» When is an Email Reply Not an Email Reply?

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Guru, Alan Berg. Alan has over 20 years experience in wedding related sales and marketing, and is a member of the National Speakers Association, an author, and founder of The Wedding Industry Leaders Conference, an organization dedicated to the educating and consulting of highly motivated individuals and businesses. Learn more at http://alanberg.com/.

Auto-responders. Email replies. Out of Office messages. We get them every day. Some of us send them every day. But are they providing a good experience to the recipient? Does the person receiving these messages feel better about the interaction? Do any of us really need another email in our inbox?

I speak and consult with countless wedding and event Pros each year and I know that many of you like your auto-responders. You have them set up to reply to inquiries. You have them set up to reply whether you’re in the office or out. So, let’s turn the tables on you and see what experience you’re actually providing. When you’re the customer and you email a company you’ve never done business with, and you get an almost immediate email reply that says something like “Your message is very important to us. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” How does that make you feel? Do you feel like they’ve actually responded? Or is it just a validation that their computer has received your email?

When is an Email Reply Not an Email Reply?Where’s the value?

My simple philosophy on auto-responders or out of office messages is that they should add value to the recipient. Telling me that you’ve received my message adds no value for me. Saying that you’ll get back to me as soon as you can is a statement of the obvious. I hope you’d get back to me as soon as you can and not make me wait any longer than necessary.

What I’m looking for is information that I didn’t have before I sent you my email, or filled out your contact form. I only use an out of office reply when I’m out of my office for a full day, or longer. It states when I’ll be out, where I’ll be, gives information on my availability and how to get a message to me when it’s urgent, including my cell phone number. I’ve seen way too many messages that say to call for more information or faster service, and they don’t include the phone number. It also includes my full email signature with all of the included contact information.

Are you listening?

What about auto-responders that send information to whoever completes your contact form? Unless your system is sophisticated enough to only send what they asked for, and nothing more, then I’m not a fan. If you’ve heard me present on sales on a WeddingWire webinar, or at a live presentation, then you know that I’ve said not to answer questions they haven’t asked, and don’t send information they didn’t request. Your marketing materials can’t qualify a prospect, only you can. They’re already interested or they wouldn’t have made the inquiry. Show them that your company provides real, personalized customer service by actually replying, instead of reactively sending the same information to everyone, regardless of their need.

The good, the bad and the ugly

When I send out emails to my newsletter list I get dozens upon dozens of auto-responders and out of office messages. I’ve been saving them up to use for an article or post, just like this one. Here’s some of what I’ve gotten from real wedding and event pros, along with my thoughts on each:

“We will respond very soon.”

– That’s all it said. My thought on how to improve this is to get rid of it altogether. It serves no purpose and adds no value.

“Thank you for your interest in XYZ Properties. One of our coordinators will be contacting you shortly. If you would like to view our facilities please feel free to stop by anytime Mon. – Wed. from 10am – 6pm or Thurs.- Sat. from 10am – 3pm. Thank you again and have a great day!”

– I like that they include their hours, but how about including their address and phone number?

“Greetings,

Due to high workload, we are currently checking and responding to email M-F twice daily at 12n and 4p. Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness.  It helps us accomplish more to serve you better.”

– This one always bristles me as I’m wondering that if I email at 4:05pm I won’t hear back until at least after 12 noon the next day. They’d be better off not saying anything and just responding when they can. Trying to be more efficient and checking your email twice a day is fine, just don’t telegraph to prospects that it will be hours until they may get a reply. Customers don’t care how much you accomplish, unless it’s their job you’re working on.

“This email address no longer being monitored. Your email is not being forwarded and will not be answered.”

– If you can put on an auto-responder why can’t you just forward the email to the new email address? What if a past customer refers someone to them and gives out the only email address they had for you? Don’t you want the inquiry? Why wouldn’t you at least include the new email address? This screams, “Go away, we don’t want to do business with you.”

“Thanks for emailing us!  We will respond to your email within 3 business days.”

– Three business days? Are you kidding me? I don’t think I would want to do business with a company that is telling me that it may take three days for them to reply. I travel more than most people and I’m almost always able to reply by the next day, even when I’m out of the country. I pride myself on replying as quickly as I can, so this one really bothers me.

“I’m on Vacation and will be off the grid!! Any emergencies or if you wish to make a wedding payment you can phone the store and ask for Mary the bookeeper.

Thanks and Happy Planning”

– While I applaud her for taking some time off, telling me to phone the store without putting the phone number is inconvenient (oh, and bookkeeper is misspelled).

“Hi there – thanks for your email!

After watching me plan so many wonderful trips for my happy clients – my hubby started to get a little jealous – so we decided to finally take a vacation ourselves! I will be out of the office from Sat April 26 to Mon May 5th sailing the warm waters of the Caribbean!

I will have limited access to email/voicemail but my wonderful colleague Susan Smith will be here if there is something that cannot wait until the 5th! Her information is below.

 [Susan’s contact info was here]

Thanks – have a great week!

[this was followed by her name and contact info]

– I love the conversational voice here and the fact that she gives you not only the info, but also the contact info for the person who is covering for her. This is adding value.

Our lesson for today…

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m up on my soapbox a little here, but I know that I’m just voicing a common opinion I hear all the time, from wedding and event Pros like you. My rule of thumb with marketing is “If you don’t like something you see or experience when you’re the customer, don’t do that to your customers and prospects”. So, unless you yell “goody” every time you get an auto-responder, think twice about subjecting your prospects and customers to them. Ask yourself what you would want to happen if you were the customer. You’d probably just want a real person to get back to you as quickly as they can. That’s what’s expected, so you don’t have to send me that info.