What is a Workflow Engine and How can it Eliminate Tedious Admin?

Rhys Pattimore
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Isn’t it great when things just work? When you’re on a job and every detail just clicks into place? Not only is it the sign of a pro at work, and an enjoyable experience, but it can benefit you customers as well.

So: how do you make getting into a flow state even easier?

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a “flow state” is basically any time where you’re “in the zone”: that mindset where you’re so focused, everything just becomes effortless.

It’s a phenomenon often linked to manual tasks or creative activities; everything from painting, reading, to making aeroplane models, should you be so inclined. (And no judgement; during lockdown I found 2000-piece puzzles were a great way to get into a flow state and kill some time). But I digress...graphic_puzzle-01

In an ideal world, we’d all love to be able to enter into a flow state with a free mind that helps us do our jobs, particularly if it’s something a bit fiddly. For your service business, you’ll know that when your engineers can work without interruption, it makes completing an installation, sorting a repair, or other tasks infinitely easier. It can even lead to them doing better work.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, it can be difficult to achieve this consistently because they’ll encounter at least seven different things to interrupt them whilst on a job!

But, if you’re using software: do interruptions still have to be an inevitable part of your day-to-day? What if there were a way to limit them? What if you could set up a system to take care of the little tasks you always have to do, without actually having to give them a single thought (let alone a second one)?

graphic_brain_lightbulb-02What if your software could turn you into a zen master?!

Okay... the last one might be a bit of a stretch, but it can certainly bring you peace of mind and even sound like salvation when tedious tasks are set up to flow from one to the next, without anyone in your team having to lift a finger.

Intrigued? Then a workflow engine is something to start taking seriously.

  1. A flow state for your business
  2. What is a workflow engine
  3. A little logic goes a long way
  4. Advanced automation techniques

1. A flow state for your business

Talking about a flow state might sound like a bit of an odd intro, but as far as tech solutions go, it helps to plant the seed of an idea before diving into more detail.

After all, there’s a lot to be said for how technology and software can reduce the amount of interruptions that your staff face. As a result, they can focus on more important tasks that require their genuine attention.

You’ll already be well aware of how much better things are for your business now you’ve ditched physical paperwork and are enjoying the benefits of digitised, speedier admin. Making use of a workflow engine is another level-up from that experience, employing amazing automation tools to significantly reduce the steps your staff need to take when it comes to performing repetitive tasks.

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At Commusoft, we’re often asked for more information as to how software can improve efficiency within your business, and while we’ve talked a lot about the benefits of going paperless and running tasks digitally, it’s great to see there are even more solutions that allow you to go even further with the range and complexity of tasks you can automate.

These will allow you to not only personalise customer experiences down to a granular level, but help you work faster too, as a result.

Besides, if you can limit interruptions and achieve greater results more quickly, you’d want to, right? To help you reach that goal, we’ve put together an overview of how automated workflows can prevent disruptive admin from ruining your day and even a way to create your own personalised flows).

Let’s make your customer journeys world-class!

2. What is a workflow engine?

Simply put, a workflow engine is a management software feature that effectively works as a trigger between specific, consecutive actions. The user decides the succession according to the strategy they want to implement.

The easiest way to think of it is in terms of an “If [action] then [action]” sentence. A concrete example would be: “If an appointment is created, notify the assigned engineer.” That would be a fairly simple workflow and it’s something most software come with as a built in feature.

The true value of a workflow engine is that you can devise much more complex series of actions and personalise them to fit your business strategy.

Enabling a workflow within your job management software allows your system to take over tasks that would otherwise require more manual input. While the solutions you have at the moment are still incredibly useful, there’s still more you can do:

For example: using your current system your admin staff will be able to easily check to see if a customer has yet to pay their invoice, or even if after already sending an email, that the invoice is still pending.

Whilst easy, it still takes time, especially if you find you’re chasing unpaid invoices for 100’s of customers and to follow-up, the staff member would still need to draft a new email in an effort to re-prompt the person to make their payment.


