Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to avoid common mistakes and create a good automatic reply

The difference between the usual email and an automatic response is that the latter is much more annoying for the original sender. Not only it says, "Sorry, you need to wait for the answer" but also bears the same negative experience for the end user as the automated phone system or the answering machine - it is not from a human being.

To minimise this bad impression, it is good to create your automated reply according to the usual email etiquette and using a bunch of tips described below.

  • Make the response short and concise. Include only the most important information - nobody likes to read an elaborate email just to learn that it was received or that it'll be answered after you are back from your annual holiday.
  • Make sure to include an alternative contact for urgent matters. Whether it is your supervisor or your colleague it is good to include their phone number or email address. After their consent of course.
  • Avoid obvious and usual sentences. Responding with "I have received your email" is stating something that obviously happened. Even if it's automatic message from the customer support mailbox it's better to write something less "duh", such as e.g. "Your email is being currently processed by our mailing/CRM system". 
  • Do not promise a reply "As Soon As Possible". ASAP means that the original sender should receive a message from you within a couple of minutes. Or hours. Or days. Unless it is an OOF message and you know when you are back in the office it is better to avoid ASAP. However, if you really want the sender to know when she or he should expect you reply it is better to state "I'll respond within next 24 hours". 
  • Inform why the automatic response is sent. The most common statement used in auto responses is "This is an automatic message". It is good to put it right at the beginning of your email together with a short explanation why it's the automatic response. E.g. "This is an automatic message from our CRM/mailing system", "This is an Out Of Office message", or "This is an automatic reply - your order has been received".
  • Make the reply a bit funny. A good joke or funny statement can remove some of the bad experience. Make your recipient smile with e.g. " I am away for three weeks as I joined the circus." or " I cannot reply at this moment - someone stole my keyboard." Keep in mind however that this kind of funny message might create a completely opposite effect, depending on cultural differences or the urgency of the message. Make sure to not annoy your recipient with rude or too elaborate jokes. 
  • Take time difference into consideration. If you receive messages from different spots around the globe, let them know about the time difference by adding the time zone abbreviation (GMT, EST, etc.), or even a link to the online time converter.
  • Inform about your availability. If you are not working 24/7 then it is good to schedule your autoresponder's activity periods. Also adding "I am available between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm." to the message is a good practice.
  • Write a message you would like to receive. This is the ultimate hint - try to recall all the worst autoresponder messages you received and create an honest, straight to the point and informative mail that you would love to receive.
Nobody likes to receive an automatic response, especially when waiting for the real reply. With the above tips and common sense you can create the autoresponder that won't leave the original message sender stranded or frustrated, and also saving your good reputation.