Reply if you dare


I don’t understand why companies have such a hard time explaining that you shouldn’t reply to certain emails. You know the drill: you place an order, or submit a tech support request, or sign up for a newsletter. Then you get the confirmation message, which inevitably says something like “Do not reply to this message, since responses aren’t monitored.” I know that some systems can’t accept replies, or the company may want follow-up correspondence to go through another channel. Fine. But there are much better ways to explain this to users.

To fix this, start by making the “Don’t reply” message a little more polite. Give the user some guidance about what you’d like them to do, instead of scalding them in advance for what they might try. Something like this should work: “If you have any questions, click here to contact our customer service department.” Notice that I’ve left out the part where they say that any replies are deleted or ignored. This always struck me as rude, especially for those who don’t understand the logic behind it.

So, what happens when someone fails to follow directions and sends a reply anyway? That’s easy: Just setup an autoresponder to handle those messages. In the response, provide a link where they can submit their request online (and a copy of their message, in case they deleted it). Eventually, they’ll get the picture. With this approach, you’re providing straightforward and relevant instructions to all customers, rather than confusing warnings about things they may never do. This makes your communications more concise and polite, while still offering corrective action steps for those who stray down the wrong path.