Businesses are finding it challenging to find qualified labor to satisfy returning customers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings reached a series high of 8.1 million in March 2021, the most recent survey. Yet last month, only 266,000 jobs were filled. Economists had expected more than one million hires.

It’s not totally a labor shortage. It’s also a reassessment of the way people want to work. According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of unemployed workers have “seriously considered changing their occupation or field of work.” Workers want more than paychecks; they want careers that provide purpose and meaningful connections. That’s a topic we will tackle more fully in a separate column.

For now, what if I told you that you could do more with your current employees? To accomplish this, you must first develop solid and detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs). SOPs are the specific expectations each employee needs to know and meet so they (and the business) can be successful. SOPs give you and your employees solid direction and assures that things will get done your way, while allowing your team to confidently take on responsibilities and have workplace autonomy.

It is imperative that every business review and document its SOPs. Don’t assume your employees already know these steps. If a business doesn’t guide workers through this, the employees must repeatedly ask managers how they want something to be done. This results in inconsistent deliverables, reduced delivery time, frustrated employees, and a considerable time commitment.

It might be beneficial to outsource some of your SOPs. For example, Natalie is an operations manager at a Dalton-based service firm. She uses BambooHR, a human resources experience platform, to track and approve vacation time. Tina of a Lee-based manufacturing firm, uses ServiceNow (a software service that offers a cloud computing platform to help companies manage digital workflows) to show employees how to do everything from answering the phone to launching a product.

Tina creates the product, and her employees refer to the ServiceNow workflows to follow the process of pre-launch, launch, delivery and follow-up. In both cases, SOPs reduce the need for hiring additional employees or costly consultants. And they reduce confusion among your employees.

Even better than SOPs is automation, using computers to follow instructions with limited human involvement. Depending on your business, the choice of machinery can be particular. For today, I’ll broaden the conversation from robots to cyborgs. The use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can help your people do more with less possibility of human error.

Paul, whose California-based company, Bespoke Collection, sells wine, uses his Salesforce CRM to increase repeat sales. Paul remarks, “When someone makes a purchase with us, the next morning at 10 o’clock, they automatically get a personalized e-mail. … By placing emphasis on relationship-based sales instead of transaction-based, we’re able to increase customer retention and satisfaction, referrals and order value.”

Robin’s Sturbridge-based consulting firm uses a CRM for her complex sales cycle. A lead moves into her CRM when they are upgraded to a prospect. The CRM tracks conversations and emails and uses keywords to automate curated drip emails. The CRM distributes a report to the sales team, prioritizing follow-up based on urgency and the project’s scope.

The CRM then kicks off an onboarding sequence when a prospect becomes a client. A handoff from the salesperson to the assistant occurs, who can then prepare the necessary paperwork. The CRM prompts the assistant to schedule the appropriate meetings, as dictated by keywords, consumers’ preferences and a series of if/then considerations.

Effective CRM use improves customer satisfaction due to curated solutions while requiring fewer marketing hours. It allows the sales team to operate more efficiently, so you need fewer workers handling the same number of leads. And it reduces the time required for administrative work.

Depending upon the size of your small business, using SOPs and a CRM could save you anywhere from one to 100 full-time equivalents. Your firm would then be more profitable and less distracted from trying to find your next potential hire.

This article originally appeared in The Berkshire Eagle on May 22, 2021.