Balancing Automation and the Human Touch

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@jontobinlaJon Tobin

More and more businesses are benefitting from using automation tools to take care of a wide range of tasks. Business automation is in its nascent stages and will only grow. But many people want to know how to balance automation with the human touch.

This article discusses how business owners can decide what types of tasks to automate so that they can spend more time on high-value activities.

Automate and humanize your business at the same time.

Three Types of Tasks

Before getting into a discussion of how you decide what to automate, we should discuss the three types of tasks that are present in any business to varying degrees. There are “tech touch”, “low touch” and “high touch” tasks.

  • Tech Touch: These tasks can be completed completely by an automated system. Aside from malfunctions or edge cases, the system can be configured to complete the entire process with no human intervention. Example: taking an order from an online catalog.
  • Low Touch: These tasks rely on some level of human judgment, but are aided by technology. Low touch tasks include things like common tech support issues and on-boarding new customers. This may include some types of sales activities.
  • High Touch: High touch tasks rely almost entirely on human judgment and interaction. Often, there is an element of necessary expertise. Typical high-touch tasks would include things like counseling and drafting high-level communications. Certain sales activities will be included in this category.

Depending upon your business, you will have a different balance of these types of tasks. Some businesses will tend more towards almost completely tech touch while others will be more towards the high-end of the spectrum.

No business will be entirely on one end of the spectrum, although some will be close. The key then is to break down your business process and find discrete tasks that lend themselves to tech touch automation.

Deciding What To Automate

Business activities can be complex and a given activity might span tech touch, low touch and high touch tasks. Think about the sales process. There might be automated forms and marketing emails; phone calls or emails about the service offering; lunch meetings to close the sale.

And even those tasks can be further broken down (getting the lunch meeting down might involve setting a time on an online calendar, emailing about a preferred restaurant, and then showing up for lunch). It can get very fractal, very quickly.

So what tasks do you automate?

The easiest path is to identify the parts of your business that can be completed entirely by technology tools (two starting points: online forms for gathering customer information and online scheduling tools for setting appointments). These are typically going to be tasks around which you have a set process and for which little customization would be needed. These are tasks that you don’t want to do.

And you will also have to be brutally honest with yourself. Sometimes, people are afraid of being impersonal if they use an automated system to do a routine task, such as scheduling a meeting. This fear may stem more from the business owner’s ego (but my customers want to hear from me!) than it does from any market need. So be honest — what are you doing now that you can outsource to a good automated system?

So, start with “tech touch” tasks and work your way up. Break down more complicated “low touch” and “high touch” tasks into their component processes and automate those. And keep in mind that this will be an ongoing process that will continue for as long as you are building your business.

Smart Automation Humanizes Your Business

I sometimes get this weird objection from people that there is such thing as “too much technology”. That if they add one more automated system, then somehow they will become inundated with cables and unable to have a face to face conversation with a real, blood-and-flesh human.

This is an unfounded fear.

And in fact, the opposite is true: the more that you are able to automate the routine parts of your business, the more time you will have to focus on high-touch activities, which are more difficult to automate. By saving time and energy dealing with tech- and low-touch tasks, time can be reserved for high-touch tasks that the customer values.

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