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Just Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should

Automation can have a tremendous impact on your business, but some things should remain manual.

I love to automate things. I’m obsessed. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m constantly looking for the faster, better way. If I’m waiting in line at a business, all I can think about is optimizing its processes. It’s probably a good thing I’m an integrator so I have a creative outlet for my obsessive quest for the ultimate workflow where there’s no re-keying of information, everything is measurable, and the client’s own energy propels much of the business rhythm.

To that end, I live in a home where I’ve brought technology to its knees. If there’s something I’m doing with tech at Chez Clifford, it’s because I want to be doing it. The automation obsession extends to other parts of my life as well. If I have to rely on other members of the household to shop, I subscribe to it on Amazon. My drycleaning? Dropped off outside my front door and delivered back like clockwork each week. I picked the carwash I use because it takes 1:57 to clean my truck top to bottom. I subscribe to new running shoes because I know exactly when they need to be replaced. The list goes on and on. Maximum results, least effort, and always looking for the knee in any performance curve.

One might think I take automation to extremes and apply it as a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that while many things could be made more efficient or automated, it doesn’t mean they should. There are plenty of examples all around us each day. One of the common threads I hear when talking to others around services like Instacart hovers around produce. I would happily pay for B- or even C-grade produce selection at the store if it meant I didn’t have to go. What about someone who enjoys going to the store and browsing through the options? My automation idea probably seems like kryptonite to them.

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This subjective “could vs. should” phenomenon really hit home for me yesterday when I received a thank you note in the mail (yes, the USPS). It was shiny, said “thank you,” and contained a personalized typewritten message. I don’t know why, but this was a real turn off. The reaction was so autonomic that I had to wonder what human instincts this tapped into. Maybe it’s because when I send thank you notes, I always hand-write them? A thank you note is supposed to square the account. When someone gives you a gift, it triggers a human “click run” program (according to Robert Cialdini’s book Influence) of reciprocity where we now feel the need to do something nice in return. Society allows us to balance out the reciprocity see-saw with handwritten thank you notes. Maybe that’s what it was… Someone was attempting to square the account with funny money. Whatever the reason was, it left me turning inward and thinking about other parts of my life where I do things that are easier for me in the moment and perceive they aren’t noticed by those around us. The truth is, those around us don’t remember what we said or did, but they sure as hell remember how we made them feel (thanks Maya Angelou!).

Clearly the idea of digitizing one’s own handwriting and trying to scale handwritten thank you notes triggers feelings of deception in the recipient. We’re trying to get the same credit we would’ve if we’d taken the time to write out the note. The knee of the curve here appears to be places in our businesses where the hand-done effort and mechanized effort look the same. Here are a few examples of automating “shoulds”:

  1. 30/90/365-Day Check-Ins — Your customer can’t distinguish between a bot email and the real deal. You don’t have the time to manually send hundreds of emails each year. Thanks to CRM systems, we can all look like we give a damn…at scale.
  2. Appointment Reminders/Confirmations — Your customers crave proactive communication. If your software isn’t sending out appointment reminders and confirmation solicitations, maybe it’s time to consider solutions like Podium, which take all of the guesswork out of unifying customer communications.
  3. Review Solicitations — If you want to grow your business, social proof is a solid way to get there. Unfortunately implementing a review solicitation program in your business is hard and tough to get going. Consider taking advantage of services like Review Champ to automate some of the heavy lifting.
  4. Online Payment Solutions — It’s 2022. Are you still hard to pay? Might be a good idea to get some religion around this one since your competitors will happily take advantage of your attitudes around accepting credit cards or the need to “call into the office” to make a payment.

How about the opposite? What are some automating “shouldn’ts”?

  1. Personalized Thank You Notes — The whole point of a thank you note is to let the recipient know that you took time out of your day to make them feel appreciated. You can’t speed this one up. Buy some stationery and set aside time each week to write notes. It sounds easy, but it’s not. When you do that, it sets you apart from everyone else. Be remembered.
  2. Client Closing Gifts — If you have an opportunity to better understand what Ritz-Carlton calls the “unexpressed” needs of your clients, the worst thing you can do is not come through for them. This one isn’t about finding something expensive, it’s about demonstrating you heard them.
  3. Phone Calls — Picking up the phone is old school and sometimes old school is just the thing. Cutting through the clutter and connecting with someone using the art of conversation shouldn’t be automated (though I’m seeing efforts all the time at using AI for this kind of thing). It takes 11 contacts on average to close a sale. What are you waiting for?
  4. “Schedule some time on my calendar” links in your email signature — You might disagree with me, but this one feels like a put off. No matter how efficient this might be for the sender, the recipient is left feeling subservient. I wish there was a better way to coordinate schedules and we never had to do another Doodle poll again, but I do know this: getting an email from a vendor asking me to schedule some time on their calendar feels off-putting. I can only imagine one of my clients feeling the same way if I tried that with them. Maybe that’s just my own stuff and you’re getting along just fine with Calendly or other solutions like that.

The next time you’re tempted to automate a client-, friend-, or family-facing activity, ask yourself not just whether you could, but whether you should. Humanity thanks you for your time.

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.