Do’s and Don’ts for Using an Auto-Responder

Photo By: Danard Vincente (Flickr)

Email auto responders are an important business tool… as long as you’re using it correctly!

Dos and Don’ts for Using an Auto-Responder

You know them well; we all use them: email auto responders. They’re an incredibly handy tool for any businessperson, unless you annoy the heck out of your recipients with them! The concept of an email auto responder is a great one; you need to let your clients know why you haven’t responded to their email. Clients get annoyed when they receive an email auto response, however, because they want your reply to their email right away. It’s a double-edged sword, so here are dos and don’ts to soften the email auto responder blow.

DO: Explain Why Your Customer is Receiving an Auto Response. It bears repeating. Your customers are going to be slightly annoyed to really ticked off that they are receiving an auto response to their email. You deserve a vacation, especially around the holidays, but customers don’t always see that. They want your attention and they want it now! So, make certain that you explain to your customers why they are receiving the computer-generated reply. If you’re going on vacation, tell them; if you’re on a business trip, tell them; if you’ve given up email for lent, tell them! Most customers are reasonable, and if they know why you can’t give them your undivided attention at that particular moment, they’ll simmer down and be patient… but only if you do the next do.

DO: Include the Dates You are Out of the Office. You’ve simmered down your customers by letting them know that you’re on a much-needed vacation, but you also need to say how long you’re going to be gone. This is important for two reasons. First, your customers are simply going to want to know, whether it’s their business or not. Second, your customers need to know when you’re returning so they can assess whether they can wait for you to address their concern, or if they should contact somebody else within your company. Oh, and third, it’s polite – plain and simple. Include the dates you are going to be out of the office in your auto response email.

DO: Include Alternate Contacts. So, let’s assume for a moment that you are going to be gone for an extended period of time and your number one client needs something addressed prior to your return date. This will be a disaster if you don’t include an alternate person who your customers can contact during your away time. You’ve most likely delegated some of your responsibilities to various colleagues anyway; make certain that you also designate a person in your absence to aid your customers who cannot wait until you return. Include your alternate contact’s email address and phone number(s).

DO: Say It All Concisely. I harp on this all the time but don’t write War and Peace in your out of office auto response. Remember, your customers are mad you aren’t in to help them, don’t make them see red – unless it’s Red Sox red! – by writing a four paragraph diatribe on why you aren’t around! People rarely read past the first few lines of an email, so keep your auto response reply brief and to the point. You’re out of the office from x-date to y-date on a business trip; contact such-and-such at email/phone if the need is immediate; otherwise, you’ll respond within x-amount of hours upon your return. Boom! Done!

DON’T: Use a Vague Return Response Timeframe. I love it when I manage to write a good segue into my blog posts, and I did it here! You’ll notice the last line of my sample auto response above gave an anticipated time your customer can expect a return response. This is important, because your customers know when you’re returning to the office and they’ll automatically expect your response to be the minute you get in on your return date… not always realistic! Don’t further annoy your customers by saying you’ll get back to them within 24 hours. Give them specifics. If you’re returning on Jan. 2 and plan to reply to all of your emails that day, tell them you’ll reply by business day’s end Jan. 2… and then make sure you do it!

DON’T: Use Generic and Annoying Verbiage. Thank you for your email… I am currently out of the office… I am unable to respond to your email right now… ugh! What’s wrong with these statements? Let me tell you. Thank you for your email, or any derivative of that, wastes space and is even insulting in some cases. If a customer just went off on you in his or her email, he or she is not going to want to receive a “thank you note.” What’s wrong with the other statements and derivatives of them? Thank you, Caption Obvious. Your customer just received an auto reply. Enough said!

DON’T: Respond to Your Emails While You’re Out of the Office. It might be tempting to just handle a few emails while you’re in the airport waiting for your flight or sitting in your hotel room waiting for your significant other to get ready for dinner, but don’t. Why? It’ll save you time when you get back to work! That’s your favorite client and you really want to keep him or her happy! Because your customer might reply to your reply and, guess what, get another auto response email. Don’t forget, you’ve got your auto responder turned on, so every time you get a new email, it’s going to send out auto response.

DON’T: Forget to Turn the Auto Response Off. Another segue! Whoop! Whoop! And when you get back into the office, grumbling because you had a wonderful time and don’t want to go back to work, do not, whatever you do, forget to turn off your auto responder. It might be tempting to leave it on for a couple of days while you get caught up, or you might genuinely forget it’s on, but do whatever it takes to remind yourself to turn it off the minute you turn on your computer. Your customers know you’re back and they’re going to get really angry if they get an auto response two days after your return.

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