30 August 2013, by A. Cedilla
Auto-responders are computer programs that are set-up to respond to any outside emails by replying with pre-written messages. There can be just one message, or the initial query email can trigger a series of messages. Auto-responders are also known as mailbots and automailers.
Auto-responders are huge time and labor savers, taking the burden off your organization to handles the response load generated by incoming communication from customers. A well thought-out and well-written set of pre-planned replies and responses are a great set of tools for your business. Imagine paying someone just to handle the unsubscribe emails sent in….or writing an individualized letter to each and every email from scratch.
Auto-responders perform a pre-set series of actions in response to pre-filtered emails. For example, internal email filters can be set to separate billing, support and technical issues to different ‘in-boxes’ that give different auto-replies. With good information, data analysis and a good writing team, auto-mailers saves thinking and labor time when action is needed.
Communication is built-in even at all the stages of your business. You have a product, you have a market you aim to sell to. That market is composed of people who, sooner or later will want to talk to you about your product. Whether it’s to complain, compliment or ask for more information, you have to have at least some idea of what you want to say to them — and more importantly what impression you want to leave.
With this foresight, you can do the work before hand, test it and check it, then load and set. Pre-planning, pre-writing and inner mental organization are handy skills to have in that situation. You want professional, courteous correspondence (aka ‘form letters’) to give a good impression and establish cordial relations.
You or your writing team address the issues before-hand. What are the most frequent requests for information? What are the most common questions you get that can’t easily be answered by short FAQ article, and so on. Base on actual data taken from emails, the logical progression of action, say, from completing the purchasing process (calculating taxes and shipping) to delivering the item (follow-up on status, condition and speed of service) you can build the outlines of your form letters based on the internal structures of your business model.
Then you build (or buy, or pay someone to do it for you) a system that can run 24/7/365 when it comes to replying to your customers more routine questions. With such a system in place, it would also be easier for you to track the numbers: how many people wrote to ask about a certain promotion, or how may unsubscribe request you got this month, etc.
Samples of auto-mail subjects:
- Emails confirming your orders, including time, date and total (plus taxes) as well as estimated dates of delivery.
- A series of tutorial emails set to trigger after the purchase of a program (you get the customer’s email address on completion of sign-up)
- A follow-up regarding the experience. Amazon lets it retailers do this for the product and the service experience. Shops on Amazon can send you a questionnaire about your experience with delivery –speediness, condition of the product on delivery, and so on– and ask you to rate the product itself.
- Email on new software updates, promotional material and giveaways, current price-lists and upcoming sales, etc.
Autoresponders can also send out timed emails. While email throttling refers to controlling the number of emails sent in a mass mailing — so as not to overload the server’s bandwidth — email scheduling sends a linked series of emails in a specific sequence. The first email can be sent upon completion of an action (usually a purchase or a sign-up) then the following emails can be sent on a schedule you set out before-hand, so to establish a connection to the customer, get feedback, and keep your company in the forefront of their memory when it comes to your products.
Mailing list management is also built-in in some systems. When it comes time to do spring-cleaning on the email-address database, they can remove email addresses that register as undeliverable or send bounce-back messages.
Autoresponders vs. FAQ’s
Anyone can read the FAQ’s on your website. People who write to you do so for a reason, and you can answer them with automail and get their email address to add to your database. If they were interested enough to write to you, your system can respond with the data they asked for and confirm if they wish to be included on your mailing list or not (with an unsubscribe link in the email.)
There are several kinds of autoresponders currently available: the free ones, the ones offered by webhosts, and those from paid services which are devoted entirely to providing automail. The free services come with a non-removable feature that puts their ads on your responder page. That is their hidden cost. Some webhosts provide automail services in their hosting packages. Paid services offer ad-free service packages scaled to fit your needs. What is important is that you get the helpful features you’ll rely on for your communication needs.
- Personalization is an expected feature. Instead of the “Dear Sir/Ma’am” schtick, or the impersonal “To Whom It May Concern” intro, services have the structure to capture first names along with email addresses, and use those names accordingly.
- Scheduled sending functions are also a great help when it comes to following up a customer’s purchase, sending out a series of tutorials to someone who just bought your software, or when a particular event is marked to run (announcing a special promo, seasonal sale, etc.)
- Tracking functions take note of how many emails were sent successfully, and how many receive bounce-backs, ‘undeliverable’ responses, or unsubscribe requests. Knowing the effects of your marketing and promotional efforts from collected data is necessary for improvement.
- Formatting functions that accept plain text and HTML emails are also an expected basic feature.
Now, automailers are computer programs. As with any program, Garbage In, Garbage Out. It’s the messages that count, and computers don’t write those on their own (Yet.) So, you or your writing team has to set the tone. Communication build relationships, and relationships are built and sustained by people.
Be courteous, professional and aim to be a helpful presence in your customer’s lives. Give them options and lead them into taking action with your product to solve their problems and improve their situation. No wall of text, please. Get to the point and don’t fill their in-boxes with fluff. Focus on their needs and how your services or products can help with fulfilling those needs.
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