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The concept of the Email Fail is simple — with its presence everywhere in our lives, there are countless ways that email can fail us. Sometimes it’s simple human error, sometimes simple technical error, sometimes a bit of both. Whatever the cause, some of the most common email fails can be avoided with a little advance planning (a touch of Email Center Pro wouldn’t hurt either…).

When you send an email to a colleague or a company that you do business with, you want an answer. You probably have an inbox full of email that needs your attention, and the last thing you want or need is another pointless email to further clutter your inbox. But isn’t that what an auto reply does? It’s a non-action item that does nothing for you but give you another thing to delete.

There is no shortage of  examples from our Email Fail blog of the problems caused by auto replies. Some of the main offenses include:

Now, why would you inflict these kinds of things on your customers? One way to stand out from the crowd, and create customers who look forward to doing business with you, is to… gasp… actually REPLY to them!

The key is to reply promptly. If it’s three days before you can you reply, that’s just too long — whether you warn somebody about the delay or not. Auto responses seemed to gain popularity as email traffic started exceeding companies ability to reply in a reasonable amount of time. On the one hand, I can see the temptation:

“I have no way of getting back to this customer right away, but I want them to know that they’re valuable. I know —  I’ll send them an automatic canned message when their email comes in. Now they’ll know that I got their email and then I’ll get to it when I have time.”

The problem is that the auto reply sends the exact opposite message. It tells the customer that you want them to THINK they’re valuable, but they’re not valuable enough for you to respond to right now, or in the near future (72 hours? Really?)

If you’re managing a lot of email, responding to emails promptly doesn’t mean you have to have a dedicated team of people hitting refresh in their email application all day long. It just means you have to find ways to be more efficient in handling the traffic.

Auto reply is a bad solution to a desirable problem — the problem of more customers than you can handle. If you have so much on your plate that you can’t keep up with your customers emails, don’t put your customers off.  Embrace tools that let you manage your email workflow in ways that work for you and your customers. When you get your email workflow perfected, you’ll find yourself freed to take on the other tasks that will let you grow your business. And you can rest easy knowing that as your customer base expands with your business, you’ve got a system in place to handle the growth.

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