If you’re looking to improve your website’s performance and have started doing a bit of initial research, you have probably run into a few questions. One of those is likely “what is form automation and do I need it for my business?” In its simplest configuration, form automation takes information you once filled out on a piece of paper and fills it out electronically. In its more advanced versions, form automation uses the information collected to further other business objectives.
Here’s an example of how form automation might help a business looking to grow.
Let’s say you’re an insurance agent:
- A client calls your office asking for a quote.
- You email or send forms through snail mail. The client prints them, fills in the information and either scans them into the computer for emailing, faxes them back, or returns them through snail mail. Any attachments are added to the email, faxed, or sent with the forms by snail mail.
- Your office gets the information, inputs numbers into your quote system and eventually gets a quote to the client.
The inefficiency seems obvious, right? Those three steps could instead be streamlined to:
- Your client calls and you give him a link and password to a web form. Better yet, the client finds your website and clicks on “get a quote,” which plugs him directly into the form.
- The client fills out the form, including electronic signatures, and attaches relevant files and digital pictures.
- You’re notified electronically of the new client, and now you have all the information you need to automatically provide a quote quickly.
Instead of taking days to get a quote, your client has one in a matter of hours.
This simple scenario explains the basics of form automation, but there is much more to it than just online forms. Read on to learn what else form automation can offer.
Form Automation Approaches
Before we delve into all the juicy details, consider that form automation can take two approaches.
- Principle approach refers to the types of forms: applications, contracts, surveys, setting appointments, and much more.
- Practice approach refers to the software tools that automate the forms.
To take full advantage of form automation, you’ll need to utilize both approaches. Building forms and gathering data is a great start, but integrating it with the rest of your operations plan is the key to crafting a truly well-rounded strategy.
Form automation is only one way to incorporate marketing automation and CRM (customer relationship management) automation into your business strategy, but it’s critical. Form automation allows you to gather all the data you need for a successful overall automation system.
Advantages of Form Automation
Reasons you may want to automate forms might seem straightforward based on the examples above, but let’s outline them just in case:
- You eliminate waste and inefficiency. Employees can concentrate on more important tasks when they don’t have to deal with rework, waiting for the mail, and the back-and-forth questions that crop up from the information your client provided on paper.
- Online forms can be modified often and quickly. Paper forms have to be updated and printed, which takes time. You can change electronic forms daily depending on the information you need.
- You can customize forms and add smart questions based on previous answers.
- Forms can be completed and shared immediately throughout your office, which streamlines workflow. You can tie forms into your CRM.
- Fields are searchable — find all clients in Denver, for example. Or filter clients by birthday to send them a greeting.
- Data gathered can be turned into reports that help you analyze your client base and develop marketing strategies.
How to Start With Form Automation
If you’re a newer company, it might make sense to incorporate form automation immediately, starting with basics such as appointment setting or sign-up forms.
Clients who visit your website can click a button that brings up your form. Once they fill it out and hit send, they immediately become part of your system.
Notifications alert the employees who deal with that aspect of client relations. From there, you can make schedules, add clients to mailing lists, and alert them to sales.
If your company is moving from a paper-based system, definitely start form automation for new clients and draft a concrete plan to transfer your old files into the system. Scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) software can help you systematically work on those old files.
Scanning the copies into a digital place provides a backup system in the event your original files are damaged (paper and ink don’t last forever anyway). OCR technology is pretty accurate and even available for home use. Having digital files and the ability to extract information from them creates options.
What is Form Automation Software
There’s a big difference between simply having a form available online and having one that’s capable of automation. The true beauty of form automation lies in how you can use the information to your advantage.
A business owner can create a form in Microsoft Excel and have their customers fill it in, for example. They can then reference their forms the next time they speak to them, so technically, their form is automated.
But to make the most out of this technology, you want to extract information from these forms and use it to expand your business and provide exemplary customer care.
That data can help you better communicate with customers, spot trends, cross-sell, and anticipate your business needs.
What to Look for in Form Automation Software
Your business type and goals dictate what you want to look for in form automation software. Consider the following:
Smart forms, as mentioned earlier, are extremely versatile. They incorporate questions that build off previous answers. Yes or no answers generate specific questions and direct customers accordingly.
Being able to change content quickly and easily gives you the flexibility to adapt to the season or trend. Customizing forms for specific sets of demographics helps you home in on your target market.
If the software has a set of templates, you won’t need to start from scratch. Pick and choose the information you need and questions you want to ask.
Move the questions around until the order makes sense, and reword them as you see fit. Flexibility is critical here.
Our insurance example above benefited from the option of attaching pictures. Audio and video can be attached as well.
Form automation software must give customers peace of mind by protecting their information from hackers. It’s crucial for software to transfer sensitive information securely over the internet.
Cloud storage does away with an office full of overstuffed file cabinets. Be sure it provides quick and easy access and a secure backup in case of failure.
Cloud systems may offer the option to work offline and upload information to the cloud when you’re ready. Determine whether you can at least access your data offline.
If you create contracts with people across the country, an electronic signature feature is a must. It’s an important time saver.
This aspect will take your business to the next level. You want the ability to make your form data work with other parts of your business.
Marketing and CRM automation systems use data gathered to communicate with customers at various trigger points. Forms are a great way to get to know your customers better.
Use the data to send newsletters or forms, trigger your sales force to follow up, see what your customers are interested in, and more. Put great thought into the questions you ask your customers because their answers can provide valuable information.
Ready to Incorporate Form Automation?
Now that you have the rundown on form automation, you’re ready to explore specific ways it can benefit your business.
The perfect solution for your business goes well beyond saving trees. It eliminates swivel chair tasks and saves you time and money. Customers expect a streamlined and efficient way to interact.
Form automation is a means to that goal. Forms will build your customer base, tie into your marketing and CRM automation systems, and give you endless creative possibilities to provide the best service to your customers.