"Hello, I am currently out of the office, returning Friday, the 13th. If you need immediate assistance, please contact ... "
We have all used auto-reply messages or auto-responders at one point or another. And with the majority of us still working from home, I see them more often than ever before. In the past, I have touched on the idea that being available 24-7 isn't a good idea, and I want to expand on that idea and look at how leaders use (or don't use) auto-reply messages within their own companies.
My company, Maui Mastermind, sends millions of emails a year to current and prospective clients and business owners. Understandably, there is always a certain percentage of bounce-back, unsub, and undeliverable emails, which we work to minimize. But auto-responders are a different thing entirely.
I typically see business owners fall into one of three categories.
Type No. 1: You have auto-reply set up, regardless of whether you are in the office or not.
These business owners have an auto-reply set up that says something along the lines of "We are currently working from home, and will get back to you as soon as possible" or " Your email is very important to me, and I will reply to your message as quickly as I can."
If you fall into this category, you tend to struggle with control issues and letting go. Your inbox is usually very full, and you are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of emails you receive on a daily basis. To remedy the situation, you should enlist the help of your assistant and set up a screening system where they go in and archive emails accordingly. Those that require your response or review are left in your inbox to work through. This simple daily exercise will usually cut your emails down by approximately 75 percent.
It's also important to note that for most business owners, you don't want to set the expectation that you will reply or respond to every email that comes your way. Some items should not make it to your to-do list. And others, if they don't help your business move the needle forward, should be left unanswered.
Type No. 2: You have auto-reply set up when you go on vacation only.
You are a traditionalist, and you have been doing it this way for many years now. You take a few weeks of vacation a year, and out of habit you set your auto-responder to let others know that you will be delayed in your response time. You may have an assistant who screens your inbox or you may have over time trained those whom you work with most to send you emails only if they need your review or feedback on something.
If you fall into this category, I want to encourage you to try to go without an auto-responder the next time you take a vacation or time away from the office. Have your assistant screen your emails while you are gone, and see if anyone notices.
If you do find a few items that require your immediate attention, those should be the first things you focus on delegating or cross-training for when you return to the office.
Type No. 3: You never use auto-reply.
Whether you are out for a few days or a few weeks, you never turn on your auto-responder. Your team knows that your time is valuable, and they only send you emails or items that require your review or feedback. You have an assistant screen your emails, and you have realistic expectations set with your team members and vendors on when and if you will respond to a particular email or situation.
You understand that not all emails require a response, and you instead focus on the tasks and items that will help propel your business forward.
No matter what type you resonate with, there is always room for improvement. Setting realistic expectations and taking control of your inbox and the amount of emails you receive in a day go a long way to helping you focus on the things that matter most. The end goal is to not have to set your auto-reply, because you have a business that works for you, even in your absence.