📚  Learn more:

Invoicing Mistakes are Restricting your Field Service Business’s Success


On the other hand, with a customised workflow enabled, your system can routinely check these details for you and even send a message if it “discovers” an invoice is still pending. So, instead when your staff come to check over invoices, they can already see that your software has contacted the customer to request payment.graphic_work_remotely_cloud_data-01

Even better, it can take care of this process for a specific period of time before you have to manually get involved and call the customer yourself, or escalate things further.

Besides, if all you’re doing is sending an email to prompt them anyway (you’re saving a stern phone call for when things get more serious), then it makes sense to benefit from a system that not only lets you set up email templates but which also automatically delivers customer-specific messages for you.

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And yet, that’s not all!

To take things a step further (if, for example, your customer doesn’t respond) the same workflow can be smart enough to recognise that if the invoice isn’t paid, even after 3 emails, it’s time to create an office task so your software prompts an admin to manually get involved. This way, you’re not perpetually spamming customers with 100s of emails for months on end.

In most cases, a delay or missed payment will be down to simple human error. A quick prompt, especially if it’s then linked to your payment portal, means that together, your software and your customer can resolve the issue without taking in extra admin costs for a job that is already causing your cash flow to stutter.

3. A little logic goes a long way

Everything we’ve discussed so far is based around a system taking logical steps to reach a conclusion and for anyone who’s a bit more tech-savvy, it’s the old binary 0s and 1s approach.

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If a customer’s invoice is unpaid, then an email needs to be sent to prompt them, then 1 week later, if the the invoice is still unpaid it sends another follow-up. Alternatively, if the invoice is paid, then no further action is taken.

While the example above is perhaps an oversimplified workflow, it should make clear the logical steps that are taking place behind the scenes. Of course there are other routes a workflow like this could take, but being able to have a system which recognises these routes means you can automate for different scenarios, even on a simple level, it's still incredibly useful.

While it’s one thing for a system to have a marketplace of workflows that you can pick and choose from right away, what if you could build your own, entirely customised sequences?

Well, that’s what a workflow engine is for...

4. Advanced automation techniques

A workflow engine is incredibly powerful, but as is often the case with a software solution, it can be easy to underestimate the complexity behind the tool, especially if it seems as straightforward as flicking a switch.

We've spoken before about how software is designed to be easy-to-use, but often what it does is actually let you solve complex tasks in a simple way.

As above, a workflow can make this more obvious, especially if your software allows you to get to grips with the feature yourself. Some software will have pre-made workflows for you to use (like the invoice or estimate chasing tools mentioned here).graphic_toolbox_red-01

After all, most businesses follow the same patterns when it comes to debt-chasing or sending invoices, so it makes sense for them to be present as a standard solution. However, some businesses simply want to do things differently and that’s where customised workflows come in.

Customisation is especially important to companies these days because, as you probably know, no two businesses are perfectly alike. As an example, there’s no standard amount of leeway you should give customers before informing them that you will employ a debt chasing agency. Some companies will do it after months of unanswered emails, others as soon as the payment terms are broken.

Of course, it’s not only standard workflows you want to adapt, but you may wish to create entire new ones based on processes you know you could streamline. This is where a workflow creation tool becomes more obviously powerful and, while it’s not too commonplace at the moment, a workflow engine means you can benefit from setting up protocols that are perhaps more niche to your own services.

The Takeaway

Workflow engines are a whole level above some of the automation processes you may already be familiar with, going further to remove additional steps, but still leaving you secure in the knowledge that a task is being completed on your behalf.

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No one wants to worry about dealing with invoices; and certainly, if sending an estimate to a customer can be made easier, then a field service manager who's looking to increase business efficiency should want to consider workflows as a solution.

I’ve seen all sorts of posts from engineers who have proudly shown off their handy work and while I don’t doubt it's the result of their experience and knowledge, it's likely also because they were able to keep as mellow as marmalade, as cool as a cucumber, and focus on their task with as few interruptions as possible. As a result, they could (quite simply) get the job done to a high standard.

Help your admin get a hold of this feeling too! Not only can all your staff enjoy the flow state mindset, but automated workflows can spread this ultra-efficient mindset to your entire company. Thanks to smart automation switches and gentle inputs from the customer, one process flows into the next and into the next to provide a positive result for everyone involved. Easy.

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