4 steps to (partially) automate your virtual phone system

Rinkel collega Janine
Janine Wilbrink
update: 14 July 2022

Automation: One moment you’re telling your Sonos speaker to turn all your Philips Hue lights on in the living room; the next moment you tell your Apple Watch to play your cooking playlist from your iPad laying in the kitchen.

When you get into your car in the morning, your phone immediately connects to your Car Play-system. And just as you step into your car to go back home, your smart heating system turns on, making sure your house is warm and cosy from the second you set foot in the door. And every month on the 28th, your rent (or mortgage) is debited automatically. Easy.

These are all examples of automation in one way or another. You have more time, because the automations speed up the process, or eliminate repetitive tasks altogether.

At Rinkel, automation is one of the cornerstones of who we are. We have automated as much as we could from the very beginning back in 2015. And we still see benefits from automations we built back then.

So, we figured: Why not share a bunch of tips and tricks on how to get started with automation. We’ll answer questions like what are the advantages? How do you get started? And how do you automate your virtual phone system?

Continue reading to find out!

Vrouwelijke switchboard operators

Automation within the telecommunications industry throughout the years

Do you recognize this picture? You most likely don’t, although at the same time it is very likely you do understand what’s happening. Let’s call it a prime example of automation within the telecommunications industry.

Let's take a few steps back into history: back in the days, you had to call one central phone number within your area. You would get a switchboard operator on the line and tell them who you wanted to reach. They plug your call in the right place, ensuring the receiving phone rings at the right location.

In other words: an intermediary!

These intermediaries often had to tap into conversations, since they needed to know when the call ended, and unplug it.

An expensive way to go about making phone calls, and definitely not efficient. Nowadays, we can’t even imagine situations like this. Certainly not with the GDPR legislation on privacy.

Still, it’s interesting to refer to history to reflect on how far we have come.

Fun fact: Did you know that the last of these manual switchboards was in use until 1991? It was still used in a small city in rural California.

What are the advantages of automation?

At Rinkel, we believe that automation makes way for the growth of your company. It gives you more space and time to focus on other important tasks.

“If you have to do it twice... automate!”

Jeroen van Vierzen
CEO Rinkel

What does automation bring us at Rinkel?

  • Efficiency, as tasks perform themselves.
  • Fewer mistakes. Especially when you need to perform the same task repeatedly, mistakes slip through more easily.
  • Saves on costs, as you can focus on other tasks that bring in money.
  • It makes us happy, because really: who is happy doing the same tasks every week, day or month?
  • It’s scalable, because automations grow with you (if you implement them correctly). Sending 10 invoices by hand is easy, but if it’s a 1000 a day, then it’s a whole other story.

  • Of all these items, scalability is the most important to us. How do we make sure that something works for 10, 1,000 or even 100,000 customers.

Automations allow us to grow more easily and make the process go smoother.

Examples of processes and tasks we’ve automated

  • In our project management tool (Monday.com), we’ve automated several tasks to provide efficiency. Such as when a tasks status is changed to “Feedback necessary”, a notification is sent to the right person.
  • Certain parts of our website are also automated: every night we collect new reviews and publish them on Rinkel. When our review score changes, then it will also immediately change for example in the footer (at the bottom of this page)!
  • We’ve connected certain systems to speed up reporting, making sure data visualisations are updated in real-time. So, we always have an up-to-date report, saving us valuable time meddling around in Excel!
  • We have implemented tooling to test updates to our Webphone or mobile apps automatically. You see the tooling click around, testing everything it’s instructed to test. In the end, you will get a report depicting whether your update has passed all tests or still needs work.

An example of testing the Rinkel Webphone automatically, using Cypress.

How do you get started with automation?

Are you convinced? Good! Let’s roll up our sleeves, and dig into the real stuff: How to get started?

Let’s say you bought a video doorbell or Roomba. You grab one off the shelf at your local Media Markt, load it into your car and drive it home. You unbox it (and upload the process to YouTube or not) and set it up. More often than not, setting up only takes you a few minutes.

