10 Business Workflows Every Company Should Automate in 2023
In today's fast-evolving business climate, implementing process or workflow automation is no longer just a luxury, but a necessity.
Thanks to sweeping advancements in technology – among them AI, machine learning, and robotics – automation of business processes has never been more readily available and affordable for companies to implement. In parallel, customer expectations are also rising, and that’s put businesses under pressure to deliver higher quality products and services, and finding new and creative ways to stay ahead of the competition.
The pace at which businesses are moving towards workflow automation varies depending on several factors: the industry, size of the business, and the level of technological advancement in their respective markets and regions. However, in general, there has been a significant increase in the adoption of process and workflow automation in recent years.
Many businesses are just beginning to realize the benefits of workflow automation. Other industries, such as manufacturing and logistics, automation has been widely used for several decades. Still other sectors like healthcare and finance are playing catch up. Small and medium-sized businesses are also increasingly turning to automation as the technology becomes more affordable.
Overall, it is safe to say that businesses are moving towards automation at a rapid pace, driven by the need to stay competitive, improve productivity, and meet the increasing demands of customers in an increasingly digital world.
Why invest in workflow automation?
2023 has already proven to be a year ripe with automation potential. With persistent labor and talent shortages, rising costs, continued inflation, and the most demanding customers in history, companies have every reason to focus efforts on innovation and customer satisfaction, and automate as much of the remaining workload as possible.
There are clear benefits to investing in workflow automation. Some are the result of automation taking over tasks and repetitive activities, while other benefits stem from the additional capacity and abilities provided to human workers by automation.
Here are some of the key benefits summarized:
- Increased Efficiency: In its simplest application, workflow automation can streamline and optimize business processes, reducing the burden of “manual” labor and the time required to complete tasks. This yields impact primarily on speed to market, costs, and operational turnaround times.
- Improved Accuracy: Automated workflows can reduce errors and inconsistencies, leading to improved quality, a reduction of waste, and customer satisfaction. This is particularly important for businesses that handle sensitive data or provide critical services (e.g. healthcare).
- Scalability: Automated workflows can more easily be scaled to handle increased volumes of work stemming from growth or expansion, allowing businesses to continue growing without “breaking down” or sacrificing quality/customer satisfaction.
- Improved Collaboration: Workflow automation can enable better collaboration between teams and departments, facilitating communication and information sharing, as well as between companies, their customers, and their partners or suppliers
- Enhanced Customer Experience: Workflow automation can help businesses to provide faster, more accurate, and more personalized service to customers, improving their experience, satisfaction, and loyalty.
Whether or not your team is considering workflow automation, is already seriously automated, or is just getting its feet wet, the bottom line is this: workflow automation is here to stay, and those companies that embrace the opportunity to automate workflows will have a distinct advantage over their competitors who do not. Your – and their – customers will expect it.
Ready to get a jump start on workflow automation? Download our automation playbook today!
In this article, we will discuss ten workflows that every business should automate in 2023. This list was assembled using a basic formula taking into account the total automation opportunity (impact on business operations), the total manual workload required (pre-automation), and (bonus!) total potential impact on customer satisfaction (relevant too for suppliers, partners, and prospective employees).
Here are the 10 business workflows with the greatest potential for automation today:
1. Demand (Lead) Generation
Automating the lead generation process can help businesses streamline their sales funnel and improve their conversion rates.
From lead capture to lead nurturing to conversion, businesses can use workflow automation to manage the entire demand generation process. For example, a business might use workflow automation to capture leads from their website, automatically send follow-up emails to nurture those leads, and track leads that have been contacted by sales reps. From there, workflow automation can thread together CRM actions and product onboarding steps – or, property onboarding, for example, in the case of real estate lead generation.
You could take that a step further with a similar approach, taking leads generated through a conference or trade fair using a web-based form on a tablet or a QR code, route them to your CRM, and assign them scores and follow-on actions based on specific categories or lead parameters. You might also wish to send them a product sample through your warehouse or customer service team, or, you might wish to schedule an in-person appointment on-site. Whichever way you choose, all of the customer / sales / internal team / internal systems coordination and communication can be fully prescribed and carried out using an automated workflow.
