People close to me know that I am a bit of a process nerd. I love efficient systems that generate effective results. After all, some of my best training came from the international air operations at United Parcel Service (“UPS”), where I worked while I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree. In those days, UPS was known as “the tightest ship in the shipping business”, and I loved seeing the volume of packages we could move through the buildings and onto planes during a three-hour sort. I thought it was a bit crazy when the industrial engineering department sent auditors to count the number of copies we made during the sort, but after 15 years running my own business, I now understand why UPS measured so much and was committed to continuous improvement. Customer expectations are raised constantly, and we need to keep up. Otherwise, someone else will be happy to take our place. We live in a big world with a lot of smart, talented people who can disrupt even the industries with great longevity.
Disruption in 2003
In 2003, I was one of those “disrupters”, to some degree. As a former plaintiff in a lawsuit involving sexual harassment, gender discrimination, breach of contract, and unpaid commissions, I knew there were better ways to serve clients than lawyers often did. I had a great attorney who was highly responsive to my emotional, intellectual, and financial needs throughout the litigation, but before 2003, I had been working for firms that were not generally as responsive. I was given the freedom to provide a better client experience, as long as I met my billable hours goals, which often left me working 15-hour days for a now-defunct firm.
I left that firm and, in part by maximizing my use of computer technology, I was able to keep a roof over my head and food on the coffee table in the apartment I shared with two other young professional women. I systemized all the documents I regularly used in my practice, allowing for customization that reassured the clients I was fully familiar with the facts and circumstances of their unique cases. I was an early adopter of personal data assistants (“PDA”), the predecessors of smartphones, and wireless internet cards, so I could complete most of my reports while traveling back from court on subway and commuter trains. My clients could have full analysis and an updated strategy within 24 hours. Meanwhile, many of my competitors were still dictating their reports into a tiny cassette recorder.
Disrupting for Me Today
Technology has been good to me, and I like figuring out how to use it fully. The difference today is that I am rarely the early adopter and think very strategically about how I plan to use technology. I’ve paid the price for buying too many sales pitches and mirroring the enthusiasm of founders or creators, only to realize later that the device or software I purchased didn’t work as well with my existing systems as I thought it would. As so many people near me would say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It is with this mindset that I am automating some tasks in my business. After much research, I am confidently looking first at the repetitive tasks that my team and I often forget about when we’re busy (e.g., marketing, networking, client feedback) or the ones that allow for too much human error (e.g., document creation, calculations, manual data entry). I want to maintain a high-touch experience for my clients, and I want to create error-free work that gets them the results they want. Automating a few tasks makes sure I don’t forget important dates, yet frees me up to call clients to discuss their current concerns, whether or not those concerns are related to work I am doing for them. Likewise, using integrations to automate pieces of document creation and workflows speeds the process and cuts my clients’ costs. It’s a win-win, and you know how we mediators love those!
Start with the Client Experience
As more of my colleagues learn of my current automation projects, I am often asked where to start. For some, there are concerns about becoming cold and robotic, which (to them and me) takes the joy out of having a service business. We remember the complaints we got when we first started using a phone system with an auto-attendant, and we are reminded of the call we made to the airline, bank, government agency, tech support department, etc., not knowing if we made the right selections and would get the help we needed, or if we would be hung up on and have to wait on hold again for 10 or more minutes. These are all valid, especially when the customer service we get often feels less like service to us than from us.
To get the most out of your automations, stay on PARR: Plan, Act, Revise, and Repeat, until you get the results you want. (This is Action Five of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process.)
- Plan. If you want to send an invitation to your newsletter to each new contact you add to your Outlook Contacts, you can probably set this up through a combination of Zapier and your newsletter service (e.g., Mailchimp, Constant Contact), but you might want to have different types of contacts get different types of news. Think about what will be most interesting to the recipient and plan out your workflow accordingly.
- Act. Test your zap with a handful of contacts. Ideally, these will be friends or colleagues who know the invitation is coming and will give you honest feedback. If you test your automation on new contacts, you might turn the relationships sour and miss the opportunities that had you excited about connecting with them.
- Revise. Since much of the software you will be using is internet-based, you will probably be able to test and edit what you do rather easily, but it’s also easy to set up massive messes that take hours, if not days, to correct. Don’t be afraid to go very slowly, even when the internet and everything else seems to be speeding up.
- Repeat. Even after you get your workflow to do what you want it to do, software updates and other changes might require you to re-test and revise the process. Data analysis might suggest this automation is not getting the results you want, too. So, be prepared to make changes. In many ways, technology mirrors life. Embrace the continuous change, grow with it, and keep doing your best under the circumstances presented in each moment. For better or for worse, change will come in later moments.
By the way, if you’re benefiting from some of my automations (or if you hate them), please let me know.
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).