Do either of these look familiar:
"Suzanne is out of the office and will return December 12."
"Hi! I'm on vacation, and may not have access to e-mail. If you need immediate assistance, please contact ..."
Or how about this one (seen in December):
"I'm on vacation from July 3-7 ..."
Or the worst one I've seen recently, just three letters long:
Auto-responders are a nuisance, an annoyance, and destroy the asynchronous nature of e-mail that makes it such a useful communication mechanism. Here's why:
Too Much Information Disclosed
Does every single person who e-mails you really need to know where you are and what you're doing with your time? Get over yourself; no one needs to know whether you're on vacation or doing a seminar in China. It's information that doesn't need to be shared and, arguably, can be considered a violation of your own privacy and security. I don't know about all of my readers, but I get a lot of e-mails from a lot of people I don't know and have no reason to trust. What better time to rob your home than when you're off touring Machu Picchu? And what better way to communicate this fact to a complete stranger than via an auto response?
Are You Really That Important?
Is every single person who e-mails you sitting on the edge of their chair, repeatedly hitting the refresh button hoping that your reply will soon arrive? No, I didn't think so. And if you answered yes, get over yourself. If your reply is "delayed", no one is going to care. As a matter of fact...
The Asynchronous Nature of E-Mail
E-mail is, by its very nature, asynchronous. Which means that a reply will always be delayed. We send off an e-mail and expect a reply at some later date. If someone had something truly important to talk to you about, they would talk to you about it--on the phone. Or maybe start an instant message session. Did I mention that you should get over yourself?
As an aside, sending an auto response telling me that reply "will be delayed" has an interesting side-effect. It subconsciously tells me that if I don't receive an auto response from you, that I should expect a reply right away. So next time you wait before replying to one of my e-mails, I might just wonder why you're snubbing me.
Technology Obviates the Need for Auto-Response
I know that at least 75% of you have in your pocket, right now, an iPhone, Palm, Blackberry, or Droid. You can--and do--check e-mail no matter where you are. And you can--and will--pull it out while you're out of the office, on your vacation or anywhere else, and reply to any important e-mails that have come in. So forget about telling everyone that you're out of the office. Does it make you feel important? You need to ... get over yourself and quietly use that technology you've invested in, rather than wasting my time with pointless auto responses.
"But, but, but..."
I can already feel the wrath of my readers coming to bear as a result of this post. And there are a few (very few) valid reasons to use auto-responders:
- Your employer has a rule that says you have to do it. Okay. Bad idea to argue with the person who pays your bills.
- You really are going away, for a long time, to a place where you really can't access your e-mail.
- You have an SLA or some other binding reason that a reply absolutely must go out after any e-mail is received.
Barring these reasons, you have no excuse. Sorry.
A Plea for 2010
Please turn off your auto-responders. Especially for e-mail addresses that are subscribed to lists. There's almost nothing worse than an auto response until you get auto responses from someone you didn't even e-mail (you know who you are). If you must use auto-responders, please follow some basic rules:
- Don't tell me where you're going, or that you'll be on vacation. Just say that you're out of the office. Honestly, nine times out of 10, I don't care.
- Don't use an auto-responder if you will be checking e-mail in any way at least once every 24 hours. Yes, this may be less than the 5-minute interval you usually work with, but no one knows that. A delay of a day or more is perfectly acceptable--and expected--for most e-mails.
- Set your auto-responder to automatically turn itself off the day you return. That way you can avoid sending a response when you actually are back in the office, which makes you look like a total moron.
- If you regularly provide "immediate assistance", set up an immediate assistance e-mail alias and have your customers e-mail you there. Then you can simply redirect those e-mails when you're not available. Problem solved, and no one needs to delete your auto responses.
- Don't tell me that response will be delayed. I've already figured that much out.
- Get over yourself. You're just not that important. Sorry.
Thanks to those who've read this far. I wish you all a fantastic 2010 (even those of you who use auto-responders).