2. Customer Onboarding
89% of B2B customers experience problems and frustration during their onboarding, according to research. 13% of them will switch to a competitor.
In terms of long-term business viability, it’s not just about creating a less frustrating experience for customers. It's about retaining the business you've worked so hard to gain.
This is where automating customer onboarding comes in. Using an automated workflow, you can remove the guesswork and variability from you onboarding process, and focus rather on making meaningful tweaks to delight your customers and drive retention.
Starting with a warm welcome email, users receive step-by-step guidance on creating their account, setting up their password, and accessing the platform for the first time. By taking the time to gather user preferences and data, the onboarding process can be tailored to each individual's needs and interests, making it more meaningful and engaging.
Recognizing that customers may have questions or concerns, the onboarding workflow also provides easy access to valuable resources such as FAQs, tutorials, and support channels. This empowers users to find answers to their questions and feel supported throughout the onboarding process.
The benefits of implementing an automated customer onboarding workflow extend beyond simply streamlining the process. When customers feel supported and well-informed, they are more likely to be satisfied with the product and adopt it fully. This, in turn, saves time and resources while allowing your business to scale more effectively.
3. Invoice Processing
Using a workflow automation solution, businesses can streamline their entire accounts payable processes in order to reduce errors and improve payment processing times.
For example, a business might use workflow automation to scan invoices and automatically input the data into their accounting system, route invoices for approval based on a pre-defined hierarchy, and send payments to vendors once the invoices have been approved. Any communication back and forth between the vendor can also be executed without manually opening or sending an email.
This use case is particularly important for small and medium sized businesses without designated procurement departments. Using an automated workflow to remove the invoice processing grunt work, accounting and other team members can invest more time searching for and evaluating more cost-effective vendors and service providers.
4. New Supplier Onboarding
Automated supplier onboarding workflows can be incredibly valuable for businesses of all sizes. Not only does an automated workflow eliminate manual work and improve turnaround times, but it can safeguard compliance with relevant regulations.
An automated supplier onboarding workflow typically includes several key steps, such as supplier registration, risk assessment, compliance checks, document collection and validation, contract negotiation and signing, and supplier integration. By automating these steps, businesses can reduce the amount of manual work required to onboard new suppliers, which can save time and reduce the risk of errors.
Read more: Learn the 5 Ways to Bulletproof Your Supplier Onboarding Process
An automated workflow can also improve compliance by verifying that suppliers meet regulatory requirements, increase efficiency by reducing the time and effort required to onboard new suppliers, enhance accuracy by reducing the risk of errors, and improve collaboration by streamlining the onboarding process and involving different teams and stakeholders. If you’re a supplier-heavy business spending excess resources on manual coordination of onboardings or on correcting mistakes, this automated workflow is a must.
5. Order Processing
Automated order processing workflows allow businesses to receive, process, and fulfill customer orders with minimal manual intervention. The main elements of such workflows often include order entry, order validation, inventory management, order fulfillment, and order tracking.
Each of these elements or stages involve a sub-series of automated steps involving multiple teams, systems, and locations, spanning your business, your suppliers, and your customers. This automated process could also trigger sub-processes in parallel: for example, backorder, overstock, damaged goods, and other related issues.
There are several benefits of using automated order processing workflows. In truth, order processing is one of the most complex and multi-team dependent workflows on our list, and one that has a clear impact on business outcomes as it interfaces directly with customers and your product(s).
Automation brings with it increased efficiency and order accuracy, reduced manual errors, faster order fulfillment, and regulated inventory management. By automating the routine tasks around order handling and processing, businesses can focus on higher value tasks such as marketing, sales, and customer support. Additionally, automated workflows can help businesses scale their operations and handle larger volumes of orders without sacrificing quality or hiring in rapid-fire mode.
6. Customer Support (incl. Issues / Claims / Quotes)
Workflow automation can greatly improve customer support processes like complaints handling, claims handling, and requests for quotes. As customer demand and expectations for customer experience continue to rise, this is a necessary investment for any business aiming to keep customers happy (and retain their business!).
