Make automation great again

Have you ever had to call a large company (like your internet provider, credit card company or even (possibly the worst of them all), Paypal)?

  1. You’re welcomed by a friendly but fake voice that tells you how important you are to their business.
  2. They ask you to state your problem and you respond, “I’m having trouble connecting to the internet”, at which point they repeat back, “Sorry, ‘half the treble of the comet internet’ is not a valid phrase”.
  3. You press 0 a few times, which is apparently invalid. You try * a few times and the friendly, fake voice tells you that that’s also not a valid option.
  4. You say, now in a haggard voice, “I want to talk to a human!”
  5. The fake voice says, “I’m sorry, ‘team of Cubans’ is not a valid option.”
  6. You contemplate cancelling your service with this company, but fear you’ll be subjected to an even worse game of telephone on the telephone (get it?!) and think better of it.
  7. Defeated, you Google your problem instead (from your phone), or just complain about it on social media.

This kind of experience is what most folks think about when they think of “automating” part of their business. Soulless, machine absurdity that enrages paying customers.

The thing is that the above example is only an illustration of how to do automation completely and utterly wrong (unless your goal is comic relief or HULK SMASHING anger, in which case I’d suggest you do exactly that).

In fact, I automate most of my business. I have to. I’m one person, running a freelance company, 4 courses, 2 podcasts, a few mailing lists and more – without any help.

However, unlike touch tone call prompts, I automate my business in a way that doesn’t consciously register, let alone register negatively people.

When you signed up for this mailing list, for instance, you were greeted with an email expressing my gratitude in the form of a new tattoo of your name. You realized (since you’re smart like that) that I didn’t write and send that email specifically to you. But you were also (hopefully) not pissed off that I automated the message either.

According to research, 75% of folks actually expect a welcome message when they subscribe to a newsletter. To put on my marketer hat for a second (I’ll switch back to my normal toque right after), welcome emails also generate 320% more revenue than any other promotional email.

As Vero says, “Welcome emails are the Daryl Dixon of lifecycle email marketing. Soft-spoken, sometimes overlooked yet always kicking ass.”

(Apologies for those of you who don’t watch Walking Dead.)

A welcome message for a mailing list is a type of automation that most folks do without realizing they’re in the “automation game”. And, if it’s done right, on brand, and in a way that surprises + delights the person on the other end, you can chalk up your first automation win. Go you!

In this way, automation acts as an extension of you and your business. As such, it should be in your own style and in your own voice (not the PayPal, “You are important to us, please continue to hold for 230,943 minutes until someone can read you canned and unhelpful responses.”). Automation can be interesting as well, like a silly story about tattoos, or something else that might amuse the person reading it.

I automated almost my entire onboarding process for new web design clients. This saved me hours of work a week and didn’t even slightly decrease the average number of leads that turned into paying clients.

With tools like Zapier, you can get really smart with automation, without having to do any programming. I use their service to automatically send an email whenever a credit card charge fails for my courses. This happens a few times a week, mostly (I think) because I’m in a non-US country and credit card companies don’t trust dirty, socialist foreigners. But if I did nothing about failed transactions, I’d lose all those sales.

So instead of letting those transactions fail and hope the person tries again, I use Zapier to send them an email letting them know that it probably wasn’t their fault along with instructions that explain how to pay via another method.

That email is sent within seconds of the failed charge. It comes from my email account and is written the same way I write personal emails (no capital letters, bad humour and my normal email signature). They don’t have to contact me for help. They don’t have to wait for me to get up (if they’re trying to pay at 3am PST). They are immediately contacted with a friendly email with simple steps to solve their problem. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that email has a 96% success rate.

I also use my mailing list to automate every aspect of the courses I sell. This setup enables me to run a few different courses with lots of students and still just be a single person running everything.

Most of my courses have a free or “try before you buy” option. So if you’re interested, you can snag a few free lessons by giving me your email address. With MailChimp’s automation sequences, I start sending lessons or emails right away – so you get what you signed up for immediately. And then, one per day, where each one shares a little more information, samples or content with you.

And here’s where it gets interesting… I also use MailChimp to immediately segment off paid students from any free automations. Meaning if you buy the course during the free automation sequence (Hooray! You’re the absolute best.), you will stop getting those emails right away. You just bought the course, after all, so there’s no need to continue sending you the free stuff!

Then, you are added to a post-purchase sequence. I’ve found these work really well to a) show someone how to use the course b) how to access all the features/lessons and c) how to get the most out of the course material. With a few automated emails explaining those points, I only get about one email a week (out of ~4000 active students across all of my courses) for support requests.

Most of my post-purchase automation sequences also include some feedback loops, to see what people think of the course they bought, to make sure they’re doing the work and to check in with them later on to see what positive outcomes they’ve seen from the course (which is a great way to mine for testimonials and success stories). Feedback can also be tied into its own automation by using tools like Typeform to ask and collect answers.

The possibilities for automating your mailing list and your business are endless. And if you do it correctly, your audience or even your customers will be happy to be taken care of with your personal, albeit automated touch.

Leave the internet comets and teams of Cubans to big companies who suck at taking care of their customers. You can use automation to be an extension of your own unique and personal style and for the actual benefit of those coming in contact with you (even if it’s at 3am, when you’re sound asleep).

If you want to learn more about the mailing list side of automation in MailChimp, check out my course Chimp Essentials!