When Automation Hinders Productivity

There are three ways a business can differentiate themselves: being better, faster, or cheaper. We often focus on fast because client needs don’t always allow for a lot of advance notice and because internet marketing tends to move at a quick pace. This is especially true in working with trainers, consultants, and professional coaches who have hectic schedules with needs that have to be addressed readily. So automation is likely always the way to facilitate faster, right? Unfortunately, for most online marketing systems, that tends to be untrue unless there is a human component monitoring the automated system.

A recent painful example of this popped up.

We don’t require a specific email marketing platform to work with clients, so individual needs or preferences might necessitate a particular platform. Most platforms have an email address review process when an account is opened or a new list is imported. That process starts with an automated review and if there are too many red flags a person will get involved to make a decision if the list should be red flagged or not.

On the surface we’re all for a review of imported email addresses. It prevents SPAM and keeps the email marketing platform in good standing with ISPs so that deliverable rates remain high. We’ve gone through dozens of list reviews for clients and it can be an inconvenience to include the extra step but one that is worth the trouble.

When the process elevates from an inconvenience to a hassle that misses deadlines is when a problem arises.

That’s what happened recently with a client’s Mail Chimp account. A list of emails was imported for the first time to this account for a particular event that the list had requested information on. The list was not made available until late in the marketing cycle so getting an initial invite out was crucial as this event would require air travel and accommodations for most attendees.

Mail Chimp uses an automated review program called Omnivore. Omnivore flagged the imported list as troublesome. Fair enough, so how do we review the list and get it approved? Mail chimp offered a lot of definitions on the page about what a flagged list might contain, it suggested unimporting the list, or emailing their compliance group.

We made a pass of the list and removed a handful of email we thought might cause the problem and tried again. It still flagged the list.

This is where an over reliance on the automated system broke down. If Omnivore had an issue with some of the emails that’s fine but providing some specific guidance seems prudent. At minimum, a list of which emails were problematic would have let us remove those in the short term and address them later. None of that was available.

Obviously, removing the import did not help, so we emailed the compliance group.

Reading between the lines a bit, it seems that Omnivore was supposed to handle most compliance issues. So the compliance representative didn’t return the email until two days after the inquiry. That delay caused congestion with other email campaigns that were scheduled and a rework of the marketing schedule. So a lot of extra work that costs productivity, with no benefit, all in the name of automation.

This is not meant to be overly critical of Mail Chimp which is an admirable service in many ways (honestly every email platform has its pros and cons). Rather it’s an illustration of how “automation” isn’t always a positive thing. It can come across as frustratingly impersonal or generic, while being completely unhelpful.

As you put marketing systems in place, make sure that your automation isn’t leaving your audience or users helpless when the system can’t meet their needs.

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