Using an automated workflow can significantly reduce the time it takes to respond to customer inquiries. Chatbots can instantly reply to customer queries, providing customers with immediate answers to their questions. But, for more complex inquiries requiring the knowledge of support personnel, an automated workflow can help by forwarding issues to the right team members instantly, with the full context needed to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Workflow automation also helps businesses streamline their support operations. By automating repetitive tasks such as processing simple requests for quotes or handling easy-to-resolve complaints, support employees can focus on more complex issues that require human expertise to resolve. This helps meet customer expectations for resolving “quick issues” quickly, and gives teams the bandwidth to provide real customer service when it actually counts, especially during escalations which could make or break a customer’s experience.
Furthermore, workflow automation can lead to improved customer data analysis and insights. Analyses of customer behavior with your automated workflows can be used to improve customer experiences, develop more targeted marketing campaigns, and identify areas for improvement in customer support processes.
7. KYC & Risk Scoring
The automation of KYC (Know Your Customer) and risk scoring processes brings significant benefits to both financial institutions and their customers, creating a streamlined, secure, and user-friendly experience. Automated KYC and risk scoring systems have transformed the traditional landscape of customer onboarding and risk management, and the speed with which a financial institution can begin doing business with a customer has increased exponentially as a result. In particular workflow automation for KYC can solve a number of resource and accuracy problems for financial service companies.
Among the primary benefits of automating KYC is the reduction in manual labor, which translates to faster customer onboarding and a more efficient verification process. As financial institutions are required to comply with ever-evolving regulatory frameworks, automating these processes minimizes human errors and ensures greater accuracy in data validation. This not only strengthens the institutions' compliance efforts but also builds trust among customers and regulators alike.
In truth, KYC is just one of many financial service workflows where workflow automation can be quickly applied and deliver massive results in a relatively short timeframe.
Automation also allows for a more comprehensive assessment of risk by automating checks across numerous locations and risk indicators simultaneously. This leads to more accurate risk scoring and better-informed decisions for credit approvals, loan offerings, access to trading platforms, and other financial products. As KYC processes are mostly mandated by regulatory guidelines, they represent a “necessary evil” of doing business in financial services. As such, automating them to the furthest extent possible will allow companies to intensify their focus on innovation and growth.
Which is not to suggest that automating KYC will result in a lifeless, robotic process. On the contrary, automating KYC and risk scoring is an opportunity for businesses to provide a personalized, well-designed, and branded experience for customers. Connecting your brand with reduced wait times, secure transactions, and seamless onboarding journeys can significantly boost customer satisfaction and, in turn, strengthen brand loyalty
8. Employee Onboarding and Offboarding
Employee onboarding is a business-critical process that is not only time-consuming and tedious, but it's also the strongest impression of your company for new hires joining the team. Recent research has shown that companies which invest in having high-quality and efficient onboarding experiences are the ones that attract and retain better talent.
Most HR software platforms offer useful features to help facilitate the onboarding process, but because a business’s onboarding process is so specific to its own systems and teams, it’s hard for an HR system to capture this out-of-the-box.
For that reason, a workflow automation platform offers an ideal solution that can be customized to the exact requirements and integrations of any company with writing custom code.
Automating this process can help businesses save time, reduce errors, and ensure that new employees receive a consistent and seamless experience, while allowing HR teams and managers to focus on the new hire directly and personally, without having to worry about the grunt work.
9. Quality Control and Compliance
For many organizations, quality control and regulatory compliance (like SOC II) are an unavoidable reality of doing business. The quantity of resources an organization burns on those processes, however, can be greatly reduced using workflow automation and other automation tools. Utilizing compliance workflow automation, businesses can establish a more efficient, precise, and streamlined approach to guaranteeing compliance and preserving the quality of their products or services.
Manual processes can be susceptible to mistakes or oversights, which can lead to non-compliance or poor quality. Automated workflows, on the other hand, help minimize these errors by providing consistent, standardized procedures that follow predetermined rules and guidelines. This not only enhances the overall quality of outputs but also fosters greater trust among customers, partners, and regulators.
