratch.

Table of Contents

  1. What services can be automated?
  2. Benefits of automating a service
  3. Drawbacks, pitfalls, and how to overcome them
  4. Key Takeaway

What services can be automated?

The level of sophistication in service automation ranges from basic processes that are completely automated, but require human intervention in exceptional cases, to completely autonomous processes that are 100% automated.

Some relatively simple services that can be automated include:

  • Producing a numerical report
  • Buying or selling shares at certain price points
  • Buying a digital product
  • Aggregating and reporting data (e.g. bookkeeping, project metrics)

While more complex services can also be provided with little to no human interaction:

  • Booking a doctor’s appointment and other scheduling
  • Providing tailored user reports
  • Running an auction 
  • Online marketplaces/matchmaking
  • Troubleshooting and solving most user queries
  • Diagnosing various issues on a car or computer

Benefits of automating a service

Once a business has automated a service, it can provide valuable services at almost no cost. 

If it provides its user with it for free, the business can improve the user experience and stand out from competition. In the digital world, providing value for free is king when it comes to attracting people who could then become paying users. The strategy is so widespread, it is the most common first step on a sales funnel.

On the other hand, if the service is valuable enough, a company can charge for it. It is the closest thing to creating a money printing machine. 

Meanwhile, the only cost is that of running the machines that provide the service.

Automated services are also immune to issues like absenteeism and tardiness. An automated system will work 24/7, even when the rest of staff is on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

Not only can a business offer a service at all waking (and sleeping) hours, but it can do so without geographical limitations.

By its very nature, automating a service means that an entire workflow is now automated. That can either lower the pressure to hire additional people, or free up your employees to do higher-value tasks.

What’s more, the service is uniform and less error prone.

Drawbacks, pitfalls, and how to overcome them

Nevertheless, they do have to be built in the first place and oftentimes businesses, pressed for time and with more urgent obligations, simply do not get started. While we have been praising service automation, it is not without its drawbacks.

First, for machines to be able to provide a service, they must have the instructions. That usually means code. The automated service has to be built, and this takes time and resources.

But the very scalability of such services – being able to offer it to most of the world, 24/7, means that very complex, services can be automated (almost the entirety of the startup scene). The potential for a massive payoff justifies the huge upfront time and money investment that is required.

For less complex offerings – if you are not a startup - there are various no or low-code tools that can help computerize them. This has decreased the barriers to entry, and using various readily available cloud tools and integrating them can let even one-man operations do what was previously unachievable. 

Properly building the code necessary requires know-how and expertise. Hiring a developer or a group of developers can be a lengthy process, and they must be managed and supervised. A designer and other staff may be needed, too. In today’s market, highly skilled software developers are commanding high salaries; depending on the complexity and potential monetary return, this can turn a great idea into one that is simply not profitable.

Read: DIY Automation vs Outsourcing: Should you let someone else automate your business?

Another potential drawback, albeit a great one to have, is that employees are often not prepared to handle more work once they know about service automation, so training may be necessary.

Additionally, if not properly implemented, customers can suffer from longer wait times until they receive assistance than if they were immediately dealing with a human. High quality service is very important with service automation because customers expect the same level of assistance as before even though it takes longer to get assistance.

If you take a look at the forest, instead of the trees, it is easy to see that if automating a service allows a business to serve 10,000 people instead of 100, from purely a numbers’ perspective, the aforementioned trade-off is a no-brainer.

Finally, lack of personalization could hurt business. With the simplest end-to-end service automation, there's no way to add information about the buyer that will let a business provide a more personalized service.

One way around this is to use personalization software to pull in details from your database and insert them into the message. Sales teams and marketing teams get around this limitation by integrating their CRM and automated marketing platforms.

Automating your business support services takes time to set up, test and maintain. Even after you have setup all your processes, you will likely need to check in on them periodically to ensure that everything is running smoothly. 

The easiest way to overcome a multitude of these issues – high salaries, needing to code, not having the know-how or where to start, troubleshooting, and more is to use an expert, trustworthy software firm who offers after-work support.

Key Takeaway

Ultimately, completely automating a service can have scalable benefits on a totally different level than merely automating tasks. The possibility to offer a service run entirely by machines completely decouples it from human resources. It is the closest thing to a money-printing machine there is.

This can translate to cost reduction, higher margins, but most excitingly, it allows for massive scale. If there is a demand for the service, it can grow rampantly. All of this can translate to higher profits, and a more modern business.

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