Reach Out and Slap Someone


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I got my first email account way too many years ago.

I was working for a large Chicago bank in the 1980s, when they introduced an electronic message service for internal communications. The only electronic mail that seemed to flow for the longest time were all those official HR notification of vacation time policies, etc. , and of course, the ALL CAPS messages from the executive floor.

It took a brave soul to send out the first…"so, where should we go for lunch on Friday?" message.

It took a polite soul to create the first autoresponder message. It was nice of them to let people know that the reason their inquiry would not be answered immediately, and personally was because he (or she) was out of the office until XYZ date.

I'm still trying to figure out where the the personal and polite parts of autoresponse messages went. Sometime between then and now, the person who wrote that message left the building, but forgot to turn the machines off.   Today,  too many autoresponse messages are anything but personal, polite or informative.  

If you've ever been tempted to believe that message sound bites strung together by bits of “if, then, else" coding logic might actually prove to be an asset to your business, you owe it to your business to look at how some of these have played out in the real world.

Here's a brief list of some of my favorite offenders, along with a suggestion or two about what you can do if you find anything like them on your list of messages.

"We'll return your message within 24 hours, or 12 hours…" Forgive me if I don't set my watch by that. Despite improvements in so many other areas, surveys still show that only 65% of companies EVER respond to their email, never mind responding within the time they've allowed themselves And just how credible are you when 12, 24, 48 and 72 hours of silence have passed?

"We usually respond within two business days…" . I think this variation is worse. If 48 hours pass and I haven't gotten a response, I'm not only going to think you can't deliver what you promised in any area of your business, but I might feel personally slighted. After all, if you “usually can, " why did you choose not to help me?

The lesson: Don't Make Promises Unless you're 100% Sure You Can Keep Them

"Thanks for your message about broken website links (an obvious fill in the blank). Here is our FAQ list on how Widgets can change your life through better chemistry…" Do you remember when people got excited by the idea of artificial intelligence and wondered if we would one day need Asimov's Laws of Robotics to protect us. I think we can all breath easy for a little while yet.

"Thank you. Your address has been permanently deleted from our database and you will never hear from us again…"
…and it's cousin…
"Thanks for your interest in Widgets. Since you're now part of the Widget family, we know you'll want to hear all about everything, so here's this hour's special…" But all I wanted to do was let you know about a broken link on your homepage…

The lesson: Don't presume to know why people are responding, or what they want from you.

"You're receiving this because you downloaded a free report from my site 279 days ago, but still haven't bought anything…" and you still haven't gotten a clue.

"I'm only sharing this secret information with a carefully chosen few like you, EAMIC, because you're such a good friend…" Really? Even though you're greeting me with a string of letters that isn't even close to my name.

"Dear Friend…" Yes, I understand that software is a black and white kind of thing and that when it comes to personalization your choices are or , but do you understand that there is a third choice? Don't do it.

The lesson:  Repeat after me, “just because you can, doesn't mean you should. "  It really is the golden rule of technology use.

Personalization is a very powerful sales and marketing tool. When you personalize a business problem, identify a client need, or use it to demonstrate how your product or service will help that particular client's situation, you are using it correctly.

Machine generated personalization, on the other hand, fits the very definition of an oxymoron. Email autoresponse messages were invented to apologize for a lack of an immediate personal, human response, not to take its place permanently. Unless all of your message is personal, no one is going to believe it really was written just for them. So why slap them in the face with the fact that it wasn't?

The bottom line is this: if you find any messages like these in your current autoresponse setup, rewrite them if you can, or just get rid of them if you can't. Silence is better on your part. Your business reputation is at stake. And where your reputation is at stake, so are your profits.


Liz Micik has been an Ordinary Marketer for nearly 25 years, helping companies tell their story to the right people in the right way to sell their products and services. Visit to sign up for the Inside Edge, a free monthly multimedia newsletter, and find out how you can get extraordinary results from marketing you can live with.


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