Running an online company takes a lot of effort. Many large — and small — businesses struggle to optimize productivity, leading to a smaller profit margin. Automation can save time and labor costs by increasing efficiency, but automated processes can be expensive to implement.
Striking the right balance can often be a daunting task to operation managers and company owners. However, advances in technology and competition have fostered new opportunities. By focusing on tasks that are now easy and affordable to automate, businesses can keep profits soaring without a large capital investment.
So how should companies be looking to implement automated solutions?
Customer support is a necessary tool to keep your customers happy and ensure they come back, but not all companies have the resources to quickly and easily handle customer needs in-house. Here a few suggestions for customer support apps and software that can help streamline and automate processes for your company:
- Customer Relationship Management Software (CRMs) are helpful tools for keeping track of leads and potential customers, as well as managing current customers. Examples include Salesforce, Insightly, and HubSpot CRM.
- Chatbots and other automated customer service software can make the process of handling customer requests and problems easier. From opening new tickets to automatically answering simple questions, this type of software will help your team effectively handle communication without devoting all of your time to it. Examples include ZenDesk, ClickDesk, and Intercom.
- Reputation monitoring software can help your company stay on top of what your customers aren’t telling you. From review sites to social media, trying to keep up with all mentions of your brand online would be a never-ending job. Thankfully, there are software options out there to take this task off your desk. Examples include ReviewTrackers, TrustPilot, and SEMRush.
Financial tasks can also take up a lot of time, depending on your industry. While many ecommerce platforms such as Shopify offer help with financial tasks like billing and invoicing, other industries may be completely on their own. In addition, some industries, such as consulting or gambling, can be much more complicated financially. If you’re looking for a little help with your financials, here are a few software options that can make things easier:
- Billing and invoicing are obviously necessary for any business. There are several companies that can help you seamlessly automate the process. Examples include Chargebee, Zoho, and Quickbooks.
- Taxes can also be a time-consuming (and sometimes painful) task for all kinds of businesses. Thankfully, a lot of the tax process can be automated. Many of the billing and invoicing software options also calculate taxes or offer plug-ins with tax-specific applications. There are also options that offer more robust options and even assigned account managers for more complicated tax needs. Examples include Quickbooks, Avalara, and Intuit.
For most retail businesses, especially in ecommerce, inventory automation is now assumed. However, not every company has access to automated tools for managing inventory, and they can be expensive. Finding the right tool will depend on your budget and individual needs.
Before committing to any tool, do your research. Every tool will offer different levels of management and a variety of integration options. This may be an area where you want to allocate additional funds, as these automated tools often save a lot of time and labor in the end. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Finding new inventory can sometimes be a time-consuming project.
- Retailers that are drop-shipping will find a number of plug-ins or apps that will help with common manufacturers like Alibaba and Amazon FBA. Examples include Ali Inspector and FBA Wizard.
- Stores that buy their inventory can use sites that compare manufacturers’ prices. You post what you’re looking for, and manufacturers then make offers to you. This can save a lot of time from shopping around for the best price. One example is Sourcing Playground.
- Managing inventory is another time-consuming process, but there are services that make this process much easier. They generally work with a variety of ecommerce platforms and companies to track inventory processes from input to delivery. You can even set alerts for when you need to reorder items that are selling well. Examples include Cin7 and TradeGecko.
Marketing is probably the most prolific area for automation tools, with a wide variety of different options and services. Because marketing and advertising are essential for any business, it’s important to have an idea of what your particular focus is going to be. You’ll then want to match this to your audience.
If you’re looking to reach a younger audience, you’ll probably want to focus on social media like Instagram and WhatsApp. For an older audience, you might go with traditional display ads or email blasts. To reach a wider audience, you could focus on videos or retargeting campaigns.
No matter what your focus is, an automated process can make your life easier. Again, research will be important, as these services vary significantly. Here are some of the many options out there:
- Social media management can be difficult — especially for businesses with multiple brands or a wide array of products. Solutions that allow you to schedule posts for all sites in one place can make this easier. Some even offer options that post some curated content for you or give you the ability to manage your social inboxes from one place. Examples include Hootsuite, Buffer, Quuu, and Agorapulse.
- Email outreach is another area where it makes sense to automate. Drip campaigns and email newsletters are much easier with software that takes care of most of the work for you. There are a number of options out there with varying capabilities, including MailChimp, Zoho, Marketo, and Drip.
- Programmatic marketing is slightly different from the rest of the items on our list since it is an automated process. It can be much more helpful than traditional means of advertising because it works in real-time and targets high-value potential customers. However, it is often prone to fraud and can be expensive. As with everything else, make sure to research whichever company you choose. Examples include Google Ads, Adobe, and OpenX.
Unfortunately, every business must deal with fraud at some point. Card-not-present transactions are even more vulnerable to attack than in-person transactions. With so much data available and new technology, it’s easier than ever for online fraud to persist.
Companies need a defense system that will protect them from all sides. Most fraud prevention companies specialize in a particular type of fraud, which could mean you’ll need more than one solution. Here are a few types of fraud prevention to consider:
- Transaction fraud protection comes in a variety of forms. There are fully automated solutions or flexible rule-based solutions that give you more control. Look for a product that will integrate easily with your system and has a quick set-up to get started right away. Customized protection options are also available, but they can be more costly.
- Ad fraud is also a concern online. From retargeting fraud to pixel stuffing, there are a variety of ways your ad budget can be drained. Check for a solution that integrates easily with the ad networks and agencies you use. These solutions can be expensive, so consider how much you spend on advertising and set a budget accordingly.
- Data breaches have been a large concern for companies lately. Even companies with a full-time data protection officer struggle to keep their information shielded from hackers and bad actors. Consider using an outside company to help keep your data secure, protected, and organized. Depending on the type of data you store, this may be more of a priority than other tools.
Sometimes the hardest part of implementing an automated system is deciding what you need now and what can wait until later. Our suggestion is to always start with things that could immediately affect your revenue — either positively or negatively. Bringing in revenue is essential to continued success, so tools that help maximize it should be your main focus.