Your out of office message is probably the most hard-working colleague you have ever had: diligently answers all messages right away. It reaches the sender when their attention is high, as they have just sent you an email and happy to get the response right away.

Why let them down and waste this fantastic opportunity by sending a boring out of office message, that nobody really opens, (apart from quickly checking the return date)? Below you’ll get a bunch of cool ideas on how to make better use of this often overlooked communication tool.

First things first

Before you get too creative, don’t forget that the main goal of the out of office message is to let the sender know:

  • that you are not able to take their message, it’s an automated message
  • if there is any replacement, who helps them while you’re away (if it applies)
  • when you’ll be able to answer. (Be generous with yourself when committing to the date when you get back to the person, and leave some time after you return. Anything is better than ‘as soon as possible’.)

Use a friendly tone

The out of office message is part of your communication, so no need to use a more official style than you normally use when talking to your clients. Use the same tone you would otherwise, the sender should feel that even if you’re not there, you care for them.

“I can’t believe I’m missing your message, but I [insert here what you’ll do at your holiday].” You can be personal, and write about your plans for the holiday (anything is better than “I’m currently out of the office.”)

“I’ll be so happy to find your email once I’m back, and I can’t wait to catch up with you [insert here when].” (Obviously, it’s just an example, use a friendly style that reminds the sender of you.)

“If your question can’t wait, please do me a favour, and forward your message to [contact person] who will be happy to take care of you.”

Make your Out of office message work for you

The sender is faced with a disappointment as you’re not available, so it’s time to sweeten the pill and give them something exciting (while increasing the engagement with your business.) Find a few ideas below.

#1 Share your latest post, video, article

While the sender reads your OOO message anyway, that’s the best place to offer them a really relevant and exciting post, article, video you created. This can be the latest one you prepared for this occasion, or you can pick an earlier one, the most important is the relevancy. (Like a year planner or a checklist.)

“I don’t want you to leave empty-handed, so before I left I prepared this [insert here the content topic] for you to read while I’m away.”

#2 Ask them to sign up for your email list

You can grow your database while being away from the office, how cool is that! It’s only possible however, if you give the sender a very – very – good reason to do so. If you plan to send something valuable (a trend report e.g.) for your database once you return, it’s a good idea to increase the excitement and invite senders to be among the first ones to receive it.

“Right after I return, I finalise our [insert here the content topic], and send it to all the lovely people who signed up for our newsletter. If you want to be among the first ones to see it, please share your wish here: link.”

#3 Ask them to fill in a survey

If you have a survey anyway, or want to gather some info about your audience, you can also use the OOO message to do this. Remember to include a very simple survey with only a few questions.

“Even if we can’t talk right now, I’d love to hear your opinion about [topic of the survey]. It has five quick questions, and I’m happy to share the results with you: link.”

#4 Raise funds for charity

Yes, the OOO message can do that! Ask the sender to comment on a social media photo – or do something that is very easy to do – and you’ll donate £x for each comment. This increases the engagement of the sender for a good cause.

“Before you go, could you do me a favour, and with one comment help [name of the cause]. Once I’m back, I’ll donate £5 for each comment on this post (link) to [name of the charity].”

#5 Show how much people love you

Do you have a testimonial or a review from a client that you are very proud of? Would you shout out about it to everybody? Do it now, in your OOO message that gets to all the senders while you’re away. The best is to add a video, but if you don’t have that, you can add a written one.

“Even if I love being on holiday, I can’t wait to get back, as we have amazing clients like [name of the client who gave the testimonial] who [sum up the main message]. I’m so proud of this feedback, if you have a minute, please watch it here: link.”

Don’t forget the subject line

Instead of the boring Out of office subject line that is really impersonal, adjust the subject to the theme of the email. If you offer a valuable piece of content, you can write ‘I have something for you.’ or ‘I can’t wait to get back to you, meanwhile I have prepared this for you,’

Warning: the above is only recommended if it’s your dedicated business email. Be careful with the general and customer service emails. You can still use a friendly tone, as if you were talking to the client, but think of the potential messages, that might include complaints.

Have you picked up any of the above? Do you have any other ideas? Please get back to me and let me know, I will read it and reply to it (once I’m back from my holiday:) – tk@franciscooper.com

The article was written by Timea Kadar, chief marketing advisor of Francis Cooper Marketing Consultancy. She has been in marketing for 21 years, and since then has planned and run thousands of campaigns for global enterprises and startup companies. If you liked it and want to get more of these kinds of things, ask for the weekly Profit and (G)Loss Statement about the marketing wins, losses, and lessons here.