Whether it’s a business conference, vacation with the family, or a personal emergency, your colleagues and customers have come to expect quick turnarounds for email messages. Even for non-urgent matters, our always-on and always-available business culture can reinforce this expectation. Of course, being out of the office is inevitable — the important thing is to keep your customers and partners in the loop. Not doing so is unprofessional and can have negative repercussions on your business relationships.
The best way to communicate your out-of-office status is by setting up an email autoresponder that is automatically sent to anybody who tries to reach you via email.
Your out-of-office message simply needs to fulfill certain basic requirements. It should include:
- the dates of your unavailability;
- whether you will access your email;
- whom to contact in your absence; and
- when you will respond.
The Basic Out-of-Office Message
The basic formula looks like this:
I will be out of the office starting [departure date] returning on [return date]. I expect to have limited access to email during this time.
If you have an emergency or require immediate assistance, please reach out to my colleague [colleague name] at [colleague email]. Otherwise, I will respond to your email promptly upon my return. Thanks.
As far as the bare-bones, that’s all you need for an out-of-office message. You can, however, use your autoresponder in a more creative way, particularly if you expect to hear from clients. After all, you do have a captive audience for your message, so make the most of the opportunity. Here are a few examples:
- Provide a link to your company’s white paper, ebook or research findings. These documents are great for generating additional sales leads or establishing your business as a thought leader. Even if it’s something you already sent, encourage the recipient to pass it on.
- Invite clients to sign up for a newsletter or mailing list. Your clients can get valuable industry news and tips delivered to their inboxes. Newsletters serve as a reminder that your business has products and services they can use.
- Inform clients about a new product or service. Focus on the benefits the product provides in a way that doesn’t seem like a shameless plug. Include it as a P.S. since these usually grab the attention of readers who skim.
- Provide an informational tip. For example, as an IT consultant you could offer an opinion on industry trends for long-term document storage. What are the top companies doing that could benefit your client? Don’t worry if the tip isn’t “selling” a solution. The idea is to provide value to the client.
- Encourage a networking opportunity. If you are going to attend a trade show or conference, encourage your clients and colleagues to connect with you at a booth, event, or presentation.
- Drive traffic to your blog or social media. Provide a link so that clients can subscribe to your blog, Twitter, or Facebook account.
- Sell your company culture. If you are going on vacation, include a blurb in your email that acknowledges your company and how it supports taking time away from the office. For example, you can say: “As I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s great to work in an environment that supports families with generous leave time. I’ll be taking advantage of my holiday to spend some quality time fishing in Alaska with my boys. During my leave, my colleague, Ann, will be happy to assist you.”
What Your Out-of-Office Message Should Not Include
It’s OK to use humor, but just as you would exercise caution in any business communication, be particularly careful in your out-of-office message. It should be professional. Don’t reference unwise or unsafe behavior or make your company look bad.
Make Your Out-of-Office Message Shine
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