If you’re going on vacation or will be unable to access e-mail, turn on your auto-responder and provide the right information.
“I will be out of the office until September 20, 2012 and will not have access to voicemail or e-mail. If you need immediate assistance, please contact NAME at NUMBER.”
In my humble opinion, you should only turn on an auto-responder if you will be gone for an extended period of time and/or will not have access to e-mail. I define extended period as at least two business days.
Assuming that criteria is met, your auto-responder should provide the following information:
1. How long you will be gone;
2. Who the sender should contact instead of you (if applicable); and
3. Whether you will have any access to voicemail/e-mail.
Language like “I will have limited access to voicemail and e-mail” sends mixed signals. Does that mean you will respond to e-mails? Does that mean you are still working? Whenever I see that language, I assume the recipient will respond, but slower than usual. The bottom line is that it is not entirely clear and may cause more problems than good.
“Thank you for your e-mail, I am currently out of the office.”
Auto-responders with little or no information are frustrating. I have no idea what the above example means. Until when? Who should I contact instead? Do you still practice law? When will you be able to respond?
It’s better than nothing, but it could a lot more helpful. In today’s day and age, opposing counsel seems to expect a response to an e-mail that same day and definitely within two days. Clients likely have the same expectation. Potential clients usually want a response ASAP, so letting them know you are gone is a good idea. But be sure to include enough information to make it helpful.
“Hi there. I’m not around right now. I’m headed on vacation and will try and avoid e-mail and voicemail. The following week, I will have limited access to voicemail, so if this is an emergency, please call my cellphone. If this is Susan, sorry about the last minute change.”
To be honest, I recently saw an auto-responder just like that. That’s information overload, confusing, and generally unhelpful. I don’t want to make a flow chart in order to understand whether I will get a response this year. One, there are no dates. Two, it’s not clear if the person will check e-mail and/or voicemail. Three, there is no emergency contact. Four, you should never assume people have your personal cellphone number. Lastly, Susan should be sent a separate e-mail if she needs to know something.
Not rocket science
If you’re going to be gone, turn on your auto-responder. Let people know how long you will be gone, whether you will/can access e-mail, and who to contact if necessary.
I promise it will make the world a better place, one e-mail at a time.