The Brilliance of the Auto-Reply Message

One marketing opportunity that has been sorely overlooked is the auto-reply message. Typically, it reads something like this: “I’ll be away from the office through February 21 and will have limited access to email. For an emergency, please contact this other person at [other_email_address].” But there are no rules for auto-reply messages. One person who has mastered the art of the auto-reply is Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI. Here’s one of the first messages I received from him:

I'm out of the store at Winter Institute in Seattle through Jan. 26, though I'm checking email daily. If you need immediate help, please call Boswell at (414) 332-1181. I'm reading Cara Black's "Murder in Pigalle" on the plane and will be back in time for Greg Kot's event (for "I'll take You There", his great group biography of The Staple Singers) on Monday, January 27, 7 pm. I'm very excited!”

Daniel’s message had hints of the traditional format, but he was able to include what he’s currently reading as well as mention a store event. Nice, right? But it was the next auto-reply message I received from Daniel that captured my attention.

Due to our sold-out event with Malcolm Gladwell tonight, I will be particularly remiss on answering messages today. Apologies in advance.

This message was brilliant. It mentions an event at the store, it alludes to the success of the “sold-out” event, and it explains why you will not be hearing back from Daniel today. The best part? Daniel told me he hadn’t received a single complaint. “My rule of thumb is that above 300 people, no matter what you do, you get about 1 complaint for every additional 100 people (and for the most part, I have to just accept it),” he said. “But it didn't happen this time. Go figure.” So you do not have to be away from the office to implement an auto-reply message. You might just need scheduled time away from the distraction of email. Here’s another example:

Alas, I love getting your email so much that I'm not able to get out our own email newsletter. I must temporarily nip this in the bud by focusing on our February and March events for the day, and will reply to you when our newsletter is successfully launched. I then also get to finish Chip and Dan Heath's "Decisive," which I started reading after our Winter Institute Meeting.

And another:

I'm out of email range on Friday, February 14, partly to prepare for a big meeting, and partly to finish reading Michael Hainey's "After Visiting Friends," his memoir of growing up Chicago and finding out the truth behind his father's death. Boswellian Jannis is a big fan and encouraged me to dig in. Our event is Thursday, February 20, 7 pm, at Boswell.

Daniel admits that even with the message on, he doesn’t necessarily avoid email. “I’ll probably still procrastinate and sneak a peek.” Do not be afraid to change up your auto-reply message, but then don’t let that change become rote. On occasion, include books you are reading and upcoming events at your store. The next time, mention what you’re working on that has you away from your desk.  Just remember, if you’re conscientious enough to mention that you’ll be away from email through a certain time, be just as polite and remember to turn off the message. - Editor's note: After seeing the piece, Daniel sent me a note which read: "I should note that one reason I don't mess up turning off auto-reply messages is that our mail service lets us set an end date and time." Be sure check the features offered by your email service. The ability to set up an automatic end time is a beautiful thing.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay