5 steps to turn the approval process via email from a headache to a smooth workflow

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In this article, we’d like to talk to you about the approval process via email.

It’s the Nemesis of modern business, really. We’ll set the scene by describing how email approval workflow looks in practice today, what issues it presents, and of course, we’ll offer a solution that will make the email approval process nice and smooth.

So, let’s start!

Email approval process and its issues

What can be the subject of an approval request?

  • Expenses (such as business meeting in a restaurant with a prospective client)
  • Time off for your employees
  • Corrections to the contracts with subcontractors
  • Marketing emails
  • Social media posts
  • Access requests (to a certain database or room)
  • Meeting room reservation 

This list really is endless, and often the answer is required RIGHT NOW.

But we all know how it works, right? You send an email to whoever is responsible for what you want approved and wait for… minutes, hours, days?

Facts that will 100% discourage you from managing your approvals in your email without automation:

  1. The average person receives around 100-120 emails daily, even without including spam…
  2. After 48 hours, there’s little chance of a response. There’s a 90% likelihood that you’ll get a response within a day or two if the recipient is going to reply. (USC Viterbi School of Engineering research)
  3. Writing long emails may cause someone to skim over your message. And if it feels too cumbersome to read and reply, you may not get a response at all. (USC Viterbi School of Engineering research)
  4. Over half (58%) of employees say they’ve sent an email to the wrong person. (Tessian research)
  5. The average open rate for all industries is 18%. (Campaign Monitor, 2021) 

So, getting a prompt response to your approval request becomes a matter of luck.

Roughly about 120 incoming emails a day: system emails, marketing spam, automatic messages from random websites…

Have you noticed how quickly your brain learns to filter them out? You end up barely looking at your inbox to know exactly which ones to open and which ones go straight to trash. But sometimes we delete things by accident. Or just miss one or two messages out of 120.

All those things combined give your approval request pretty low chances to be seen. Now, let’s add one more human factor here. If you’re working for a small company with, for example, ten-eleven employees, that problem probably does not touch you. But what if it’s a 1000+ employees corporation? One just might send a request to a WRONG PERSON. That’s completely normal: people can’t possibly know what each and every human in your company is responsible for, but you’re still losing money. 

Approval workflows are important. Keeps you in touch with what’s happening inside your company. Few examples of what can be the subject of an approval request:

One can also simply forget to mention some details that are important for the approval of this request. And then this wonderful emailing back and forth happens. And we’re back to 120 emails a day…

The most expensive thing for a business is always human hours. And instead of using them efficiently for the benefit of the company, your employee is getting blocked by a pending approval request and is just sitting there scrolling the news feed with a sad face. It’s a constant source of stress for your workers, it influences their productivity.

To turn your approval process into a smooth stress-free workflow, you will have to make some changes in the way you approach it. 

The first thing that comes to mind is to directly address the issues. So, our five steps will be contingent on the most often occurring troubles a typical approval process creates. 

Making it work perfectly without automation apps will be tricky. But trying is never a bad thing! 

5 steps to build a smooth and transparent approval workflow:

1. The issue: Overlooked approval requests.

The solution:

Make it obvious that the message (in email or any other communication channel) contains an approval request. Make sure requests get to the right person.

How to achieve without an automation app: 

Develop a guideline on writing approval request emails and spread it among your teammates. Include in it the list of the designated approvers and their areas of responsibility. 

2. The issue: Approval requests are scattered all over your inbox.

The solution:

Keep all approval requests in one place: limited to ONE communication channel, properly stored and logged. 

How to achieve without an automation app: 

Issue a memo that restricts approval requests to a single communication channel (for example, email). Requests submitted via any other communication channel CAN NOT be processed. 

3. The issue: Approval requests with insufficient information.

The solution:

Make sure the approval requests have all the information necessary to make a decision. Do not allow submitting the request unless all the required information has been provided

How to achieve without an automation app: 

In this case, emailing back and forth is, unfortunately, unavoidable. If any data are missing from the email, the approver will have to request them by answering the message. Make sure those emails are joined into a chain. 

4. The issue: Forgotten requests.

The solution:

Remind the approvers about pending requests. Send reminders as often as the priority of the approval request requires. 

How to achieve without an automation app: 

Requestors will have to make the reminders manually, there’s no other efficient way that does not involve automation apps. 

5. The issue:  No tracking or accountability whatsoever in the approval process.

The solution:

Track approval process-related KPI and record approval history. All additional information, comments, and discussions that happened after the request was submitted for approval need to be attached to the request and stored together with it.

How to achieve without an automation app: 

Create a Google sheet where all requests will be copied upon completion by a responsible team member. This sheet will play the part of approval history.

Make a separate tab for each department. If the request contained file attachments, add links to them to the logs. Attach screenshots of the approval/rejection email to the history to avoid any misunderstandings. 

That doesn’t sound so easy…

You’ll find it hard to do it all manually: it won’t save you much time or money, on the contrary, your teammates will have tasks added to their workload. Very routine tasks, too. 

That’s why automation is the best solution.

There are plenty of workflow automation apps you can use; the most important thing is that the app you choose has all the features you need to resolve your approval process issues. 

You can manage your approval process via email, or take it to any other day-to-day communication channel your team uses (like Slack).

Setting up an automated approval workflow takes only a couple of minutes, and you only have to do it once.

As a result, you will get:

  • Approval requests that are clear, concise, and easy to process.
  • An approval process, set up in a way that the request goes to the right person automatically. 
  • Customizable approval forms that will ensure that the approval request contains all the information required for its processing.
  • Automatic reminders about pending requests for approvers to make sure no request is forgotten.
  • Recorded approval history with all the details that will be available for your audit at any moment.

    Moreover, new approval solutions on the market offer many additional features you might find useful! 

Approveit, for example:

  • Allows you to import your organizational structure, so you could assign approvers based on their role in the company;
  • Works right from Slack in case you decide to move your approvals away from email;
  • Offers Integrations to automate your post-approval actions;
  • Lets you add multiple approval steps and trigger some of them only when a certain condition is met;
  • Records approval history that you can download in .csv or .xlxs at any point;
  • Lets you create and assign tasks in case an action is required after the request was approved.

Here’s what one of Approveit clients has achieved:

“We had rough estimations for how the approval processes should speed up, but real numbers exceed all our expectations. Expense approval request processing has sped up by 80%. By freeing up so many collective hours we save ~ 300K$ annually. I’m genuinely impressed, especially considering that we’ve spent about 15 minutes total to set it up. Recommended!”Leo Yanchuk, President at Clearview

You can start using Approveit right now and for free:

7-day Free Trial and Free Plan are available.  

Give it a go! Who knows, maybe you’ll also end up saving 300K$ annually.

Get started with Approveit!

Anthony Zharsky
Anthony Zharsky

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