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Are Auto-Reply/Out of Office Messages Still Necessary?

The HAR Communications Department regularly sends out emails to our members to make sure everyone is informed and up-to-date on the latest Association and industry news. When we send out those emails to the entire membership distribution list, we receive an enormous number of auto-reply and out of office emails.

People (consumers) many times just want to know that they’ve been heard, so I understand the desire to send an auto-reply so they know that someone received their email. I’m not sure from a consumer perspective how effective they are. If you do think you need to have an auto-reply, please make sure that you actually respond with an email or phone call, as you said you would in the auto-reply.

The best way of demonstrating good and bad messages is probably to look at a sampling of some of the responses we see on a regular basis:

Example 1: “I am currently out of the country on vacation until September 24. I will respond to your email once I return. Thanks.”

I’m sure you have a security system and/or someone housesitting for you while you are gone, but it probably isn’t the best thing to alert someone who could have found your email anywhere on the Internet that you are not at home for an extended period of time. You could just post a sign in your yard; not one that says “For Sale,” but rather one that says “No one’s home. Feel free to rob me.”

If you are not going to have access to the Internet, then perhaps you could just say something like: “I am currently away from my office, but please contact [fellow REALTOR® who is covering for you or your assistant] for prompt assistance. We look forward to helping you find the home of your dreams.”

Example 2: “Thank you for contacting me. Please know that your email has been received, and I will respond to you within the next 72 hours.”

72 HOURS?!? Really? Every consumer survey we have seen has said that the vast majority of people now expect a response within about four hours. A good percentage of those surveyed expect a response within an hour. I recently wanted to have some landscaping done at my house. One of the people I contacted had a message that he would get back to me within 48 hours. By the time he finally responded, I had already hired someone else who was at my house and already completing the work. We live in a fast-paced society where people expect a response almost immediately.

Example 3: “I’m sorry I am not in my office right now. I am attending a community fundraiser this morning and will be meeting my grandmother for lunch. After that, I will be going shopping at the Galleria for some new shoes and then will be meeting some friends for drinks this evening.”

Okay, we haven’t received that exact email, but we do receive out of office messages that clearly qualify as too much information; not in an inappropriate way, but just in that no one really wants to know where you are every second of the day. I’ve actually had people call me to make fun of other people who setup this type of out of office email. I don’t think it is worthy of scorn, but it is a somewhat antiquated practice that should be reexamined. Again, if you really are where you cannot be reached for some extended period of time, it really is sufficient just to say you are away from your office.

All of this even assumes that an out of office message is necessary at all. We all live in a hyper-connected world with everything being accessible on mobile devices and around the world. When I go on vacation, I still check my emails, whether I am in Japan or Europe or Dallas. I think I have only been on one vacation in the last few years when I was somewhere that didn’t have Internet access readily available. In that situation, I did set up an out of office message that directed any inquiries to someone else in my department. Otherwise, I check my emails constantly. I can’t even make it through watching a movie without checking my email. It might be sad, but that is what today’s consumer expects.

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