That is because these consumer products, such as your video doorbell, have been made as simple and user-friendly as possible.

This does not necessarily apply to business processes or products. You have something in mind, but don't know how (or if) you can automate it.

One thing is for sure: it usually takes a bit longer than a few minutes, and the complexity is on a whole different level.

So how does one go about to make a business automation? We’ve created a step-by-step process.

Step 1: Look back on your day
What task or process costs you the most time and returns little to no money? What kind of tasks have you completed that must be repeated daily, weekly, or monthly? Make a list of these things. Do this for a few days until you’ve written at least 5-10 things.

Tip: An easy way to monitor your day is to use a tool such as Toggl. You can compare it to a chess clock. It helps to visualize how long you work on different tasks throughout the day.

Step 2: Do global research
Of all the things on your list: How are you going to automate this? Can you do this yourself? Are there online tools available? Are you going to outsource this?

Estimate the complexity of the task. Is it entering data from your CRM to an Excel file (or vice versa)? Do your invoices need to be generated automatically?

These are examples of (normally) fairly simple tasks.

If multiple programs or steps are involved, that makes it more difficult. Do some research online and decide which strategy to choose for this automation. Do this for all items on your list.

Automate yourself: With a little knowledge of, for example Python, you can automate many small tasks. If you’re not yet familiar with this, it will just take a couple evenings to master. For example, by following a Udemy or Udacity course. The possibilities are almost endless and in a world in which IT is becoming increasingly important, it is interesting to dive into programming yourself!

Look for online tools: There are many different programs available that will do the programming for you, depending on your needs and budget. For example:

  • Zapier: General automation. Allows you to connect with more than 7,000 systems. Think of automating data entry in Excel, sending e-mails or setting notifications when you have brought in a new lead.
  • HubSpot: Automate your marketing and sales activities via HubSpot. Manage your sales funnels and personalize your workflows.
  • MailChimp: Send emails automatically according to your rules. Or use it to send your newsletters! 

Outsourcing automation: The great thing is: Once your automation is in place, it stays. At least for a few years. That is why outsourcing is also an interesting possibility to look at.

Our recommendation, if you choose this option: request information directly from a freelancer, as they are often cheaper than larger software companies.

Step 3: Prioritise
You now have a list and a rough idea of how you can automate this. So now: prioritise. You choose what factors to base your priorities on.

For example: How much time each task takes, how annoying you find them, or how easy it is to automate.

Step 4: Start automating
You know what you want to automate, how you are going to do it, and which has the highest priority.

You're ready: your first automation! It's now time to put everything in motion to get your automation running.

Tip: Don't drastically try to automate everything. Take a closer look at your most important processes and start there, step by step. Start small and expand later.

Automating your virtual phone system: What options do you have?

If your business phone is run through Rinkel, you can automate a lot. Just as simple as those Smart Home solutions we talked about in the beginning.

Let your business phone system work for you. With the professional features of Rinkel.

We'll take you through a few examples: 

  • Use the integrations: We've already tapped into it briefly: Zapier. This integrations tool allows you to link your Rinkel call data with many different apps, such as email tools, administrative tools and marketing tools.
  • ​​​​​​​Automate how and when you answer: Start every call with a professional welcome message, or under certain conditions forward calls directly to the answering service.
  • Set when calls are not allowed to come in: In the early morning, during your lunch, during weekend and/or in your evening. With the opening hours feature!
  • Set up a selection menu: Your callers will be transferred to the right place at once.

  • Conclusion? Automation is already a reality in more aspects than you realise! If you prepare well and know what you want to automate, it is all quite manageable. Especially when you start small and divide your automation into small pieces. Take the big picture and break it down into a few simple steps.

If you start automating now, you will benefit from it tomorrow. Makes you wonder how much you’ll benefit from it in a year, right?