We’re always busy. Sometimes we’re too busy even for work. This is where out of office message comes in.
There are any number of valid reasons why you might skip on your email inbox for a while. You can be on vacation, feel sick or take a few days off to recharge.
Thankfully, with a simple out of office message taking a day off doesn’t mean that your communication with clients has to stop.
A great out of office message can improve your business relationships, boost appointments and keep everything in check while you’re resting. The only trick is knowing how to write it.
So what’s an out of office message and why do I need one?
An out of office message is simply an automatic response to all incoming emails. You can set it up prior to leaving on vacation or taking a sick leave.
If you’re using Gmail, you’ll find settings for out of office messages by clicking the cog icon on the main screen:
You’ll find everything you need to set up an out of office message at the very bottom of the ‘General’ tab there.
Setting up an out of office message in Gmail is simple. First, (1) put the message you wrote in the text box and format it properly. Then (2) choose a schedule for your auto-replies. If you know by which date you’re going to get back to the office, you can put that day in. Gmail will then automatically stop sending out auto-replies when the time comes. If you don’t know when you’re going to return you can leave it empty. Out of office replies can also be (3) manually toggled on or off at any time.
(Depending on your email host, the process of setting up your out of office assistant may vary. You can find a guide on how to access your out of office settings in Outlook here.)
An out of office message is basically a quality of life feature both for you and your business contacts. By warning your clients that you won’t be able to reply to their message right away you save the time they might have wasted on follow ups. You also won’t lose prospects who might’ve believed that you’re ignoring their request otherwise.
It isn’t hard to write an out of office message. And it’s less important than learning how to write a great follow up or understanding what makes a killer subject line. But that’s just the reason why a lot of people usually underestimate what an out of office message can achieve.
How to improve your out of office message
Before we further discuss some of the examples of a good out of office message, decide for yourself what you want to get from it and what tone are you going to use.
In most cases, the voice of your out of office message should be similar to the voice you’re using while communicating with clients. If you’re usually formal, replying with a joke could be jarring — and vice versa. Your mileage may vary, but keep that in mind before setting up an automatic reply.
Tip #1: Cover the essentials
There are a lot of ways to improve your out of office message, but you should first make sure that you covered the most important stuff.
An automatic response should include the date when you left, a reason (vacation, sick leave, a conference, etc) and, if possible, the date when you plan to come back. Thank your client for their email, promise to get back to it as soon as possible and apologize for the inconvenience. Also, it should be obvious that you’re out of office from the first sentence.
Tip #2: Redirect clients to your colleagues
If you know that you’re going to be out of office for a long time, it’s worth thinking about redirecting your clients to your colleague. Mention their name, explain what position they occupy and how they can help your client. Include a way to contact them in the form of an email address or a phone number. Just try to warn a colleague that you want to redirect your clients to them before going on a vacation.
Tip #3: Be personal
If you’re taking a sick leave, make them emphasize by describing how annoying your cold is. If you’re going on an adventure, tell your clients a little bit — just a little bit, don’t be bragging too much — about how excited you are to experience it. This will help build trust with your clients.
An out of office message could become an opportunity to connect with your client on a more personal level. Consider sharing something about yourself that they might not have known about while working with you.
Tip #4: Promote your content
As with a regular cold email, the best way to utilize your out of office message is to offer something of value to your client. So if you’re taking a vacation right after the launch of your newest feature or after finishing up on that huge blog post, linking to them may prove to be a very good idea. Explain why that content is useful and the person who contacted you about their thoughts.
Tip #5: Go for something light-hearted
Do you know what we’re doing too much of? We’re working too much, and we think too seriously about ourselves while doing it. That’s why including a joke or something fun in your out of office message could be so powerful.
Informal approach helps your clients think of you as of a human being. This alleviates some of the annoyance they may feel because of not receiving a proper reply. Generally, making people laugh is a great way to make people remember you. Do that and your clients won’t switch to a competitor.
Tip #6: Know your limits
Give yourself some slack when promising people to keep up with their messages. If your vacation ends on January 18, but you know that you won’t be able to check up on old emails for the next couple of days, mention that in your reply.
And if you suspect that you won’t look through all those emails that cluttered up your inbox while you were on a vacation at all? Be honest about it and tell your prospects to contact you again at a certain date.
Tip #7: Keep it spartan
One of the most common mistakes people make when setting up their auto replies is making them long. Nobody wants to read a long email message — and especially so when it’s an email message that tells them you’re not going to reply right now.
The example above (which comes from NY Times) may not take advantage of some of the tips we mentioned, but it’s great because it’s so short. Due to its absent-minded straightforwardness, such a message can be perceived as a real, non-automated reply — as if you were so busy that you only carved out a few seconds to type these five words.
Every business is unique. There’s no one single best way to tell your clients that you’re not going to be around for the next few days (weeks or months). But there’s also no denying that whatever out of office message you use right now, you could always improve it.
If you have tips of your own or questions to ask, we’d love to hear from you. Share them in the comments section below!