The holiday season’s coming up and most of us will be looking forward to a well-earned week or two off work.
We’re all used to using out of office responses, but how much time do you take in crafting them? In thinking about what they say about you and your business? In trying to get them to do some work for you while you’re away?… Not much? Then read on!
Why is an out of office message important?
Out of office responses are important for two reasons:
- It’s a polite way of letting the recipient know that you aren’t able to respond and to manage their expectations about what will happen next.
- You can have a real break from your work safe in the knowledge that everyone knows you’re away and therefore no-one is expecting you to be responding to messages.
It’s also important to remember that these messages are often an interaction with a potential, or actual, customer and, as such, need to be as carefully crafted as any marketing campaign or sales call.
A brief history of out of office messages
Back in the day your only option to warn people you were out of the office was to leave a note on your desk or in your shop window. This is still common practice in many businesses.
With the invention of voicemail in the late 1970s, things were set to change. Voicemail became relatively commonplace by the end of the 80s, allowing messages to be recorded while you were away from your phone. You could dial in to pick up messages or receive them on your pager (remember those?!).
In the 90s the proliferation of email required a new way to tell people you were out of the office, through auto response messages. In fact Microsoft’s Xenix email system (the pre-cursor to Exchange) had an auto-response function from the late 80s.
In the 21st century, out of office responses are commonplace and expected, so let’s take a look at how you can make the most from this interaction.
There are several pieces of information which any out of office message should contain, regardless of how it’s being delivered.
- Thank them for getting in touch.
- Tell them you are out of the office and have no/limited access to collect their message.
- Explain when you will be back and/or when you are likely to reply.
- If it’s an email message, make sure it has your standard signature included so they know who’s responding.
Good to have additions
- In most circumstances it’s courteous to explain why you’re not there, and if you’re at a business event then there can actually be some advantages in telling them (read on for more about this!).
- Provide the enquirer with an alternative contact or, for email responses, this could be a list of people to contact for different types of enquiry.
Once you have the essential information sorted, you then need to decide on the style of your out of office response. This should be appropriate for your business, as well as you personally, and you might want a slightly different tone of voice in you have more than one out of office response to set up. For example if you have two business email addresses – one for new business enquiries and one for customer service – you might want to use a different tone and different messaging for each one.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, an out of office response can need a lot more thinking about than you might imagine! But if your customers are going to be seeing it, then it’s worth getting it right.
Email out of office responses
We’ll start with email as this is probably the most frequently seen out of office response. It’s also the one with the best opportunities for creativity and marketing messaging.
We’re going to look at 7 different types of message:
- Sales promotion
- Content promotion
- Social media promotion
- Out for business
For some businesses replying with ‘personality’ isn’t appropriate, particularly if the out of office response is for a generic, rather than personal, email address. In these cases an informative but succinct out of office message is the way to go:
Thank you for your message.
I’m currently out of the office until the 21st May and have no access to my emails. If your enquiry is urgent please contact our support team on 01234 567 890.
If you need to set up an out of office response to a generic email address, eg firstname.lastname@example.org, then this probably won’t be a good option to go with. However, if it’s your personal email address, and the people writing to you will already know you, then adding a little lighthearted personality into the message can reinforce your positive relationship with the recipient.
Here are a couple of examples of how a personal approach can work well with out of office responses:
Thanks for getting in touch, but I’m afraid I’m currently on holiday in beautiful Tenby.
I’ll be back on the 12th August. If your enquiry can’t wait until then, please contact Sue on email@example.com.
Thank you for your enquiry. I’m currently taking a short break in Paris and will reply to you upon my return on the 6th May.
In the meantime, here are a few fun facts about Paris:
- There are 38 cities around the world called ‘Paris’. For clarification, I’m going to the one that’s the capital of France.
- The shortest road in Paris, the rue des Degrés, is only 6 metres long.
- There are five Statues of Liberty in Paris.
- Paris has around 830 libraries.
- The oldest café in Paris is Le Procope, founded in 1686.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could be working away at promoting your business for you while you’re on holiday? Well, why not get your out of office response to do just that?!
OK, we’re not talking about sending out a full marketing piece, that’s just annoying, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t mention your latest great offer in the automated response, or share some positive customer feedback.
When deciding what to pitch you should think carefully about the audience who are likely to be emailing you, and therefore seeing the out of office response, and tailor the offering to suit them.
