Automation. It’s the buzz word being slung around the Interwebs as of late. It’s that thing everyone is striving for, it seems like, to make their business totally automated and hands-off. But… what if that might not actually be the best thing for our customers? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a convenient app as much as the next gal (or guy! hey fellas.), but I’m afraid if we go so far down the automation rabbit hole, our businesses will end up looking and sounding like robots. Cold, hard, emotionless robots.
Ok, maybe that’s a smidge dramatic, but take this for example: I have a free email course (which you can signup for right here, shameless plug), and in a couple of the emails in the sequence (don’t you worry, we’ll talk about sequences + everyone’s favorite F-word, funnels, in just a sec.), I ask the reader to hit reply and email me back with something. I’ve received tons of email responses to these, and I reply to each one. Then, I noticed it started taking some people off guard, when I got a few replies like this:
Wow, I'm impressed that you took the time to read my email and reply.
Oh thanks so much for taking the time to read my ramblings AND reply to me :)
I can’t believe you actually replied, and that I’m actually talking to you!
Which made me sit back in my chair, and think, what is all this automation doing to our businesses? And also – do people not respond to emails anymore?!
Again, I’m all for working smarter, not harder, and I’ve even been guilty of some of the things I’ll talk about below. But I decided recently that where I draw the line is when automation comes before customer experience. There’s a big difference between a well-oiled machine and a robot. (Stick around till the end of this post to see a goofy, out-of-the-box way I’m trying to keep my business human.)
Here’s some robotic tendencies I’m noticing in online business:
repeating, automated tweets
Yes, I use Buffer. And yes, I schedule tweets, too. But for the love, why are so many accounts repeating the exact same tweet, week after week after week? How is that helpful? Sharing valuable, relevant content with your audience is, of course, a good thing, but when it becomes THAT automated and repetitive, it becomes the opposite – a huge turnoff.
Back to the emails. Come on, friends, when did it become uncommon to reply to someone's email? I totally get spotting the spam, and knowing that exact message went out to 499 other addresses and they don’t really care about your reply, but when a customer writes you with a genuine question or comment, please reply. It’s the nice, human thing to do. If they said it to your face, you wouldn’t just stare blankly at them, would you? Please say no. And if their question requires a longer answer than you have time for – no worries, totally been there! – quickly direct them to a blog post or product / service that can help them.
email sequences + funnels
I might step on some toes with this one, but hear me out. Email sequences and sales funnels can be super valuable and turn a profit for your business. Yay for profit, that’s part of why we all keep doing this, riiiiight? Right. But when your whole system of funnels and sequences turns into such an automated beast that both you and your customers are left wondering how the heck they got into this web (and searching for the unsubscribe link), that’s when you’ve gone too far. Yes, I have a couple email sequences set up. But I go out of my way to keep them more human and less robotic. I do this with a conversational writing style and asking for replies – and here’s the kicker – ACTUALLY REPLYING. Shock! It doesn't have to be a novel-length reply, just a quickie will do the trick ... Hey I read your response, and these are great ideas!
spammy Instagram “networking"
The last one I’ll hit on, because I’ve noticed it a lot lately (and I’m guessing you have, too), is the spammy Instagram comments that are a sad attempt at networking. Commenting “Great post!” on a post about me being sick for the last 3 weeks? Yeah, you’re a robot. (Yes, this happened.) I’m all for networking on Instagram – that’s a big way I continue to grow my business – but it HAS to be done authentically. Genuine comments and messages will take you LIGHTYEARS farther than automated, spammy comments that are clearly unrelated to the actual post.
how I’m choosing to keep my business human:
not ignoring customers (even if they haven’t bought from me)
Like I said earlier, I reply to every email that comes through my inbox (even Instagram direct messages!). Try me! 😏 If it’s clearly an automated spam email, I delete. But if a real, live human took the time to write me a message – to ask a question, tell me I inspired them, say they like my website, whatever – you better bet I’m taking a couple minutes to reply back, even if it’s short + sweet.
being honest, not misleading
Honesty is the best policy, as they say. If you feel on the fence about an automated system or robot-like way of doing something in your business and it doesn’t feel authentic to YOU (even if everyone and their entrepreneurial grandma is doing it), then don’t do it! Good news – as a business owner, YOU are the boss. YOU call the shots. YOU can choose to be honest + real in your marketing and branding and offerings. And I’d be willing to bet your customers would appreciate that very much. 😉
infusing humor + not taking myself too seriously
I’ve always been the one who tries to lighten the room in a serious situation. There are obviously times when jokes are inappropriate, but in your business, there's plenty of room for some humor. So lighten up a little, k? Lately, I’ve been trying to infuse some light-hearted elements to my marketing, writing, and even my products themselves. Learning design or marketing doesn’t have to be stuffy, right? Dare I say, it can be fun!
Finally, to quote Indigo Montoya – let me sum up. Automation isn’t a bad thing. Too much automation that turns your business into a robot and leaves the customer asking helloooo, anyone there, is a bad thing. There’s a balance, but it takes some tweaking, maybe a little extra time, and maybe a little less looking at what everyone else is doing.
So that thing about humor. Let’s lighten this post up a bit, yes?!
As an example, I’ve been working on some ways to bring more human elements to my online course, The InDesign Field Guide. I had WAY too much fun putting together this little video to show why InDesign is the better choice when going head to head with the used-for-far-too-many-things-than-it-was-built-for Photoshop. It's a little design challenge of sorts — real-time, human style. I can’t give it all away, but I can say my dog and my toddler make an appearance, as well as some surprising statistics and can’t-not-dance music. And spoiler: there’s gonna be some dead air to fill. I’ve said too much.
Looking for more human ways to share your stuff?
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What ways are you noticing businesses becoming too automated? How are you finding the balance between streamlined systems and robotic practices?