A full half of the transactional messages I recently reviewed in my inbox asked me not to reply to the email. In this age when most companies are actively trying to engage them in social media, why don't they want email replies? Here are some reasons - along with ways, if you must, to make "Do not reply to this email" more reader-friendly.
First off, I do understand why companies do this: they don't want to be responsible for reading or responding to people who might reply to their email marketing messages. Many companies are put off by the deluge of email they receive. Others don't want to incur the time and cost of having someone sift through them and, when necessary, respond. As a result, they ask or, in some cases, demand that readers not reply to their bulk email.
Filters, which are effective at pulling out soft and hard bounces and should be able to identify most out-of-office messages, have made monitoring replies easier. But many companies still aren't willing to do it. It's a position that places the corporation's interests above customer convenience. It also takes away one of the inherent benefits of the Internet: the ability to easily interact via two-way communication. It's the online equivalent of those prerecorded telemarketing calls you're supposed to just listen to, since there's no one on the other end to hear you if you speak.
I first recommend clients analyze their replies and see if there's a way to monitor that mailbox and honor that method of communication. For many companies, the response traffic is much more manageable than expected once bounces, out-of-office messages, and spam are filtered. But if you find you positively cannot handle replies, here are a few tips for alerting your readers in a friendly, rather than militant, way.
Don't Use All Caps
Using all capital letters online has always been the equivalent of shouting. Although most people have removed this from their style guides, it's still very much in use with this particular phrase. I know that in a text-only message all caps is one of the few ways you can add emphasis, but avoid the temptation. Unless you want to scold your readers into not replying to your message, don't use all caps to ask them not to.
Make It Friendly
One beauty of language is there's often more than one way to say something. All companies should have guidelines defining their corporate voice, usually in terms like "customer friendly," "professional," and "conversational." "Do not reply to this email" doesn't fit any of those definitions. Adding a "please" helps but doesn't really go far enough.
It Doesn't Have to Be Front and Center
This type of content is ancillary; it's not the email's primary message, so it shouldn't be featured prominently (as I often find it is). Check your email messages, especially those used for transactional messages. It's not uncommon to have "Do not reply to this email" positioned so high above the fold that it's visible in the preview pane. That's not the best use of your prime real estate.
Anyone who works with email understands why replies are discouraged, but many of your recipients may not work in email. Explaining the policy can go a long way toward encouraging compliance. If the mailbox isn't monitored, say so. If it's monitored only occasionally, tell them that.
Even better: shift the message from being about an inconvenience to being about a benefit. If there's a better way for readers to contact you, tell them about it and encourage them to use it rather than hitting reply.
Provide Another Contact Point
If you really can't accept replies to the email you've sent, at least provide readers another way to get in touch with you. I'm not talking about giving them the URL to your home page and making them search for contact information. The best way to handle this is to provide a monitored email address. Almost as good: provide a link to a "contact us" page with multiple ways to get in touch with you.
Providing another contact point is especially important for transactional messages, which aren't required to carry a U.S. Postal Service address under CAN-SPAM. Asking (or telling) recipients not to reply to this email, then not giving them any other way to easily get in touch with you is bad customer service.
I like to acknowledge that not being able to reply to an email is a bit of an inconvenience for readers. I tell them why it's in their best interest not to reply to that email. I then offer one or more ways to communicate with the sender, the easier the better. The tone should be apologetic rather than militant. Remember, you're trying to build a relationship with these people via email. There's no tone when you're reading online, so you must avoid anything that could be interpreted as harsh.
Some of the best examples I've seen:
Until next time,
Email Bomb image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Jeanne Jennings is a leading authority and independent consultant with over 15 years of experience in the e-mail and online realm. She specializes in all aspects of e-mail marketing and publishing, from strategy through design and metrics analysis. Jeanne works with medium- to enterprise-sized organizations and is expert at helping her clients become more effective and more profitable online. She is the author of "The Email Marketing Kit: The Ultimate Email Marketer’s Bible" (SitePoint, 2007) and publisher of "The Jennings Report," a free e-mail newsletter for online marketing professionals. Visit her online at JeanneJennings.com.
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