- AUTO-RESPONDERS - PROS & PITFALLS

The idea of using "email auto-responders" (EAR) has been successfully embraced by countless business professionals over the last several years as a method of offering better customer service.

In its most basic form, the idea behind EAR is that a customer, client or prospect can be provided with a specific email address that will automatically respond to their inquiry with information that is unique and appropriate to their initial request.

Used properly, the consumer benefits by receiving desired information almost instantaneously, and without having to wait for the business professional to personally respond to the request.

Additionally, there is a great time-savings to be realized by the business professional through the use of EAR as well.

However, as with any technology, there are both limitations and pitfalls that can defeat the anticipated benefits expected from using EAR, if they are not carefully implemented.

 

Key Concepts:

In order to add value to your services through the use of EAR you must carefully consider the electronic dialog from the consumer's point of view.

A key concept is that the consumer must only receive automated email responses that are specific to their immediate needs.

When a consumer emails to ask for a "free relocation report" or property "Highlight Sheets" then they naturally expect to receive exactly what they have requested. If your EAR can provide the appropriate information, then the consumer is satisfied and you are one step closer to doing business with them.

 

Pitfalls:

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common to find real estate agents that implement EAR which do not properly service consumer requests, but instead frustrate the customer and reduce the perception of personal service.

When the consumer writes to ask a specific question and instead receives an obviously generic response, rather than appreciating the service they are instead turned off by the impersonal nature of the reply and the inappropriate content of the message.

Common examples of poor EAR implementation include automated replies that say:

- Thanks for writing me, but I'm away from my desk at the moment…

- Thanks for visiting my web site….

- I'll send you the listing information you requested when I get back to the office…

- I'm out showing property right now….

Not only do these types of automated replies fail to contain the information the consumer actually requested but they seem particularly impersonal and inappropriate if the consumer did not actually "visit" the agent's web site and is not requesting "listing" information.

It will also be hard for a consumer on the East Coast to believe that an agent on the West Coast is actually showing property if the consumer is writing at 8 AM Eastern Time.

The risk of using such generic and arbitrary auto-responses is that once the prospect realizes that every email sent to a particular agent will only result in an immediate "canned" response, the obvious inclination will be to stop writing that agent. This is hardly the desired outcome that business professionals had in mind when they conceived their EAR programs.

 

Better Practices:

By using either unique email addresses or specific "subject lines" you can ensure that consumers are receiving only appropriate responses, this being the information they actually requested.

If you wish to deliver a specific property "Highlight Sheet" to prospects through email, you must provide specific directions in your classified and magazine advertisements, as well as on your web site, that the prospect can follow in order to receive just the "Highlight Sheet" they're interested in.

The important point here is that the directions for receiving the requested information must be so specific that general inquires will not trigger a response that includes the "Highlight Sheet" while at the same time insuring that those who want this information will receive it.

This can be achieved by either providing consumers with unique email addresses that are tied to unique replies, or by directing the prospect to include specific key words that can trigger just the right EAR.

For instance, if you have registered your own domain (such as www.canale.com) and have a web site hosted for that address, you can likely request that your host forwarded all incoming messages to just one actual email account.

The result of implementing this option would be that messages sent to stephen@canale.com, 123.Elm@canale.com and MLS-76528@canale.com will all forward into the same email account.

While each of these messages will ultimately be forwarded to the same email account, the use of unique addresses would allow me to create "filters" within my email software that would result in automated responses unique to the addresses to which the requests were initially sent.

Thus, a buyer requesting more information regarding MLS-76528 would actually receive the "highlight" sheet for that particular property.

To implement such a software-based solution, visit www.eudora.com and consider purchasing Eudora Pro, which is available for less than fifty-dollars.

With such a program you can also create filters and auto-responses that are based on "key words" contained within the email messages you receive, regardless of the address that they are delivered to.

The result of key word filtering is that rather than having to use different addresses for different purposes, you can simply direct consumers to ask for specific documents by name, and use Eudora to read, sort and reply to these requests automatically.

Another option for many professionals is the use of Internet-based EAR, which may be available from the same company that hosts your web site, and for little or no additional cost.

In this case, the use of a specific email address can trigger the response for the requested materials directly from your web site server, and without the necessity of using specific software such as Eudora Pro.

The advantage of using host-based EAR is it's simplicity, but this also limits its flexibility. If you are only interested in using a handful of auto-responses, then server based EAR may be very appropriate.

However, if you would like to arrange for a greater number of auto-responders, and would like to use more sophisticated tools, then software such as Eudora Pro would be a much better choice.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale