A complaint I often hear from practice principals is the number and manner of notifications they receive from their CRM/workflow management software. It can be frustrating, as it creates a mess of your email inbox (‘muda’ in Kaizen terminology) as well as your head-space, and wastes time (‘gemba’).
It’s a complaint normally levelled at the software, which is unfair. It’s rarely a software problem, it’s a failure of process design.
It’s understandable. When task management is put in place for the first time, the objective is usually to track everything that is going on. To take information out of heads, out of email inboxes, and into something that is visible to all and recorded against the client. End to end process design isn’t the priority at that stage.
However, once that objective is achieved, a considered process is required to overcome further growing pains and make the most of the technology in place.
In this article, we’ll be covering:
- Common causes that lead to excessive or unhelpful notifications.
- Rationalising your notifications including questions to consider at each stage.
- Getting creative in how to automate away the need for notifications or make them far more useful.
We’ll also be covering some of these items specifically in an upcoming XPLAN Quick Tip. (Subscribe below to get notified of future updates.)
For clarity, we’re talking about emails which notify you of an event in this article, like a task being created, assigned, or completed. We’re not talking about the notifications you get on your phone whenever an app does something. Similar principles apply across technologies, but most ideas here are meant for the email type.
Beyond a lack of process design at the outset of building a workflow, other common causes that contribute to excessive email notifications include:
- A workflow is not a checklist. Don’t create tasks so their completion acts as a checklist, use checklists within tasks for that.
- A workflow is not a tracking device. Try to avoid using individual tasks to track what is being done. Whilst task tracking can be helpful, it should be a purely secondary consideration. (Read more in our post: Three common errors in workflows/threads)
- Ivory tower syndrome. A lack of understanding of the end users experience. Consider whether users must be notified of everything via email if they access their task list several times a day anyway.
- Micromanagement. Too much control, or a perceived desire for control. If your staff have put together a process, they may think you should be informed more than you want to be. It’s easy to think you want your finger on the pulse when building a process, but it can quickly become a distraction.
- Forgetting the cost of email. Just because emails are free, doesn’t mean the cost of flooding inboxes isn’t real.
Rationalising your notifications
Building on the Kaizen approach of asking the ‘5 Ws’ to identify why something is in place and what options there may be for improvement, consider:
- Why is this notification required?
- What negative outcomes may happen if the notification didn’t occur?
- What would be the cost of that negative outcome?
- What would be the likelihood of that negative outcome?
- Who must receive this notification? Who would just like the reporting?
- When would the recipient need to act on the notification?
What you’re looking for here is to build an understanding of why each notification is in place. Some may be simple. Jane needs the notification so he can call the client. Some may be more complex. Joe needs the notification as he must take the next step, which requires X and follows on to actions Y and Z.
The answers should highlight notifications ripe for removal.
Having now rationalised the number of notifications, it’s time to get a bit more creative. We can build on the answers above with some more interesting questions.
- If some triggers must have notifications, could they be done in a more consolidated way?
- Could a daily/weekly update or scheduled check-in of all notifications suffice?
- If it is to follow-up an outstanding case, could an automatic email be sent instead? That would reduce the import of a notification, if not eliminate the need entirely. (Sure, there’s a chance the case was recently closed, but is that so bad?)
- Looking at the actions that need to take place on notification, could some be automated?
- Must the adviser call the client in every instance? Could a support member call C clients? Could an email suffice for D clients?
- If a meeting must be scheduled, could you send an email with a Calendly link so the clients can self-serve alongside a follow-up task in 1-2 days?
- If it’s your New Business register that needs maintaining, could you auto-update it on Google Sheets?
- Are there times when it would be ok to miss a notification? These could include:
- Low priority items
- C/D clients
- Follow-ups that expedite a process, but shouldn’t be necessary
- A combination of factors (eg: Low priority items for C/D clients)
Pro-tip: When something is a ‘High’ priority, you may want it to come through email but not in other circumstances. You can simply combine notifications with Outlook or email rules to get what you’re after. Such as:
– If email body does not contain “Priority: High” move to Notifications folder.
– If email body contains “Priority: High” and “Client category: A” forward to <YourMobile#>@smsglobal.com to give yourself an SMS notification via SMS Global.
- Instead of the standard notification, could you:
- Deliver something that assists the required action such as:
- An email with a link to the relevant product login page, and the client phone number to call.
- An email with the relevant internal instructions, phone script, and policy attached.
- An email pre-written for the client, sent to the adviser for quick review and on-send.
- Deliver something without the extraneous information by truncating the email with Zapier’s email parser service.
- Deliver something that assists the required action such as:
Pro-tip: For regional advisers who may be on the road a lot, Zapier’s email parser service could be useful in areas with poor internet, reducing an overblown and unnecessarily pretty HTML email to a single line of plain text.
- Could you use a tool like IFTTT and/or Zapier to trigger something more interesting? Some ideas include:
- Email a referrer to let them know you’ve had your first meeting with a client or that they’ve become a client.
- An automated social media post once a claim is paid.
- You could even have your Google Home play ‘Celebrate’ in the back office every time an ATP is signed!
We’d love to hear your ideas on how you could build automation into an advice workflow processes in the comments below. Would love to hear your questions too!