Every time I reach out to a company for support and receive an auto-reply, I ask myself what this tells me about my relation to the company. What are they telling me about themselves and about me? Well, we send out auto-replies ourselves sometimes so let’s take a look at what makes sense and what doesn’t.

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Types of auto-replies

Here are the types of auto-replies I am receiving most often:

  1. after sending a support request to a dedicated email or through a form
  2. when someone is out of office
  3. when someone uses a service like Bitbounce that asks me to pay to deliver the email

How and when is each of them justified and when are they just irritating?

1. Support requests

The most illogical auto-reply I am receiving is the one where I am pointed into the direction of the manual.

What can happen now?

If I did indeed miss your manual then you did a bad job telling my about it before I reached out. So now I am going to that manual, maybe find the answer. Great. Is it? No, because your support staff doesn’t know that and will still spend time with my email and reply.

I could also feel offended by you reminding me about the manual if I checked it before sending in my manually typed support request.

There are also auto-replies mostly informing about the next step and some conditions, like the working hours of the support, which is helpful when you are in a different time zone. Though, this could also be done before sending in the request. E.g., when I know that they won’t reply soon anyway then I might try harder to look for a solution myself, especially, if it is urgent.

Needless to say that the support of our Advanced Ads plugin does not send out auto-replies when you contact us as a client. Our office hours are given at the top of the support form and we ask you to confirm that you looked for the solution in our manual before reaching out.

Well, there is an exception of the no auto-reply rule. Maybe three times a year we have holidays where we are not as responsive as usual. Since different cultures have different holidays, we enable the auto-reply during that period just to let users know about it. Their reaction is always positive and understanding.

I can think of one reason for a constant auto-reply that might help both parties: asking users to confirm if their problem was solved already. To me, it would make sense if it was sent with a delay, especially during out-of-office hours. So the user might have had time to solve the problem and then our support wouldn’t need to work on it later. Just that idea might have made writing this post worth it.

We do have a semi-automatic auto-reply set up in Help Scout for non-clients, i.e., users of our free plugin. Since email support is part of the paid plans, we have a notice with a canned reply popping up if someone did not verify the license or is a known client. This reply is only sent manually though since we skip it if the user reaches out about a general bug, about something unrelated to the plugin, or is a client who used a different email address.

2. Out-of-office emails

These emails are ok and might be important if I contact someone directly and they are away for more than a few days.

Think about the following before you set them up:

Anyone sending out emails in a newsletter with your email address in it might also see your reply. I can speak from experience. Whenever we send out an email to our newsletter, we have to clean up our inbox from auto-replies.

Yes, we could use a noreply email address, but that would make it harder for users to reach us directly.

While cleaning up once after we send out a newsletter is ok, it is not when you signed up for our automated onboarding emails. If you have a constant auto-reply enabled (and some users do) then we will receive it every time when you get our email.

We have two options now: we unsubscribe you from the newsletter or we block your emails using a manually set up spam filter. We currently tend to unsubscribe you because setting up manual rules takes time since we don’t want to block you completely in case you ever need support.

3. Using a service like Bitbounce

Bitbounce is a service that blocks emails from your inbox and asks the sender to pay a small amount in order to deliver the email. Or how they define it on their website:

BitBounce is an email paywall that blocks spam and lets you get paid to receive marketing emails from businesses who what to reach you.

I bet this can help to keep your inbox clean. However, if we receive a request from them as a reaction to a newsletter that you signed up to then we just unsubscribe you from any list. We could also block that email but then we wouldn’t know if you receive our replies when you ever contacted our support directly since it uses the same sender as the newsletter, intentionally.

I ended up using “you” here. Please see it as an invite to discuss, not complaining about what you are actually doing with auto-replies. There is no black and white here so let’s see what we can learn from each other.

The Author

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