Posted by Michael Gaigg
I usually try to balance positive and negative critique, but sometimes - and especially when I see really bad things - I just cannot help but mention it here as well. Latest 'incident' was a harmless email to my local government body with the intent to change my address.
Optimize your webpage to avoid emails
The reason I sent the email in the first place was that I couldn't find any form or document that would allow me to change my address online.
So, I tried to locate a tab or menu entry called 'contact' or similar (no luck), checked the footer (no luck) and eventually found the complete address with generic email (chief-on-duty@government) next to the logo - which showed me once more that users tend to look for certain elements in common places rather than even prominent locations.
Anyway, I figured this email address would do it and I shot my note to change my address. Here is the (automated) response:
Dear mail sender! The employee you have selected is out of office and can be reached again on June 29th, inquires will not be processed.
Wow, now what? Should I send my message again in two days (which I probably will)? Can I trust these guys to fix my address at all? Seems like there is no organization behind it. I have no chance to stop by because I'm out of the country but maybe I need to pick up the phone and call instead, how annoying. No big deal for a simple change of address but this slip can potentially damage your image and seriously reduce trust for other sorts of inquires, right?
Update: Today I received a very nice and personal response telling me that my address was updated. I will in return send a nice and personal note pointing out above issues. Let's hope for the best.
But now, here are the
Design Guidelines for transactional email
- Avoid being mistaken for spam.
- Enhance company’s reputation and increase users’ confidence.
- Be precise and answer all relevant questions.
- Provide recognizable brand name in ‘From’ field.
- Add clearly distinguishable transaction to ‘From’ field.
- Keep ‘From’ field shorter than 20 characters.
- Explicitely relate ‘Subject’ field to a customer-initiated transaction.
- Avoid unnecessary message sequences (e.g. transaction confirmation + shipping confirmation; order summary not necessary anymore).
- Start the ‘Content’ with the information that matters most.
Solution to my inquiry above
First of all, unless the whole department was moved, closed or is on vacation I would not expect a vacation response mail for an email sent to a generic address. Secondly, automated responses are ok if they state that a human response will follow promptly, usually within 24 hours.
What would have been a better response? Maybe: "Thank you, your inquiry has been received and will be processed by our team within the next couple of days. You will be notified once your request is processed or if we have further questions." And then some more specific information like contact names with alternative email and/or telephone numbers could follow. Maybe even some links that answer common questions or point the requester to common documents, be creative.
What are your experiences with transactional email?
How do you handle transactional email on your company webpage? What are your experiences? Any lessons learned (the hard way)?
- Nielsen, J.; Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/confirmation-email.html
Michael Gaigg is Lead UI Engineer in Esri's Professional Services Division.
He has been designing map applications for 15 years and is author and curator of UI Patterns for Maps.
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