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Musings from Mike Atkinson on Internet strategy, usability, and more...

Email autoreplies - good, bad, ugly

After 12 years of running email lists and email marketing programs, I’ve seen a lot of autoreplies, the convenient tool for notifying a sender that you won’t see their email for a while.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of bad autoreplies, prompting me to create a Hall of Shame. Sometimes you learn more from seeing bad examples than good ones. (Note: I have not corrected any errors in them. You get them as is. And I guarantee that they are all for real!)

So in that spirit, here are some tips about email autoreplies:

Be brief

This person needs to understand that autoreplies should be simple, short messages, not indepth marketing brochures:

This is an automatic Auto-Response. Hello, and thank you for contacting me! I have received your e-mail and will be responding to your request as soon as possible. If you’re considering buying or selling a house, selecting a a real estate agent is the first important decision you will have to make. While there are many qualified real estate agents out there, it’s important to decide on a professional who will understand your needs and individual preferences, someone who you can respect and trust. Nearly four out of five homeowners and sellers enlist in the help of a real estate professional. Whether you’re looking to buy a new home or sell the one you’re in, choosin g a professional who best fits your needs is vital. Here are some questions to consider when choosing an agent: – How long have they been a real estate professional? (Bob) Fourty two years (TRUNCATED: There were 169 more words to this message! ack)

But don’t be as brief as these jewels:

I received your message.

hola

Thank you for your email. (You’re welcome. Now what?!)

Lets stay in contact. (Cool. Why?)

This is an autoresponder. I’ll never see your message. (This was from a church!)

Be clear

Brevity is important, but so is clarity:

Out of message range. Will return on Thursday 9/28. (What is “message range”? Are they in an air raid shelter that has no Internet connection?)

I will be out of the office on routine off days until May 28th. (What the heck are “routine” days off?!)

I am on PTO through October 6th, with no access to email. (PTO?)

Be helpful

As in so much of business communication, setting expectations is critical, especially for email autoreplies. Here are some good examples:

Back Wednesday September 26th. (Short, but sweet.)

Stuart [last name] will be traveling until April 27, 2006, prior to which it is unlikely that he will be able to access e-mail or voice messages.

Replies to emails and phone calls will be delayed. However, I will do my best to respond to all on the day they are received.

If your e-mail requires a response, an agent should be in touch with you soon.

Tuesday, September 26th: I will be on a conf call from 8-9am. Please be patient with email reply. (An autoreply for an hour? Wow.)

I’ll do my best to reply to you within 20 minutes during normal business hours. (Wow, a 20 minute autoreply! Is it even worth it?)

Be nice

You can let potential or current customers know how important they are in very little space:

Thank you for your email. I am out of the office. Your message is very important and I will respond as soon as possible. Thanks again – Rob.

Serving you is important to me. I will be in touch very soon to help.

Be accurate

Please, oh please spell check your message! You’ve already seen some examples above – here are some more:

I am out of the office until mid-motning Tuesday September 26th

Your message has been recieved and is waiting to be opened.

Thank you for visiting My web site, If you did’nt find anything you liked, please visit my other site at username@domain.com for the most up to-date listings. (How can you visit an email address?)

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN OUR COMPANY. A REAL ESTATE PROFESSIONAL WILL BE CONTACTING YOU WITHIN 24 HOURS. (Stop screaming!)

Be accommodating

If you’re going to be gone for a while (or even just a day!), give them an alternate contact. They really may need immediate attention:

I will be out of the office until Tuesday July 11. If you need assistance this week please e-mail Brook [last name] at username@domain.com or Dean [last name] at username@domain.com.

I will be out of town and out of email contact until Wednesday March 15th. An associate will monitor and respond to important and urgent email in my absence. Thank you for your patience with our response. If this is an urgent matter or if you wish to speak with someone in our office directly before you are contacted please call [phone number].

Thanks for contacting me. I check my email multiple times during the day. So you can expect a more detailed response shortly. If you haven’t already done so, please take a look at our website [website address].

Thank you for your request. I will respond to you just as quick as I can! If its not fast enough, please feel free to call me at anytime directly at: [phone number]

Be discreet

Some folks insist on TMI:

In Scotland. Will not check for voice or email. Contact Lea [last name] with questions. (I don’t need to know where you are. And, yes, I AM jealous!)

During the week of Sept. 18 and again the week of Sept. 25, I will be attending conferences (with a little vacation time mixed in) and therefore not in the office most of those two weeks. (Can’t you just say I’ll be out for two weeks?)

I am currently out of the office due to gall bladder surgery. (Oh my.)

My blackberry is broken and my computer is crashed, so I am unable to retrieve email messages. Please only contact me by phone at [phone number]. (That much info isn’t necessary, but it did increase the sympathy quotient)

AUTOREPLY AWARDS

Funnest Award:

If you see this, I am probably spinning pirouettes in the Philippines right now. But, hey, it’s all in a day’s work yeah? If you have urgent mumbo jumbo, please send them enquires on to username@domain.com. Otherwise, I will get back to you once I am done with mamboing in Manila by March 28.

Makes-You-Say-”Hmmm” Award:

Aloha, I am busy enjoying the AFTERLIFE at the moment, Therefore, I WILL NOT BE READING OR RESPONDING TO ANY MORE EMAIL in the foreseeable future.

Most-Needing-to-Change-Name Award:

This is Bob Boob,the real estate guy, replying back to an email you just sent me. Sorry for the inconvenience, but my email has changed to realestateboob@domain.com.

Don’t-Use-a-Photo-in-Your-Autoreply Award. (Ever.):

That’s it for the Autoreply Hall of Shame. Now, just one last suggestion…don’t forget to TURN OFF the autoreply when you return. (Oh, how many times I’ve messed that up!)

And here’s a good list of what to do as well.

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