Sunday, May 6, 2012

Is your Out-Of-Office message losing you business while you're out of the office?

Why even bother with an automated out-of-office e-mail message?

As you think of reasons, let's roll into the blog post.

I received this message recently:

I am out of the ffice on business and have limited access to emails.  I will return on MArch 12.

That was the entirety of the message.

First, let's discuss the typos...

Is this an example of your attention to detail?  If so, then perhaps I'm glad I am not currently using or referring your services.  Or, if I am, you just lost some credibility in my eyes. 

Even without the typos, there is plenty more to dislike.

1) It's all about you.  If you know me, you've heard the following rule: Never start any communication with the word 'I.' Not saying you need to add the insipid "Your e-mail is important to me..." beginning, but perhaps there is another way to start this auto-reply?

2) I received this on May 4th.  Did he mean "May 12" or did he not revise the auto-reply before re-enabling it? I'll never know. However, May 12th is a Saturday, so I have a good guess.

3) Sucks to be me. OK, I now know you are away.  What should I do if I need something from you or your company during this period? I guess I can call the main line (painful … and not part of your auto-reply, so I have to hunt even for that) or hope you find time to reply during your limited access. In either case the e-mail only serves to solve #1 below.  Not very useful.  And not at all customer-centric.

Amazingly, many out-of-office messages have typos.  And some really bad ones.   I've seen the word 'business' misspelled by a business advisor. I've seen the company name misspelled. (This is more common than you might think.) And, more often, I've seen out-of-office messages that were clearly written for a previous absence, since the dates are old or apply to a prior year.
Tip #1: Proofread your messages!
Tip #2: Check the dates on your calendar.
Now back to the original question:  Why even bother with an automated out-of-office message? 

Here are the top two things your message should communicate to the recipients:

1) Do not expect a fast reply, and 
2) Here's what you can do in the interim.

If your out-of-office message fails to deliver both of these, then you should strongly consider revising it.

And here's a third:

3) Even though I am out-of-the-office, you are smart for using/hiring us. 

Some people add a 'why' or 'where' to the message, such as "...presenting at..." or "...helping a client with..." This shows they are active and/or attentive.

Some others add the heart-warming " vacation..." mention.  A recent one I received let recipients know he was taking his daughter on a tour of colleges, which made me think very highly of him. Others might be annoyed, but I thought better of him and it gave me something to talk to him about when we communicated next.

On the plus side, I've read some strong out-of-office messages that either made me laugh or were written in a way that made me hear the sender's voice.  That being said, some read like small novels and, well, that can be hit or miss.  Especially if the banter buries the "Here is who you can contact in the meantime" portion.

Perhaps there is a chance to show some creativity, as you might do with your voice mail message?

To end: Your out-of-office message is your representative while you are away.  Think of what you want it to communicate while you sip that Mai Tai or slide your rollercase into the overhead bin.

At least, fix your typos and let me, your potentially important client or prospect, know what I can do in your absence.  


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