Zapier is a service that connects cloud applications and automates data workflows. As a software company we could do this ourselves, but we decided to use an off the shelf solution instead. This article explains that rationale and will show you how we use Zapier to make our operations run smoother.
Cloud applications are great. But like any application, data in one application will inevitably be needed in another. As an example, at Array Digital we field support requests from our clients. The easiest way for clients to contact us is through email, so we encourage clients to email us at a dedicated support email address. Although email is great for clients, it’s not great for us because we need to track each of those requests to completion in our existing task tracking software. By default those two applications – email and task tracking systems – don’t share data the way we needed them to. When we first created the dedicated support email address we were copying the request from email and pasting it into our task tracking system. Manually copying and pasting is time consuming and error prone. It is very easy to make a mistake and miss an email. It’s never a good thing to rely on a human for automation.
What we needed was an integration so that when a support email arrived a support task would automatically be created. As a software company our natural inclination was to build our own integration. We have the skills to do so, but inevitably client work takes priority over internal projects and we pushed the integration off into the future (which never came to pass). Instead of bogging down our software developers we decided to try an off the shelf solution – Zapier.
Zapier itself is a cloud application hosted at zapier.com. Its purpose in life is to connect with other cloud applications via their Application Programming Interfaces (API) – a set of protocols that allow one program to share data with other programs and without human intervention. At present Zapier connects with over 750 different cloud applications including G Suite, Trello, Gmail, MailChimp, Facebook, QuickBooks, Evernote, Dropbox, Salesforce, Eventbrite, Office 265, GoToWebinar, PayPal and many more. Zapier has an easy to use graphic user interface allowing you to connect your cloud applications to one another. When something happens in one cloud application (aka an event) Zapier allows you to trigger an action (aka response) in another cloud application. Each one of those events/responses is referred to as a “zap”.
Here are several examples of how we are currently using Zapier to automate our workflow at Array Digital.
When a client emails our published support email address, the email is instantly turned into a GitHub Issue (our task tracking software), assigned to our continual support engineer, and flagged as ready for their attention. Zapier then replies to the sender’s email and includes the newly created support ticket number. We previously considered buying yet another application which specializes in help desk automation. But with Zapier we were able to reuse our existing tools and avoid the expense of buying more software. Also by reusing our existing tools we kept things simple for our folks and didn’t introduce yet another tool for them to use.
Our next step with this automation will be to monitor for the closing of support tickets and email back the requestor to let them know the work has been done. Right now we still have to do that manually.
When someone submits the Contact Us form on the website we use Zapier to automatically log it as a lead in our customer relationship management (CRM) tool – Freshsales. With a second zap we monitor our sales email account and automatically create a lead in Freshsales from the email. Finally, with a third zap we monitor Freshsales for any new leads that are created through our Contact Us form, email, or that we enter manually, and we send a response to the person with basic information about the company, a link to our brochure, and a promise that we’ll get back in touch with them very soon. Ironically, using automation adds the human touch to the initial phase of our sales process. More accurately, it allows for the human touch to be scaled and delivered at precisely the right time.
Building up our newsletter
We send a monthly newsletter to clients, prospects, and many other stakeholders. Every time a contact is created in Freshsales, we automatically add them to our newsletter application – GetResponse. This allows us to build up our audience without having to remember to enter contacts’ names and emails multiple times into different applications.
The most recent zap we created was for a task that we have to perform weekly. Our task tracking software – GitHub – does not have feature to create a task on a recurring basis so we created a zap that will do it for us. This particular task is a report due on Friday with follow-up work needed the next week. Every Friday at 10am Zapier is set to create a GitHub task and assigns it to the two people involved in creating and delivering the report by that afternoon. The pre-defined task description tells the first two assignees that after the report is sent they are to assign the task to a 3rd person who will take action as a result of the report. This was a complex series of events that was hard for people to remember. As an organization we had previously relied on (a) individual’s’ memory to initiate the complex tasking at just the right time, and (b) the undocumented habits of individuals to ensure we delivered when we said we would. With Zapier we now have a trackable task with notifications delivered at the right times to the right people to ensure we deliver on time.
Sometimes full blown custom software integrations are needed. But when they’re not, and when off the shelf solutions can provide what you need, then you should use those existing tools instead. Zapier has allowed us to implement the automations we needed to help our company run smoother. Although Zapier performs a lot of heavy lifting, it’s cheap. There’s a free version which limits the number of applications you can connect and zaps you can perform every month. Right now we’re still on the Starter plan which is only $20 a month and allows for up to 20 zaps and 1000 transactions a month. The tool is cheap, but you’ll still need to invest time, brain power, and elbow grease into figuring out the best way to connect your applications and to iterate through the best solution.
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