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In an effort to optimize workflows, improve employee experience, and save time, more businesses than ever are adopting automation. In 2020, McKinsey found that 31% of global businesses across sectors had fully automated at least one business function. Another 66% of businesses said they were piloting automation in at least one business process, up from 57% two years earlier.
More recently, 2023 Square Future of Commerce data revealed that automation is continuing to enhance the staff and customer experience across industries. Business owners recognize automation’s ability to free up their staff’s time, especially in light of staffing shortages, and customers reported that they want to see automation in at least one area of the businesses they frequent.
As automation solutions continue to grow and more businesses begin piloting automation, it’s important to know where to start. Here are five time-consuming tasks that can be automated to save time and help your business scale.
1. Inventory management
Manual inventory management is a significant task for any team, no matter the size. But manual inventory management becomes problematic as a business or its products expand, and can become especially complicated when businesses sell across different platforms, channels, or locations.
Businesses are increasingly expanding the number of channels they use to sell, according to the Square Future of Commerce report. Retailers reported selling goods on an average of four different channels, and 79% of customers said they make purchases directly from their phones through social media, mobile apps, and online stores.
To keep up with this shift toward omnichannel commerce and to meet customers where they’re already shopping, adopting automated inventory management across sales channels and locations is essential. An inventory tracking system that automatically syncs all sales — whether they’re made in-store, online, or on social media — and tracks products across locations saves substantial time and helps avoid overselling.
2. Customer relationship management
Customer data can provide valuable insight and drive successful business decisions. Leveraging customer purchasing data can increase sales (as in the case of Red Bay Coffee, who used data to successfully forecast popular ready-to-drink beverages), but a host of other customer information gives businesses a view into what customers want and what motivates them to purchase.
Collecting new customer information or tracking repeat customer purchase histories can be time-consuming and often depends on staff to initiate, so automating the customer relationship management process helps ensure you’re capturing and storing the necessary information to grow your business. Automated customer management tools can track and log new sales across all sales channels, capture customer information to create customer profiles, and track purchase histories over time. With a database of automatically generated customer information, you can segment customers based on habits, offer loyalty programs, and market more effectively.
Marketing is the growth engine of a business. Smaller businesses reported spending a considerable 20 hours a week on marketing, but no matter the size of a business, certain marketing tasks are repetitive and time-consuming, and could be automated to optimize marketing impact overall.
Automating specific marketing functions allows you to reach more customers more often and can even help personalize the commerce experience for customers. Personalized, automated email and text campaigns based on customer segmentation can welcome new customers to your business, reengage existing customers with a promotion or loyalty program reward, or even remind a customer about an item left in their cart.
As customers navigate your online store, automated eCommerce personalization tools can show them recommendations based on their purchase history, highlight new products or sales, or point them to related items to encourage a purchase.
4. Employee management
Business growth often equates to staff growth, which can quickly become tricky to efficiently manage. Small-business owners reported spending five hours each pay period on payroll, and at least one day a week managing people-related paperwork.
Since ensuring employee management runs smoothly is essential to retaining your staff, automating team management processes can help cut down on errors, paperwork, and manual data entry. Adopting automatic timecards, payroll, tip pooling, and commission management helps the admin and people-management side of your business run in the background and frees up significant time, as proved by Torch & Crown Brewing Company, who saves six hours a week after adopting automated tip pooling.
Sales summaries, expense reports, invoices, and accounts receivable reminders aren’t a favorite task for most business owners, and, like other business functions on this list, take up time that could be dedicated to growth.
While automating certain reporting and financial admin doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have to deal with them anymore, automation does help organize and streamline financial processes. Whether you’re automating sales and expense reports to be pulled on a certain day of the week, setting up automatic invoices and accounts receivable reminders to clients, or even automating your tax filing, small operational automations can have a large impact on your business.