Hero image for blog on using out-of-office messages to connect with your customers

By Shannon Howard & Jeni Asaba

Building genuine relationships with customers is the foundation of any customer advocacy program. There’s no way around it. Superficial interactions are short lived and leave customers feeling used and unappreciated. But discovering who your customers really are, far beyond their title, can be a challenge. Our recommendation — turn to their out of office messages.

While it’s easy to see these auto replies as more of a nuisance than a gold mine, the content they hold is often otherwise unattainable. Use the information they provide strategically, and you’re certain to have another tool to help build those genuine relationships.

Consider the following real-life examples:

“Please note that I will be on a short maternity leave starting mid-day on September 16, through September 28. I will return to the office on September 29 and look forward to catching up on email starting that day.”

“Greetings! Please note that I will be away and out of the office to celebrate my daughter’s wedding.”

“Hello, I’ll be out of the office until Tuesday evening (around 8 p.m. on 27th September) to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I’ll be catching up with emails that evening and the next morning, so you can expect a reply from me then. Wishing everyone a Shana tovah u’metukah! (A good and sweet new year!)”

Creating moments that matter for community members is key to showing you see, hear and appreciate them as people, not just accounts. But initiating these moments in a virtual world is more difficult than ever. So pay attention.

In the above examples, we learned that one customer is a mother to a newborn. Another customer is a parent with at least one older child. And the final message lets us know this customer celebrates Jewish holidays. Don’t let these key pieces of information slip by. Instead:

  • Congratulate the new parent, and consider sending a small gift to welcome the new life to the world. (If you can discreetly get the baby’s name, a personalized onesie or blanket will forever cement your thoughtfulness in that customer’s mind.)
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  • Offer your congratulations on the nuptials. (People are very proud of their children, so calling this out will mean more to them than you realize!)
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  • Learn the appropriate response to the holiday (Shana tovah) and send it in return to your customer. (The extra effort shows you truly care).

Recall the last time someone paid attention to what you said and asked about it later. Did it make you feel seen and valued? What about when you received a package with an unexpected gift? What was your response? How about getting a simple “I’m thinking of you” text out of the blue?

These low-cost, low-effort actions can make a world of difference for the recipients. Yet, too often we reject their validity and/or impact. And that’s not doing us any favors. So let’s start paying closer attention to the lives of our customers so we can provide them with an even better community experience.

Reading out of office messages is just one small way you can recognize important events in your customers’ lives. To go one step further, you can also take note of what they share during meetings. If they hop on a call late saying, “So sorry. My dog wasn’t feeling well,” make a note to follow up and see how the dog is doing. If they share exciting plans for an upcoming vacation, set yourself a reminder to see how it went.

Paying attention to these small details can change the game in your professional relationships. If you haven’t done these in the past, don’t worry, because there’s no time like the present. Every customer interaction provides opportunities for you to learn who they are as a human, so keep your eyes and ears open. When you do, you, your organization, and your customers will all win.

Shannon Howard is the customer marketing manager at PeopleGrove, a community enthusiast, and a lifelong learner who’s dedicated to moving the customer marketing industry forward by sharing best practices and tales from the trenches. 

Jeni Asaba is the head of Community at Jamf, a Top25 CMA Influencer, and co-founder of Building for Bridget, a nonprofit dedicated to offering Ugandan children safe spaces to learn and dream.