I don’t receive as many Out of Office (OOO) auto-responder messages as I used to. For better or worse, our mobile devices make it difficult to ever be truly out of touch.
That said, OOO emails aren’t extinct yet either. Whenever I send out an e-newsletter, I typically receive at least a dozen or so automated replies, letting me know who is out and about. The numbers seem to increase on Friday afternoons, when spring is in the air!
I wholeheartedly endorse unplugging now and then. It’s good for you and your business. But before you head out, do think twice about the content in your Out of Office message. There’s an irony to it: You’ll spend untold dollars and countless hours creating your communications: your website, your newsletters, your client materials, advertisements, etc., all crafted to perfection.
Then you’ll give scarcely a thought to your OOO response, even though what it says about you is just as important.
Properly crafted, your OOO message can contribute to your business development by appealing to clients, prospects, the media, and strategic alliances alike. It’s a free opportunity to shine, by leaving anyone who has reached out to you feeling good about your professionalism, and impressed by your dedicated supported team, ready and waiting to assist them in your absence.
Or not. If you’ve slapped together your OOO message as you’re heading out the door (already running way later than expected), it can instead leave your recipients wondering what you were thinking.
Here are a few basics to watch for:
This may seem obvious, but I see them all the time. Look at it this way: Your OOO message may receive at least as many views as your website during the same time frame. Shouldn’t it be proofread with the same level of care?
This is more subtle, and may be hard to address on your own. I’ve sometimes seen advisors’ OOO messages state something like this: “If this cannot wait, please contact …” or “if your request is urgent, please contact …”
Now, I know what you’re trying to say. You simply wanted to let everyone know how to be in touch with your team while you’re away, and to suggest you’ll be delighted to take care of them personally once you return. You’re inviting them to decide whether they would like immediate assistance, or whether they’d rather wait.
That may be what you meant. Unfortunately, even a slightly off-tune tone may convey something more like this: “I hope you’ll leave us alone until I’m good and ready to be back in touch.”
An improved approach might look more like this: “For immediate assistance, please contact [name]. Otherwise, I look forward to promptly being back in touch with you when I return.” This still leaves the choice to them, while letting them know help is available.
Have you struck a balance between communicating the essentials without rambling on? Make sure the message accurately states when you’ll be back, and who to contact in your absence. You also can use the opportunity to add a nice relationship-building touch, by including a more personalized explanation of why you’re away. Here are a few possibilities:
- “I am attending a Dimensional Fund Advisors workshop, and I can’t wait to share with you the new insights I’ll gain while I’m away.”
- “I am spending time to recharge and reconnect with my family this week. I look forward to catching up with you as soon as I return.”
- “I am sorry to say I’ve succumbed to this year’s cold & flu season. I’m sequestered at home, but looking forward to being back in full swing by [tentative date].”
If the time away is going to be extended, indeterminate, or due to a particularly sensitive circumstance, it’s worth taking extra care with the wording. That’s a fancy way of saying a generic example won’t suffice.
Consider preparing your message in advance, and having someone else proofread it for tone, typos, or off-topic messaging. If you’re a sole proprietor, send it to a friend or family member who won’t be shy about alerting you if something sounds “off.” If nobody else is available, at least give it a fresh-eye proofread yourself before you head out.
Once you’re back, don’t forget to deactivate your OOO message! This is another slip-up I see all the time and, admittedly, I’ve done this myself once or twice. Set yourself a calendar reminder, and/or leave yourself a note somewhere obvious. And by the way, all the same goes for any OOO voice mail messages you may have recorded.
Questions? Comments? Shoot me a message. I don’t expect to be OOO anytime soon.