02 Dec Creating efficiency with Notifications, Collaboration, Approvals, and Tasking
by Kevin Willemse
The Salesforce platform offers many ways to ensure the organization and its members are constantly in sync when it comes to the everyday processes and workflows that move them and their customers to success. From startups to enterprise-level corporations, they’re all striving to reduce exposure and maximize efficiency, and they must put systems in place to make sure that relevant, actionable information passes to the correct person(s) for valuable, traceable review and input.
Companies that choose to ignore their need for sophisticated but elegant workflow collaboration tools are introducing avoidable risk to (among others) applicable compliance rulings, internal standards and measures, succession or operational continuity strategy, and overall quality of their outputs. However, over-application of these workflows can create distractions to the broader organization, impede overall transaction speed and efficiency, and frustrate users with overly complex, convoluted, and largely discarded processes. So what’s a forward-thinking organization to do?
An effective first step in determining how to build your own effective “workflow accelerator” collaboration process and framework is to understand the tools available to you and their intended use case, audience, and outputs. In Salesforce, this includes four key offerings: automated notifications, collaboration tools, approval processes, and task and activity tracking.
To keep these useful tools from being overly confused and forming convoluted bottlenecks, we’ve put together the following descriptions and use cases. Keep reading to learn more about where and when to apply each tool to increase the velocity of deals, decisions, and overall workflow.
Salesforce’s automation engine allows for an almost limitless variety of notification events to fire, whether it’s a deal closing, an Account’s terms being adjusted, a Case being escalated, or even conversations happening inside Chatter. The key to setting up successful notifications, however, is not leveraging every feature to alert as many people as possible about any possible workflow or activity—this just creates noise for people to tune out and ignore.
Notifications should instead be configured and implemented with the understanding and thought process of “Why is this information important to this person?”, and secondly “What action do I expect this person to take based on this information?”. If you can answer these easily and effectively, it is likely an example of a valuable notification.
As you are asking yourself if the people involved in notifications will actually benefit from the update provided, consider why they may not have been involved in upstream collaboration as well. Notifications regarding events and decisions that I have no context around need to allow me to quickly gather the additional context I need to take action, and notifications that merely affirm conversations I am a part of lack value or purpose, and instead, just flood my inbox or notifications panel. For example, does your manager really need to know every time you close a Case when they are monitoring real-time service desk dashboards anyway? Notifications are an excellent way to let others know about important events and decisions, but it too often gets overused by managers or admins to check the pulse of the business unit or organization – there are better and more proactive ways for Salesforce to provide these insights.
Collaboration simply means getting necessary people involved in meaningful conversations to assist in reaching a particular desired outcome or decision. It is sporadic, conversational, open, and relevant. Salesforce Chatter is far superior to email as a collaboration tool, as Chatter can share and keep the conversation contextual (i.e., related to a specific record rather than an isolated conversation), communicate easily across any added or removed parties concerned, and fire off actions or automations based on the discussions. Standalone collaboration tools, as feature-rich as many are, still lack this vital capability by not being embedded into the overall CRM ecosystem.
If you are still relying heavily on email to gather information about deals, ask questions about account management updates, or engage many people at once to accelerate a particular task, tools like Salesforce Chatter and Quip will do wonders to cut through the clutter and turn strings of buried emails into meaningful, actionable collaboration. Companies that already have implemented internal collaboration and “chat” applications should also consider Chatter as part of an integrated or enhanced collaboration toolkit. It is also important to recognize the improvement of downstream processing that is enabled by upstream collaboration.
Although it is often hard to pull people out of the familiar world of email or immediately convince them to adopt an” event-based” collaborative forum, organizations that have adopted Chatter as their contextual business chat platform soon realize benefits, often wonder how they managed without it.
Approval processes in Salesforce are an excellent way to inject automated checkpoints into work streams and processes; however, their flexibility to suit even complex approval criteria is often their downfall. Far too often, the application and implementation of an approval process quickly becomes overly complex and thus starts to lose relevance and becomes difficult to maintain. Other symptoms include various notifications and authorization steps being reduced to email noise, redundant review of records by bombarded users, and irrelevant “rubber-stamp” approvals, rather than creating valuable, secure, and auditable workflow management automation.
When preparing to build an approval process, the best approach (even before logging into Salesforce) is to clearly document the most simple, lowest-level version of the workflow you wish to control. Do this offline on a whiteboard or any other means that simplifies and identifies the key automation points. Only once you have a simplified, clear offline process should you start building the approval in Salesforce.
Ensure the entry criteria are flexible to cater for edge-case scenarios or system scalability (this enforces simplicity). Work with the signatories and get them to help design the notification message content and agree with the overall audit trail. Consider worst-case scenarios where approvals are delayed then remove these bottlenecks.
Review your User records to ensure they are correctly and fully configured to enable delegation of approvals and a smooth flow of the process. Refresh your notifications occasionally, especially if their underlying Object data is augmented or changes.
It is important to monitor the performance and impact that approval processes have on the organization. Solicit regular feedback from users to learn the impact and value they are having on them, and consider tweaking or overhauls as needed. Build some approval-based reports and share them to see if they are of value (if not, the process is either working perfectly or not at all!). Do not allow approval configurations to go unchecked. As your users, their roles, and the workflows of the business evolve over time, so should your approval process logic to support them.
Activity and Task Tracking
One of the most useful yet overlooked capabilities of Salesforce is its easy-to-use, automation-ready, and proactive task and activity management capability. With ever-improving shared and integrated calendar features, all tied to your CRM data in one place, it makes Salesforce the ideal platform for successful action planning and awareness.
Often, if not usually, the biggest challenge with a successful implementation of Salesforce task and activity automation is not down to its feature set, but rather its adoption. Familiarity with existing calendaring and task tracking applications must be acknowledged as a potential barrier, and a transition plan built to ensure your user base works with (not against!) you to align legacy tasking and calendar tools into the Salesforce platform. Various readily available integration tools can help with a phased migration or integrated approach, but most important is that management displays a clear commitment and champions the use of Salesforce tasking, along with a robust training plan and measurable adoption program.
Once all (or at least the majority) of your users are realizing the benefits of leveraging Salesforce tasks and activities, with all the built-in collaboration, automation, and contextual data relationships it provides, it’s likely they will not look back.
Kevin is a Director in Simplus’ Strategic Advisory Practice, focused on bringing valuable transformation to customers looking to maximize their investment in Salesforce.com alongside their integrated systems and business processes.