Another advantage of workflow automation is its ability to provide real-time visibility and monitoring of compliance and quality control processes. Automated workflows can generate instant notifications or alerts when deviations from predefined standards are detected. This enables teams to take swift corrective actions, mitigating potential penalties and ensuring that issues are addressed promptly.
Furthermore, automated workflows facilitate compliant documentation and record-keeping. By automatically capturing relevant data and generating detailed audit trails, businesses can maintain accurate records and demonstrate their adherence to regulatory requirements when needed.
10. Rental & Return Processes
Incorporating workflow automation in rental and return processes can significantly enhance the overall customer experience, while also streamlining operations for businesses in the rental and subscription industry. An operations-heavy industry like mobility and rentals is covered with opportunities for automation. Owing to the multi-stakeholder complexity of rentals and returns, however, we’ve flagged these processes as the leading candidates for automation today.
A primary advantage of using workflow automation here is the ability to expedite transactions. By automating routine tasks such as reservation management, inventory tracking, and payment processing, businesses can reduce wait times and ensure a smoother, more efficient experience for customers. This not only boosts customer satisfaction but also encourages repeat business and promotes brand loyalty.
Workflow automation also provides real-time visibility and monitoring of rental and return operations. By generating instant notifications or alerts in response to inventory shortages, overdue rentals, or other issues, businesses can take timely corrective actions to address potential problems. Whether a returned rental is in need of repair from an external service provider, needs a renewed insurance policy, or is due to be taken out of service because of expired registration, each of these activities can be scheduled, tracked, and executed within one governing process.
Additionally, automated workflows contribute to better record-keeping and documentation, which are essential for effective rental management. By automatically capturing relevant data and creating detailed transaction records, businesses can maintain accurate rental histories and easily access information when needed. This transparency not only simplifies internal processes but also assists in resolving customer inquiries or disputes. By embracing these technological advancements, rental businesses can create a more efficient and reliable system for managing rentals and returns, resulting in an enhanced customer experience and also gain a competitive edge in the market.
Honorable mention: Performance Management
Automating the performance management workflow can help businesses track employee performance, set goals, and provide feedback to employees. For example, a business might use workflow automation to automatically generate performance reviews for each employee, set goals and development plans, and track progress towards those goals.
Honorable mention: Expense Management
Automating the expense management workflow can help businesses streamline their expense reporting processes, reduce errors, and improve cost control. A company can use workflow automation to scan receipts and automatically input expense data into an accounting system, route expenses for approval based on a pre-defined hierarchy, and generate expense reports for each employee.
Honorable mention: Recruitment
Automating the recruitment process can involve creating workflows to manage the entire hiring process. For example, a business might use workflow automation to screen resumes, schedule interviews, track applicant progress, and send automated status updates to candidates.
Honorable mention: Inventory management
Automating the inventory management workflow can help retail, ecommerce, delivery, and other businesses optimize their inventory levels, reduce (or eliminate) stockouts, and improve their order fulfillment turnaround times.
For example, a grocery delivery business might use workflow automation to automatically reorder stock when it reaches a certain level, track inventory levels in real-time, and generate pick lists for warehouse staff to ensure efficient order fulfillment. Not only that, the same process could also be used to trigger a different, cross-sell process, that offers an alternative product to a customer in the event of a backorder or stockout.
Important to note: the workflow automation mentioned here is not a stand-in for an inventory management system. Rather, it is used to streamline the flow of inventory from warehouse to store, and trigger automatic actions (like restocking) based on a predetermined set of conditions.
Workflow automation has become critically important for businesses looking to remain competitive in today's fast-paced business environment. By automating these ten workflows, businesses can save time, reduce costs, and improve their core operations, at a time when the edge is gained by providing high-quality services faster than the competition. That requires companies to innovate better products, services, and delivery methods, and in order to do so, workflow automation is there to relieve them of the heaviest operations burdens.
Get exclusive content and automation hacks straight in your inbox
Get the latest operations thinking and Next Matter updates once a week.
Next Matter blog.