Not here and don’t care

As someone who sends out an email to nearly 1,000 people in business every day, I get a lot of “out of office” emails. An awful lot. I got to thinking about this the other day when I wrote about voicemail. If you use “out of office” autoresponders, do you actually tell your correspondents anything useful? I would say that every such email should contain four things:
[1] A notice saying you’re not there, which is why you’re not replying;
[2] When you’ll be back;
[3] Who else people could contact to answer their query; and
[4] A timely sales message. Never miss the opportunity to get in a sales message.

I had a look at the “out of office” emails in my inbox (there are hundreds, but fortunately they have phrases in common, so I can automatically filter them). All covered the first item above, and nearly every one said when the recipient was going to be back. But something like 75% didn’t say who else might be able to help, and almost none used the opportunity to include a promotional message.

This was a typical example: “I am out of the office until Monday the 27th of September. I will reply to your mail on my return. Regards (etc)”. Nice to know there’ll be a reply then, I suppose, although possibly far too late for my query. Might our correspondent be checking his email in the meantime? We don’t know. Who else can we contact? No idea. Interestingly, it was quite common for people to give the name of a colleague, but then quote just a telephone number for them. That’s OK, but as the enquirer’s preferred method of communication was email, why not give the colleague’s email address?

So what does a good “out of office” message look like? Here’s one which ticked all the boxes for me:
“I am away and will not be able to read your email until Monday 3 October. If your correspondence is of a technical nature, my colleague [name, email] will do his best to help, or if it’s order-related, [name, email] should be able to answer any queries. They’re also available by telephone via our reception on [telephone].
Kind regards [name].
Visiting ScanLab 2010? Why not come and see us on Stand [no]?”

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