Why Do Executives Hesitate to Automate?

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Embracing automation is like eating your vegetables: unpleasant in the moment, but essential for your company’s long-term health.

It’s no secret that automation can be disruptive. Employees have to learn how to operate with and alongside machines. For some, that means learning new software applications and processes. Other roles may be reconfigured altogether.

But that discomfort has a payoff: A study by UiPath, a robotic process automation firm, reveals that automators benefit from greater customer satisfaction (92%), increased employee capacity (91%), more efficient marketing (90%), and improved customer engagement (88%).

Given automation’s benefits, why are some business leaders still holding out? Ask them, and you’re likely to hear one of the following objections:

1. “We don’t want to lose the human touch.”

Business leaders who are unfamiliar with automation often see it as an either-or proposition: Either they keep human workers behind the wheel, or they hand control of their company over to machines.

Many automation programs are designed to let people eliminate mind-numbing tasks and offer more bandwidth. For example, workflow automation tools like Mixmax can automate external processes like sales or customer service. That way, nothing falls through the cracks, and you can have consistent communication without compromising personalization.

Whether an automation tool reduces or reinforces its workers’ humanity all depends on how it’s used. Sure, a sales tool can send generic-sounding messages. But it can also let a salesperson reach out more frequently to prospects she might otherwise connect with once a quarter.

2. “Our customer relationships will suffer.”

Related to the worry about “replacing” employees with automation is the concern that using automated tools would hurt customer relationships. But in certain circumstances, customers would instead work with bots.

Take calling customer service. Customer feedback platform Usabilla found that more than half of customers would rather talk to a chatbot than a human if it would save time. Fewer than one in five respondents said he would always prefer to interact with a human agent.

Think about the moments when automation can serve customers better or more quickly than a human being. What if a customer has a service request when your office is closed? What if you sell a product that people don’t like to talk about, such as birth control pills or diet plans?

3. “We can’t afford automation.”

Yes, automation can be expensive. Retrofitting a factory, training a whole call center on chatbot workflows, or building a loan-approval algorithm can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But dozens of automation applications are free: Selenium checks web and desktop applications’ functionality at no charge. Hootsuite’s free edition schedules social media posts for up to three accounts.

The point is that you can find a paid product if you’re looking for one. But plenty of free automation tools are out there, too, and they’re more functional than you might think.

4. “Our team hasn’t been trained in automation tools.”

Executives who bring up this objection are thinking ahead: They know that even if they can technically afford an automation technology, they still have to invest in training. Employees can’t be expected to use a tool they’ve never encountered before.

Your leadership team may not know the ins and outs of new technology, either, but it can bring in a consultant. Groups like IBEX IT Business Experts conduct online and on-site training on IT best practices like ITIL, which encourages automation in areas like ticket processing and customer service triage.

5. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Inertia is a powerful force. If employees and customers are happy with a particular system, leaders often think, why change it?

Think of it this way: You could be reading this article on a ‘90s computer that takes 20 minutes to connect to the internet and another 20 to load the page. But why would you, given that even a low-end smartphone, could pull it up in seconds?

According to consultancy KPMG, automation can save companies up to 75 percent, depending on the task and type of automation involved. “Good enough” is an excellent way to waste money — and lose your competitive edge.

Automation isn’t a cure-all for process problems, nor is it a reason to put less effort into your customer relationships. But it’s no more of a boogeyman than broccoli, and with a little legwork upfront, it can make an enormous difference in your company’s health.

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