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Before You Automate, Create a Customer Service Process Map – Here’s How

Before you automate a process, map out the steps, decisions, and connection points that define its flow.

Woman mapping out her customer service process on pen and paper
Mapping out your customer service automation is easy – if you know where to begin.

In a previous blog post about simplifying automation in customer service, I wrote about how to identify where automation can be deployed to help make your customer service workflows more streamlined and efficient. Mundane, repetitive, and time-consuming steps require little, if any, human intervention when workflows are automated. Your team is free to focus on higher-value work that ensures an excellent customer experience. If you’re thinking, Great! Now let’s automate! – not so fast. Workflow automation is not a switch you simply flip. First, you need a map that includes these elements:   

  1. A diagram of the workflow process
  2. A list of the people, departments, and systems that interact with the workflow
  3. The data requirements of the workflow process

Every service process is a journey that begins with a customer request and ends (ideally!) with a happy customer. Getting to that seamless customer experience requires a series of steps along the way that combine people, systems, data, and decisions. 

Your automation map should find the most efficient and cost-effective route, but you can’t do that until you’re clear about where you’re going and the rules of the road. Skipping an important step or compliance requirement can result in costly delays or rework that leads to revenue leakage, customer frustration, and even financial penalties. The last thing you want to do is automate a faulty process, potentially compounding an error.   

According to Salesforce’s Trends in Workflow Automation report, technical leaders who have implemented automation report strong ROI. In fact, nearly 75% see time savings of at least four hours per week. As manual tasks shift from human to machine, employees have more time for strategic work.

To set your automation effort up for success, you need to understand how a selected customer service process works. A service workflow process map will help you see all the critical connections between decision points, people, data, and systems.

A service workflow process map will help you see all the critical connections between decision points, people, data, and systems.

Here are three steps to create your service automation map:

1. Diagram the customer service workflow process you want to automate

A typical service workflow process rarely resembles a straight line. It’s more like a tree, with branches forming at every point where a decision needs to be made or a threshold met. Use the following questions to help you diagram and better understand your process: 

  • What is the workflow? The workflow is the general path the process needs to take to reach a conclusion. Be clear about everything that needs to happen for the service process to be considered complete, and be sure to identify how the service process aligns with your overall business goals. 
  • What are the decision points? Decision points are locations in the workflow where your process will branch. These points include if/then situations where a path branches because of a specific decision. For example, “if warranty claim is approved, then do x,” or ”if warranty claim is denied, then do y.” Or, define situations where a threshold, like the dollar amount of a return, will trigger the next action.
  • What constraints are in play? Constraints can include financial compliance and regulatory requirements, legal policies, or policies related to service level agreements and time frames.

For example, consider the workflow process that would follow a customer service case related to a broken refrigerator. First, customer service will need to confirm whether or not the appliance is under warranty. If it is under warranty, the process will branch to the specific steps and guidelines around making a warranty claim. Can the refrigerator be repaired or does it need to be replaced? If it’s a repair, what parts are needed? Are the parts in stock or will they need to be shipped? Can the repair be done in the customer’s home or does the refrigerator need to be picked up to be serviced? Any of these circumstances will potentially trigger a different branch of the process.

A customer service automation workflow map of icons that plot how customer service issues on a broken refrigerator are handled.
The workflow to handle a broken refrigerator involves a series of decision points across people, departments, and systems.

With your workflow diagram in hand, you now know how the process typically flows. You can use this as a starting point to figure out where automation can be deployed to make improvements.

A typical service workflow process rarely resembles a straight line. It’s more like a tree, with branches forming at every point where a decision needs to be made or a threshold met.

2. Determine which people, departments, and systems interact with the service workflow process

To automate successfully, you need to account for all the people that will interact with a customer service workflow across the front, middle, and back office. The front office includes all customer-facing departments. The middle and back include any other departments that aren’t customer-facing but need to support service, like contracts or order fulfillment (middle), or legal, compliance, and finance (back). Take these into account:

  • Each person’s role in the process. Are they interacting directly with the customer (front office) or doing something behind the scenes, like approving a warranty claim? Also consider people who don’t necessarily need to take action, but might want (or need) to be notified, such as a manufacturing product manager who needs to keep tabs on return rates, or a vice president who needs to approve exceptions to actions outside of the established process flow.
  • The departments where process stakeholders work. Depending on the situation, an array of departments may need to contribute to a service process.  For example, stakeholders from the contracts team might need to approve a warranty claim. Finance might need to step in to handle a question on an auto loan. Be sure to have a clear understanding of how people in these departments like to work and how they prioritize service requests.
  • Communication and notification preferences. How do each of these stakeholders wish to be contacted, and with what frequency and urgency? Make note of each team and individual’s preference for contact via email, chat, instant messenger, or within your CRM system.
  • The systems they use and the screens they interact with. How do various stakeholders engage with the information they need to complete their role in the process? Take the case of the broken refrigerator as an example. The fulfillment team may use an order management application to ship parts, a third-party repair service uses its own application to book appointments, and the service team uses its CRM system. Users are most efficient in their go-to systems and most-used screens. A new application or Alt+Tabs between apps could add friction to the process right when the goal is to streamline. 

One of automation’s primary benefits is to make it easier for people to efficiently do their job. Understanding how they interact with the process you want to automate is a critical step.(Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post where we’ll talk more about how to engage your employees to successfully automate processes that serve both them and their customers.)

3. Identify what data is needed, where it resides, and how it will be updated

Finally, before you automate, it’s vital to know what data is needed to start, orchestrate, and complete a workflow. You also need to know where it resides, and how it will be accessed, shared, and updated. This is especially important when a process is spanning multiple departments and systems, which is often the case. 

As an example, consider a service request related to a broken refrigerator. The service rep will first need to know the customer’s warranty status. If the refrigerator needs to be replaced, data on where to send it will need to be shared with an external shipping department. If it’s a repair, data will need to be shared with the parts supplier and the repair service, and so on. When mapping your process, think about how various sources of data contribute to driving it from one step to the next. 

  • What systems hold critical data? How will the process access and apply that data? Do users really need access to the data? For example, if subscription and renewal data is housed in a contract management solution, is there a way for your automation to capture relevant information and move on to the next step without exposing data to a user? 
  • Who generates and updates data? For example, a case or a file might need to be created to start a process. Who is responsible for creating that? What data needs to be captured? Where does it need to be captured? Who is responsible for notifications? For adding updates? What data is needed to close the loop and complete the process?    
  • How will data be connected? When data needs to be handed off between departments and systems, how does that connection happen? For example, when an existing customer activates a new service, how will the required data get to order management, billing, and accounting? 

Data flow is probably the trickiest element involved in process automation. Why? Because integration can be a challenge when information is siloed within systems and departments. You need to know what you’re dealing with before you automate, so map it out.

Data flow is probably the trickiest element involved in process automation. Why? Because integration can be a challenge when information is siloed within systems and departments.

When you take the time to build your service workflow process map up front, it will go a long way towards setting your organization up for success. Do that well, and you’ll be one step closer to streamlining the customer experience, boosting customer loyalty, and turning your service operation from a cost center to a profit center.

This blog is part two of our four-part series about how to take advantage of automation to boost the accuracy, efficiency, and speed of your service processes, improve business outcomes, and make customers happy.


Sophia Le is on the product marketing team and currently leads solutions marketing for Service Cloud. When she’s not geeking out on technology, you can usually find her on the dance floor, at the skatepark, or in the wilderness.

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