4 Auto Reply Messages for Business & Support
Auto replies are useful for a variety of situations. For when people dare reach out to you during your holidays; for customer support enquiries; or for people who are simply swamped with emails.
But what does a professional auto reply message look like? No matter the scenario, every auto reply should contain the below four best practices. Here are some examples that you can tailor to your own use case.
One main point of auto replies is setting expectations. When can the other side reasonably expect an answer? In a study on the psychology of waiting lines, it's shown that a known wait feels shorter than an unknown wait.
But especially in customer support, you find many auto reply emails lacking a specification about the estimated time to response. "We'll get back to you as soon as possible" isn't very reassuring.
Instead, underpromise and overdeliver. For example by specifying that you'll "get back within 24 hours", and responding within just a few hours.
A common mistake in out-of-office replies is stating that you might check your email now and then. That resolution is easily neglected when sipping Daiquiris on a tropical beach. So instead of giving false hopes, again it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver: "I won't be able to check my email until my return."
Transparency is another valuable ingredient to add to auto replies. This is mainly due to the power of the because justification. In a famous Harvard University study, the researchers asked people waiting in line to use the printer whether they could cut in line. They used three variations of the question:
- "Hello. I have 5 pages. May I use the machine?"
- "Hello. I have 5 pages. May I use the machine, because I'm in a rush?"
- "Hello. I have 5 pages. May I use the machine, because I need to print?"
Option 2 (94% success rate) naturally beats option 1 (60%); you can empathize with someone in a rush. The real surprise came from the minimal difference between options 2 (94%) and 3 (93%).
This study shows our lenience towards lame excuses. Which also showed up in the above-mentioned research on the psychology of waiting lines. Besides known waits feeling shorter than their unknown counterparts, explained waits felt shorter than unexplained ones.
This suggests that for out-of-office emails, instead of stating that you're on vacation and will check your emails again on a specific date, you could go further and indicate specifically why you're not able to check your emails. Say, because you're sailing and have no access to internet.
For support auto replies, it works to indicate what happens to the customer request. For example: "Thanks for reaching out! Our support team will look at it and forward to the most suitable person."
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Such a sentence also plays into the labor illusion. In this Harvard research, participants were asked to rate a search website for airline flights. Website A showed instant results, while website B took 30 - 60 seconds to show results. Website B, however, showed all the websites that were being crawled.
Even though it took longer, website B received higher ratings. This shows the power of transparency, of seeing the work that goes into solving your request.
3Include alternative contact options
A third must-have element of any auto reply is a section for alternative contact options. For out of office replies that means offering the email address of a colleague or your generic support team. For support auto replies that means adding info about other contact options, like live chat or a phone number.
4Speak like a human
Even more than with normal emails, in autoresponders many have the tendency to use overly 'professional' language. I imagine that's because you don't know who it will be sent to, but ‘unhuman’ language is never a good idea.
The latest example from an autoresponder I received: "I will endeavour to get back to you as soon as I can." Endeavour? Who talks like that?
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Customer support sample
Thanks for reaching out! Our support reps will check your message and forward it to the best person when necessary. We'll get back to you within 48 hours.
If your issue can't wait, you can also reach us via live chat on www.website.com/en/ or call 555-555-5555.
Out of office sample
I'm enjoying a holiday at sea and will be off the grid until the 15th of January! I'll get back to you that week. You could also reach out to my colleagues via email@example.com.
Thanks for your patience and talk to you then!
Sample for busy people
I hadn't considered an alternative scenario for auto reply messages until I read Tim Ferriss' bestseller The 4 Hour Work Week, which shares strategies and tactics for 'escaping the 9 to 5'. Since emails are a notorious waste of professional working hours, Tim makes extensive use of autoresponders. This is a sample from the book that he claims has worked across 30+ languages:
Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],
Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12:00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4:00 P.M. ET.
If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12:00 P.M. or 4:00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.
Sample for live chat support
At Userlike, the live chat solution for website and mobile support, we offer an auto reply feature for when it takes longer than usual to answer a chat. Say you're already chatting with four customers and another chat comes in. You can set your inactivity mode to send out an auto reply after a defined time. For example:
Sorry to keep you waiting! It's very busy in the chat at the moment, but I'll be with you within 3 minutes. If you're in a rush, you could also leave your question and email address – we'll then get back to you via email.
Alternatively, you could also /set the chat to automatically forward to one of your colleagues.