Here are a couple of examples:
Thank you for your email. I’m currently out of the office until the 21st May.
In my absence you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any sales enquiries and email@example.com for technical questions.
And don’t forget, we’re offering a whopping 30% off all our printer ink cartridges this month! Check out the full details on our website here: www.techsupplies.co.uk/30-ink
Thanks for emailing me, however I’m now out of the office on holiday until Monday 3rd August. If you need assistance before I return then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you these kind words we received from a customer recently:
“I used Brill Builds to add a two storey extension onto my house. The work was carried out on time and to budget, and we’re really delighted with the results. The extra space has made our lives much easier, particularly with a baby on the way, and it hasn’t altered the lovely character of our house one bit. Thank you so much!” – Mrs Townsend, Manchester.
We hope we can make you just as delighted with our services!
This is a slightly less “salesy” version of the sales promotion ideas above. Instead of promoting a purchase, it promotes something free of charge, for example a download of your latest report, your latest blog post or an opportunity to sign up to your email.
I’m sorry I can’t reply to your email but I’m on holiday until the 3rd September.
If you need something urgently, then please email email@example.com, and she’ll be happy to help. Otherwise I’ll get back to you upon my return.
While you’re waiting, why don’t you take a look at our latest blog post? It challenges some of the industry’s previous assumptions about Facebook marketing and looks at how this ever-changing platform can now be harnessed to drive great value for your business: www.socialgurus.co.uk/blog/facebook-marketing/
Social media promotion
If you don’t have fresh blog or download content available to point your reader towards, then you can take the out of office opportunity to ask them to follow you on social media instead, for example:
Thank you for your email. I’m currently out of the office managing a cable installation, with limited access to my emails, until the 23rd July. I will reply to any non-urgent emails upon my return.
In the meantime, if you’d like to know what’s new at Carson Cables, why not follow us on Twitter? You can find all our latest updates here: www.twitter.com/CarsonCables
Out for business
If you’re out of the office at a conference, trade show or training then this is an excellent opportunity to share what you’re doing and link it back to benefits for your clients. And, if you’re at a trade show, why not invite them to visit you there?
At a trade show example response
Thank you for getting in touch.
I’m out of the office until the 3rd November attending the Cat and Dog Show at the NEC, Birmingham. I will reply to your message up on my return. If you need to speak to someone urgently please contact my colleague Sue on 01597 123 456.
Alternatively, you’d be very welcome to come and see us at the Cat and Dog Show! We’re on stand L45 and have a huge range of canine treats for you to sample (or take home for your own four-legged friend!). Full details about the show can be found here: www.dougsdogsupplies.co.uk/catanddogshow18
At a conference example response
Thank you for your email.
I’m sorry that I can’t respond today, but I’m at a conference discussing flood resilience in architecture. This will help us continue to ensure that all our projects are carried out with this ever-increasing risk in mind.
I’ll be back in the office tomorrow, 20th February, and will respond to your message then.
If you need to speak to me urgently then please call my mobile, 07123 456 789 and I will call you back when we have a break.
A funny out of office response can brighten the recipients day and cushion the blow of you not being there to respond immediately. However, use humour with caution, and consider how it will reflect on your business as well as you personally.
For example, it might be funny to say that you’ve taken a day out to binge-watch Suits in your pyjamas, but, however true that is, is it really going to be seen as a good reason for not being at work and responding to your messages?
Here are a couple of example messages which use humour in a more appropriate style:
This is an automated response being sent by a robot.
Don’t panic! This isn’t the great invasion, we’re not taking over the world. That’s scheduled for next month.
We’ve just taken over Mark’s email for a couple of weeks while he’s on holiday.
We’d love to respond in more detail to your enquiry, but we’re too busy managing all paper production processes at Paper Wait while simultaneously computing the meaning of life and playing Pac-Man.
Mark will return on the 6th September. If you can’t wait until then please contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s just a human, but his brain capacity should be sufficient to enable him to help you.
Thank you for your email. I’m now out of the office until the 2nd January and will reply upon my return.
“Off on a relaxing Christmas holiday?” I hear you ask.
Well, not exactly.
