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Membership Appreciation Month Tip: Up Your Out of Office Game

Today's challenge is to create a more thoughtful out-of-office ('OOO') message, also called an automatic email responder, to better serve and delight your clients.

An Easy Way to Extend Your Customer Service. Picture's the end of the day the Friday before your week-long vacation. You're about to shut down your computer when you remember - shoot! - I need to let everyone know I'll be out next week. So you log back into Outlook/Gmail, spend 60 seconds updating your last (generic) OOO message with next week's dates, and 2 minutes later you're out the door.

Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone.

And while just the basics will suffice, it's certainly not taking advantage of the opportunity to create a positive memorable experience for the reader. You've worked hard to develop client relationships and deliver exceptional service while you're in the office. It's time to extend that to your client touches when you're out of the office as well.

The Bare Necessities. A professional OOO message should at minimum cover the following 3 items:

  • How long you are going to be unavailable (dates)
  • Your access during this time (e.g., unavailable, limited access, checking infrequently)
  • Name and contact information of who to contact in your absence (if available)

Don't Be a Robot. Take yourself out of auto-pilot mode when writing your next OOO message. Be a little more personable and helpful. Share the bare necessities in a more creative way, and then go the extra mile to show you care.

Here are a few ways to elevate your OOO message:

  • Write a real subject line instead of the standard 'AutoReply' line.
  • Provide a link to some content that may be helpful (e.g., "If you're contacting me about a consultation, I've set up some FAQs <<link>>  for you to learn more about what we do").
  • Acknowledge the contact who'll be handling any matters in your absence with a few kind words to extend trustworthiness in the eyes of your reader. This not only puts your reader at ease but let's you show your appreciation to your colleague as well.
  • Convey why you're out of office if it's because you're doing something that will benefit or inspire them (e.g., at a leadership conference, volunteering in your community).
  • If you'll be attending a business conference you can also extend the opportunity to meet up with your colleagues (e.g., "If you'll be attending the ISBA Annual Meeting as well, I'd love to find a few minutes to connect").
  • Inject a little humor, but only if it's done right and doesn't come across as unprofessional. For some people, this comes naturally and is a great way to connect on a personal level. But it's not for everyone or every situation.

Final Considerations. When crafting your OOO message, don't forget:

  • Check with the colleague you're listing as your backup contact to make sure they can cover for you before listing them in your OOO message.
  • Don't over-promise when you'll be able to return their message. If you're out for a week, and know that you'll be slammed the day you get back, list the day after you get back instead. Then, if you're able to reply earlier, you'll be exceeding their expectations.
  • Consider using different OOO messages for external v. internal email replies. You may want to provide more contact or procedural information to the colleagues in your firm than you do the public at large.
  • Put some thought into any security risks involved with the type of information you divulge in your email, especially if you'll be away from home/office for an extended time. Some are fine with people knowing they're 'away-away' (greetings from Disney World!), while others prefer to play it safe. Know your comfort level and plan accordingly.

With all this in mind, your challenge is to write a new OOO message that incorporates at least 1 of the 'elevate your message' suggestions above. Save it as a template or file it away so that next time you're headed out of the office, you'll have a more thoughtful, interesting OOO message ready to go!

Posted on May 9, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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