What You Should--And Should Not--Say in Your Email Auto-Responder

Last Updated Oct 30, 2011 10:46 PM EDT

Email auto-responders are an everyday annoyance. Half the messages I send every day, it seems, trigger some sort of automated response at the other end. Common mechanical replies include "thanks for your mail, I'll get to it soon," "expect a reply in the next 24 hours," and "I'm on vacation." What auto-responses work well, and which are merely annoyances? Here are some tips, culled in part from Lifehacker's How to Effectively Use Email Auto-Responders Without Being Annoying, for making effective and appreciated automatic replies.

What You Shouldn't Say
Here are some trite replies you should purge from your auto-responder text:
  • I have received your mail. This is a strange one because it's both patently obvious and not entirely true. Yes, your mail program got the message. But you personally probably haven't seen it yet.
  • Thank you for your message. This is kind of disingenuous and just wastes space in the recipient's inbox.
  • I'll read your message as soon as possible. This has the dubious distinction of being somewhat obvious and completely unhelpful, as it provides no timeframe to expect a reply.
What You Should Do
  • Tell them why you aren't replying promptly. Are you out sick? On vacation? Heads-down on a huge project? If there will be an unexpected delay in email replies, it's a good business practice to say so.
  • Tell them how soon to expect a reply. If you usually get back to people within a day or so, don't say that unless you actually work in customer service and it's important to inform customers how soon you'll get back to them. Instead, assume a standard 1-2 day turnaround on email,. And only indicate a timeframe if it's an unusual circumstance. In that case, be as specific as possible: "I'll return to the office on Monday and will reply to all messages by end of day Wednesday."
  • Be brief. As I've mentioned many times, brevity is a valued asset when writing email, and doubly so in an auto-responder. Since it's a generic reply, get to the point.

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