Your email has a clear and recognizable from name, the subject line is straightforward and on-brand, and your preview text further encourages the open.
But, what about your reply-to email address and name?
Sometimes overlooked, the reply-to email address and name are key identifiers for your subscribers. This is especially true if your subscribers choose to reply to an email—which many do! From a customer service viewpoint, they’re important parts of your email that should never be overlooked. However, there’s contention over what the ideal reply-to email address and name.
What is the reply-to email address field?
Within your ESP (Email Service Provider), there are several fields that you can define for your email header.
The from name and email address let the subscriber know, unsurprisingly, who the email was sent from. The from email address can be set by you via your ESP, or your ESP may choose something on your behalf, depending on how your account is set up with them.
The from email address isn’t always where you want your email replies to go to. You may want to have a consistent from email address for all of your different types emails–for example, transactional and marketing–for deliverability reasons (frequent changes of your from email address could reset your sender reputation). But you’d like the replies for each type of email you’re sending to be sent to specific mailboxes, tied to the type of email the customer is replying to.
That’s where the reply-to email address and name come in—these two fields will appear if a subscriber chooses to hit reply to an email you’ve sent to them. Depending on the ISP (Inbox Service Provider), subscribers can sometimes see the reply-to email address by viewing more details of the email they’ve seen:
That reply sent by the subscriber will then, unsurprisingly, go to that reply-to email address.
Why are these two fields so important?
Just as the from name and email address are customer-facing fields, so are the reply-to email address and name. Subscribers can see both of these fields when they hit reply, so you’ll want to make them as on-brand and customer friendly as possible.
Now here’s where things get tricky. It’s not uncommon to see reply-to email addresses to be something like “email@example.com”. Why? To dissuade customers from replying to marketing emails. Again, why? Often these mailboxes are unmanned, meaning there’s no one available to reply to any emails that make it to that inbox.
If you’re sending email to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people you may get a lot of replies—including OOO (out of office) auto responders. These can pile up in an inbox, and are a pain to manage. So many brands choose to make their jobs a little easier by simply not bothering with these messages. But this can hurt potential and current customers who actually want to get in touch with you, because they have a real question, want to buy from you, or want to give you feedback.
There’s a train of thought that goes, if you explicitly use “no-reply” in your reply-to email address and name, it should be an indication that no one will reply. However, just because you think you’ve explicitly laid something down to the subscriber, doesn’t mean they’ll see it and understand it that way.
Put yourself in the subscribers shoes. You’ve just opened an email and there’s something in it that’s willing you to reply to the sender. But you can’t find any easily accessible contact information. As this is email, you hit reply—it’s fast, easy, and requires just one click. You don’t register that the email address you’re replying to has “no-reply” in it anywhere. Days go by and no reply. That experience leaves you, as a subscriber and customer, with a bitter taste in your mouth.
Email is there to engage with your subscribers—it shouldn’t be a one way street. Your messages, including the reply-to, should encourage customers to get back to you with valuable feedback. So instead of discouraging people from replying, think about ways to help handle responses from customers who are getting back to you.
What’s the alternative?
Given that “no-reply” can look fairly negative to the customer, using something like “info@” or “hello@” is a touch friendlier. Paired with a recognizable from name, it’s a much more positive envelope for your customers to see if they choose to reply.
Don’t limit yourself to just these examples though, here are some more creative reply-to email addresses and names.
Mens’ fashion etailer, Bonobos, have gone one step further with their reply-to email address, and general handling of customers. All their emails are sent from “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and any replies are sent to this same email address. They even have a Twitter account for customers services called Bonobos Ninjas. Bonobos have effectively branded their customer services department and carried it through to their emails. Amazing!
What if people reply?
Using a more welcoming reply-to email address can make it more likely for subscribers to reply to your emails. Understandably, this can be a little bit of a scary prospect. Ask yourself if you have the resources to handle replies from your marketing messages. Resources could mean people, tools, and even budget.
So, how do you prepare for this?
Create an autoresponder
There’s nothing worse than sending an email into the oblivion and waiting for a reply that never comes. One of the best ways to handle email replies from subscribers would be to set up an autoresponder email—an email that gets automatically sent to anyone who replies to your emails.
The content of the auto-responder email will depend on how you want to handle replies from subscribers:
1. Dedicated Mailbox
If you have the resources, a dedicated and manned mailbox for subscriber replies is the ideal solution. Managed and triaged by the customer services department, any replies that are received can be addressed efficiently.
With this solution, your autoresponder should be in place for immediate responses to any replies. Give the subscriber a heads-up that their message has been received and someone will get back to them within a certain amount of time. Remember not to over-promise on that timescale. Be realistic.
2. Give the Subscriber an Alternative
Lacking the resources for a dedicated mailbox to handle subscriber replies? Populate your autoresponder with a message that indicates this, and point the subscriber to an alternative email address, phone number, or contact page that is actively monitored. Give the customer options and don’t close off communication with the autoresponder by simply letting the subscriber know that no replies are received from that mailbox.
Beyond the autoresponder
How do you handle incoming responses? The best approach would be to reply to each response individually, and have a dedicated resource setup to facilitate this process.
Here at Litmus all of our email replies go to our customer services mailbox, where the messages—whether they’re comments, feedback, or questions—are responded to individually by members of the customer service team, or triaged to the appropriate person.
Unfortunately, the Litmus customer services team also have to sift through a lot of OOO replies—it’s an accepted part of having a real reply-to email address where OOO replies do occur.Receiving OOO replies can be fairly common if your organization is a B2B company, where many of the subscribers will use their work emails.
The good news is that many ESPs can be set up to handle OOO replies, which are sent to your reply-to email address. You will need to check with your ESP on how those rules and filters can be set up. Correctly setting up rules and filters with your ESP will ensure that the OOO reply isn’t rejected and sent back to the customer as “undeliverable”. A situation you want to avoid as it doesn’t give the customer a good impression of you as a trusted sender.
Alongside the from name and email address, the reply-to email address and name are key pieces of information in your email envelope that help your subscribers identify you as a trusted sender. Remember, email is a form of communication between you and your subscribers. Your subscribers may see it the same way—as a direct pipeline back to you, the sender. Keep that pipeline open. Choose a customer friendly reply-to email address and name and put your process in place for dealing with replies from your subscribers.
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