Instead of warming my tootsies by an open fire while sipping a little glass of mulled wine and trying to remember where I hid my wife’s Christmas present, I’m instead going to be spending the festive holiday in a house containing three toddlers, two new borns and five, yes five, dogs. On top of that someone has come up with the brilliant idea that I might like to dress up as Father Christmas to surprise/frighten the life out of them on Christmas Day.
Should I survive this experience then I will be delighted to come back to work on the 2nd and reply to your email. Please excuse any additional grey hairs which have sprouted in the intervening period.
Wishing you a happy (and at least occasionally relaxing) Christmas holiday.
If you use Skype then you can set your personal message so it explains that you’re away. This is best kept simple and to the point for example:
Thanks for Skyping me but I’m on holiday until the 7th July. If it’s urgent you can phone Sarah on +44 (0)1684 234 456.
Alternatively Skype can be synchronised with your Outlook out of office function.
Voicemail out of office
With a voicemail message you’re more limited than with your email out of office response, particulary given that the ideal message should be no more than 20 seconds long.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use some of the principles of email auto responses to make your phone message unique and memorable. Here are some ideas:
Hi. This is the voicemail of Joe Peters at Tesrose. I’m sorry I can’t take your call but I’m currently out of the office without access to my voicemail until the 4th August. If you need to speak to someone urgently then please call Jude on 07890 123 456. Otherwise please leave a message and I will call you back upon my return.
Hi, you’ve reached Sam at Green Care. I’m sorry I can’t take your call but I’m out of the office today, the 12th March, at the Golf Greats show at Earls Court. If you’re in the area, why not come and visit me on stand T45? Otherwise please leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.
Hi, thanks for calling Lou at Pine Land Furniture. I’m out of the office until the 5th May so if you need to speak to someone urgently please call Jane on 01234 567 890. If you’d like to find out about our latest special offers then check out our Twitter feed @PineLandFurniture. If you’d prefer to leave a message I will call you back on the 5th.
Hi, this is Clare from Beauty First. I’m sorry I can’t take your call but I’m on holiday until the 12th October. It’s a family holiday with 5 children and a forecast of wall to wall rain so I’d much rather be talking to you! Unfortunately I don’t have access to my voicemail so if you need to speak to someone urgently please redial 01234 567 890 and ask to speak to Brenda. Alternatively please leave a message and I’ll call you back on the 12th.
Social media out of office
It’s easy enough to schedule your social media updates to publish while you’re away, but you also need to keep in mind that social media is a two-way communication method and, therefore, you need anyone contacting you to know why they’re not getting a response.
The same content principles apply to social media messages as they do to email and phone ones.
Technically, here are some recommendations for setting up the responses:
There are two options to manage out of office responses when someone messages you on Facebook.
These will provide an out of office response to anyone who sends you a message. To set up your instant reply go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Messaging’ and scroll down to the ‘Send instant replies to anyone who messages your Page’ option. Click on the On/Off toggle to switch this option on then on the ‘Change’ button to enter your selected message.
Instead of waiting for the user to send you a message, this option will display your out of office response as soon as they open a messenger conversation on your page. The advantage of this approach is that it saves the user typing in a message when you’re not there, on the other hand you don’t then know that someone tried to contact you and don’t therefore have the opportunity to follow it up when you’re back in the office.
To set up your messenger greeting you again go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Messaging’ and this time scroll down to the ‘Show a Messenger greeting’ section. Click on the On/Off toggle to switch the greeting on and then click on the ‘Change’ button to amend your greeting.
The screen shot below shows both the instant replies and messenger greeting options:
There are various apps which may offer support in setting up an out of office response for any messages you receive via Twitter.
However a simpler solution is to write a Tweet explaining your absence and pin it to the top of your account so it’s the first thing people see.
To do this you simply write and post your out of office response as a normal Tweet. Then go to the Tweet and click on the down arrow at the top right. This then gives you the option to ‘Pin to your profile page’.
If you use WhatsApp Business for customer services, you can also leave an out of office response for your customers using the built in Automated Messages feature.
If you don’t use the business version of WhatsApp then there are third party apps available which will enable you to send auto responses.
Ready to write your messages?
Excellent! Just remember to include the essential information and think about your audience when deciding what to say.
And don’t forget that every customer contact is an opportunity to promote your business, and an out of office response is no exception!
Would you like to chat to us about other ways in which you can improve your online marketing? Great! You can find out how to get in touch with us here.