Workflow automation: what it is, common examples, and how to implement any

As your organization aims to retain top talent and high-value clients, you’ll need to continually provide both groups with world-class experiences. 

In the case of clients, it can be addressing their questions and concerns in real-time, and reaching them proactively with thoughtful, actionable insight; and, for employees, it can be eliminating the need to perform manual tasks in their day-to-day work, and providing them the apps and equipment they need quickly and with little effort.

To deliver these experiences and to go beyond them, you can build workflow automations across your core customer and employee processes. 

What types of automations can you build? And how, exactly, can they benefit your employees and clients? We’ll tackle both questions, but let’s start by aligning on the definition of workflow automation.

Related: How to synchronize data between 2 or more systems

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is a type of automation that streamlines a business process end-to-end. To implement it, you’ll need to use a trigger event that, once satisfied, leads to a particular set of actions across your apps, data, and teams.

Note: This differs from the previous definition, which defined workflow automation as a type of technology or software that can be used to streamline workflows. 

A workflow automation can be applied to all kinds of processes across functions:

  • Finance: Quote to cash, procure to pay, payroll, cash reconciliation
  • HR: Recruitment, onboarding, offboarding, day-to-day approvals
  • IT: Incident management, license management, help desk  
  • Sales: Lead routing, intelligent prospecting, quote approvals

To give you a better idea of how workflow automations can look in practice, we’ll walk you through a few use cases next.

Examples of workflow automation

Here are 3 popular automations for human resources, IT, and customer success teams, respectively.

1. Streamline the employee onboarding workflow 

Once a candidate signs their offer letter, your team should move as quickly as possible in setting up their profile across your most critical apps and in scheduling a welcome email that they’d receive on their first day. 

Here’s an onboarding workflow automation that lets you do just: 

1. Once a candidate is marked as hired in your recruiting app, the workflow gets triggered.

2. The new hire’s profile gets created in your HRIS and in a platform like Okta

3. A customizable welcome email gets delivered.

4. A ticket gets created in an ITSM platform that tracks all of the onboarding tasks for the new hire. 

Once you’ve put this into place, you’ve set the groundwork for helping the new hire feel welcomed as well as empowered to hit the ground running. 

2. Automate your service desk

Whether an employee is new to their role or they’ve been in their position for several years, they can find themselves searching for answers to various questions.

You can help them search for and uncover the answer to any question by implementing the following workflow automation for your service desk:

1. Using a chatbot in their business communications platform (e.g. Slack), an employee types in specific keywords related to their issue and the category of the issue (the categories are extracted from your ITSM platform).

2. Once an employee hits “Apply Filters”, the chatbot makes an API call into the ITSM platform, and it identifies the specific support articles that best address the employee’s request.

3. The chatbot responds to the employee in the business communications platform by presenting the links to the articles it found.

Note: Steps 2 and 3 happen in real time.

From there, the employee can comb through the articles, and find the answer they’re looking for in minutes.

3. Fast-track the process of identifying customers who are at risk of churning

Your customer success managers (CSMs) may have a hard time pinpointing clients who aren’t using your product to its fullest potential—especially when they’re managing several accounts. 

To help them uncover which of their clients need the most support at any point in time, you can set up a workflow automation that monitors clients’ product usage data. Once the usage drops below a certain threshold for a given client, a chatbot notifies the appropriate CSM (via your business communications platform).

Here’s a more concrete example:

A workflow automation that allows CSMs to get notified when clients' product usage falls below a certain level

1. Once a client’s level of product usage falls below a predetermined level—as measured in a platform like Snowflake—the workflow gets triggered.

2. An enterprise chatbot combs through the client’s information in existing systems (like your CRM and marketing automation platform) and retrieves any relevant information it can find.

3. Using all of the information it uncovers, the chatbot creates a report on the client in a document. It then shares this report with the appropriate customer success manager via your business communications platform.

Note: All of this is done in real time.

Though it isn’t a silver bullet, using product usage data to fuel your automation can go a long way in helping your CSMs support clients intelligently and effectively. Over time, this hopefully translates to happier customers and higher customer retention. 

Related: 5 workflow automation examples worth implementing

Benefits of workflow automation

The examples already give you a sense of the specific benefits that workflow automation provides. But at a broader level, they can deliver value to your employees and to your customers in the following ways.

An icon of multiple people

Employees can have a greater impact on your organization 

By allowing your employees to avoid many routine, manual tasks, they can dedicate more of their time and energy on strategic, critical work. 

This not only benefits your colleagues, as they get to perform more intellectually stimulating work, but it also helps your organization, as higher engaged employees are more valuable to your organization. According to Gallup, employees in the top quartile of employee engagement significantly outperform those in the bottom as measured by absenteeism, turnover, productivity, company profitability, among other important metrics.

Related: Best practices for using a workflow application 

Two word bubbles with an exclamation mark inside of one and a question mark inside of another

Costly errors can be avoided

Employees don’t just dislike manual tasks—they may also make errors while performing them. 

