Recently, one of our customers sent in a ream of despair, which essentially amounted to: “If I send a campaign to my entire list at once, my inbox is instantly swamped with bounce notifications and out-of-office replies. What do I do?”

Given that using a no-reply address is an email marketing no-no, it’s essential that replies to your campaigns end up in a monitored mailbox. This means pointing the From: and Reply-to: email addresses in your campaigns to a real email address, read by real people. After all, even the most humble announcement can attract important emails, like sales leads, customer feedback and regularly, unsubscribe requests.

Dedicate an email address to replies

Of course, receiving a squillion replies and bounce-backs to your regular work address can be immensely frustrating, especially if they trickle in over a period of hours, or days. So setting up a new, From/Reply-to email address to handle replies (like info@yourdomain.com) is always a good idea. If you’re already using Google Apps, this is dead-easy to do yourself – otherwise, ask your tech team for a hand.

Once you’ve set up an email account, you can set it up in your regular email client and sift away. Note that replies can go to either the From: or Reply-to: address (depending on the recipient’s email client), so you can count on bounces, out-of-office replies and more going to either specified address.

Rules rule

Creating a filter in Gmail

Once you’ve got a unique email address for replies, it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff (or human from robot-generated email). Doing this manually can be a laborious (read: boring) process, so often the best thing to do is to create a folder in your newly-minted email account and siphon all automated ‘robot replies’ into it, leaving only the important emails in the inbox. This can be done using rules (or filters), which can be created in many of the major email clients, like Gmail, OSX Mail, Outlook and more. For example, you may create rules like…

IF email subject includes:

  • "Out of office"
  • "Out of the office"
  • autoreply
  • "Delivery Status Notification"
  • "message status - undeliverable"

OR email content includes:

  • "no longer working at"
  • "unattended mailbox"

THEN move the email to my 'Robot Replies' folder.

This isn’t a definitive list and ultimately, you’ll find yourself adding and refining rule criteria as you go along. Rules can also come in handy for highlighting or flagging important messages, such as those with “unsubscribe” in the subject line.

Make it a morning ritual

The final step is of course, regularly checking your reply address. Back when I was a hand at a marketing agency, we sent multiple campaigns / large email volumes every day and had a dedicated ‘reply machine’ for dealing with bounces. While with smaller sends you will most probably be able to deal with replies from the comfort of your desktop email client, you may want to take a more distant approach if you’re a massive sender (as we were) and simply check in once or twice a day. Make it a routine, cup of coffee in hand, even if its been days after your last send. Sometimes relevant emails get filtered out too, so remember to give your ‘Robot Replies’ folder a skim before you hit ‘Delete All’.

We’d like to know your approach to automated responses – do you have a killer tip for dealing with replies? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Rene

    Interesting topic. Hm after a certain amount of email volume I guess it’s best to train a statistical model for text classification and apply (+ fine tune) this later on. Similar to bayesian antispam approaches as in Thunderbird or neural network based approaches as in SpamAssassin. (There are many other potential text classifiers.) Categories for replies might include “out of office”, “complaint/unsubscribe”, “employee left”, “question” and many many more. Unfortunately, most email service providers worldwide seem to set this topic aside to client-sided “email management” and thus offer just some hard & non-intelligent pre-filtering rules. Although they got the volume to effectively train those statistical models. Room for optimization? :)

  • Michael

    Why don’t Campaign Monitor add the following headers to outgoing campaigns – these will help stop some email clients and servers from auto-replying. Particularly the X-Auto-Response-Suppress header will stop Outlook and Exchange (which would be the bulk of auto replies these days):

    Precedence: bulk or Precedence: list

    X-Auto-Response-Suppress: DR, RN, NRN, OOF, AutoReply

    Legend:
    DR (delivery receipts)
    RN (read notifications)
    NRN (not read notifications)
    OOF (out of office)
    AutoReply

    Perhaps these could be provided as ‘tickable’ options in the web interface?

  • Loic

    I think “ReplyTo” may be a solution :
    http://blog.mailchimp.com/introducing-replyto-omg-make-the-auto-replies-go-away/

    Build by and for mailchimp, but work with any mail adress.

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