I love automation. It's one of the reasons I have a business, but it can also be a big pain in the rear when it doesn't work.
I remember this one week where I was having terrible problems with my meeting scheduler. I was using a service to set up complimentary appointments with prospective clients and I'd done this big promotion about it. What was supposed to happen is the person would go to this page, click on a link to see my available calendar, and in about 2-3 clicks they're all set.
They'd get an email confirmation and the meeting time would pop into my calendar. No back and forth, no wasted time, boom - there is the appointment.
I had a number of people trying to set up their free time to connect but they weren't getting the handy little meeting schedule. Instead every one of them kept getting an "error 404" page ... those error pages always get on my last nerve especially when it means I have a link not working! Ever had that happen to you?
So what was happening is I kept getting phone call after phone call telling me the link didn't work, asking for next steps, requesting a return phone call. Some were even downright insults saying things like "this is unprofessional" (and yes, remember I said it was a free offer ---sometimes those are the worst kind when things go wrong).
Well once I figured out what the problem was, I'd missed at least 20 prospective meetings. I had to personally call each person back who left a voicemail and arrange the meeting manually, which is what I'd set up the service to help me avoid in the first place! That free time turned into triple the hours I'd planned for.
After that little incident, I learned my lesson. I'll give you a few quick hitter tips you can use so you don't end up falling prey to an automation disaster like this.
Always Test Your Automated Systems
When I sent out the promotion emails and let people know the links were open, I should have already tested the entire process myself along with having a friend or assistant test it. I know this now. Most of the time I'll remember this horrible week and I will have someone go through the entire process as though they are signing up. That way, any errors can be worked out before the whole world hears about it.
Remember, It's People Over Process
Many people think more of their super fabulous tools and systems than what the experience will be like for the end user. If you take the time to put yourself in the other person's shoes -- you know, the person who might just be investing in you or your stuff? -- you will know if you're headed in the right direction. Think about things like, "how easy is this to use?", "how many buttons would I click?", "does this frustrate me more than endear me to the service?".
You should make it easy for people to do business with you, not harder. The more difficult it is, the less likely they will buy.
Always Have a Back Up
Sure in this case I was the back-up. I literally sat down and made a list of all the people and manually called them myself. But what if there was a better way? If I had an assistant at the time, I would have had more help. Or if I learned through the testing process that the service wasn't working, I would easily have changed over to a new scheduling service before the promotion ever went out.
Think through your backup plan. What could you use if a part of your system is not flowing smoothly? What resources are available quickly and within your budget? Just thinking this through may save you a ton of time and money.
Now I can't tell you I've never had an automation problem ever again, but I can say that putting systems in place to help me replicate my work has always cost me less in the end than doing it all manually...both in dollars and in sanity. If you remember the tips I shared with you in this post, you'll reduce the chances of automation fail.
Want to learn more about how to use automation the right way? Get more over at my main blog www.tanyasmithonline.com.