In the context of important business processes, the consequences can be drastic:

  • New hires may not receive provisions to the right set of apps
  • Employees may keep their access to your organization’s devices and apps once they leave
  • Inbound leads can be assigned to the wrong sales rep, preventing the lead from receiving a timely response
  • Incidents that negatively impact the customer or employee may fall through the cracks

Workflow automations can ensure that these issues don’t take place. This should give your team peace of mind, as well as significantly improve your organization’s security and performance over the long run.

An icon that represents ease of implementation

It can be implemented with ease

The process of setting up a workflow automation can be done on a single platform, and it doesn’t require writing a single line of code. This offers a couple of key benefits:

1. Non-technical employees can implement workflow automations themselves 

This saves your organization from dealing with integration and automation backlogs that allow inefficient processes to persist. Also, since non-technical employees are closer to their processes and better understand how they work, they’ll be able to build the workflow automations in ways that better suit their needs.

2. You can save a significant amount of money

You no longer need to invest in a platform that can integrate your apps and in another that can automate the workflows between them. This, coupled with the fact that you don’t have to hire or train employees with a technical background to manage each tool, allows your organization to save big.

How to automate your workflows 

Now that you know how workflow automation works and what its benefits are, the next question you might be asking is how you’d go about pursuing automation opportunities. 

To help guide you in this process, here are some considerations to keep in your back pocket:

1. Search for prominent, manually-intensive workflows that are prone to human error

Here are just a few examples that can help paint the picture:

  • The majority of your employees will submit expenses and many have to review and approve them. Done manually, many expenses that shouldn’t be approved might slip through the cracks, costing your business money.
  • Routing leads to the appropriate sales reps quickly is critical to closing deals. But manually deciding which rep to route the lead to, and then sending that lead to them yourself can have all kinds of negative consequences—from the wrong rep receiving the lead to the appropriate rep receiving it when it’s too late.
  • Analyzing client’s survey responses and deciding which to flag and which to ignore is nearly impossible to perform manually. Many clients who need a response will go ignored while other clients’ responses might get forwarded along to the wrong stakeholders—delaying your team’s response.

Related: How to automate tasks

2. Build the case for automating a given process

You’ve got a host of levers to pull from:

  • Time: How many hours, days, weeks, etc. do your team members spend performing manual tasks for a given workflow? The automation’s ability to save time for your team can be extremely compelling if the figure stands out.
  • Employee experience: By automating the workflow, what types of unpleasant, tedious tasks can your team avoid doing (in favor of more enjoyable work)? This can include the likes of data entry, app hopping, follow-ups, etc.
  • Customer experience: Once the process automation is put into place, how can customers benefit? This can be anything from getting their issues resolved faster to them receiving proactive, timely feedback.
  • Business benefits: Though hard to project, you can try estimating how many additional deals you anticipate closing, or the extent to which you’ll be able to prevent customer churn.
An icon of a workflow

3. Map out how the automation would work across your apps, data, and teams

What’s the best way to build the automation?

Finding the best solution likely requires close collaboration with the teams in the trenches who manage the manual processes day-to-day. It’s these colleagues who can help you figure out the following (and likely much more):

  • The individual tasks that should be automated and the apps that’ll perform those automations
  • The business logic you should apply throughout your workflow
  • How frequently the workflow automation should occur (e.g. real time vs once per week)
  • How to respond when specific errors occur with your data or your apps

Once you’ve thought through these areas, you can begin to assess automation tools (in the hopes of finding one that allows you to implement your automation).

What you need from a workflow automation software 

Like the previous section, we’ll give you some pointers that can help guide you along.

1. It needs to be low-code/no-code

You simply can’t depend on a few employees in IT to build automations at scale. It’ll lead to significant backlogs, unhappy employees, and, ultimately, poor results for the business.

Enterprise-wide automation requires a tool that can give lines of business a chance to build the integrations and automations themselves—in a secure, fully-governed environment, of course.

An upward-sloping line with bar graphs underneath it

2. It needs to offer a built-in bot framework

Your employees work in your business communications platform as much as ever

Your workflow automation software can—and should—address this by using platform chatbots that can interact between your business comms platform and the rest of your apps. 

Only then, your employees can work in their apps and automate their workflows without leaving your business comms platform.

3. It needs to provide pre-built automations and connectors

To help you and your team brainstorm and implement integrations and automations quickly, your workflow automation tool should provide pre-built connectors with popular apps and automation templates across a range of processes. 

4. It needs to run off of triggers 

By using triggers to drive actions across your apps, teams, and data, you’ll have more control over when your automations take place. 

For example, you can set up a real-time trigger that—once the predefined event takes place—immediately sets off actions; alternatively, you can use a scheduled trigger to fetch business events at predefined points in time, and only then execute each workflow.

Related: What is a triggered automation?

Build transformative workflow automations with Workato 

Workato, the leader in integration-led automation, offers a platform that has all the features outlined above, among countless others. For example, the platform also offers enterprise-grade runtime—which works to ensure that your integrations and automations are kept secure and run smoothly as your organization scales. 

You can learn more about how the platform can help your organization by scheduling a demo with one of our automation advisors!

About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the managing editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.