“Do Not Reply” Email is Lazy

Justin French, January 2013

When you think about it, sending automated email to your customers from a “Do Not Reply” email address is a really odd thing to do, yet most online business do it. Why?

At first glance, it seems like a very cheap way to solve a very visible problem — allowing replies would mean someone has to read all that email and deal with it. If you’re the person dealing with all that email, or paying the team that does, your natural bias would be to treat this email as a cost. With the mindset of reducing costs, “Do Not Reply” is pretty appealing:

Of course, thinking about the customer’s experience, there’s nothing appealing at all:

It’s also important to realise that when we cut off all that noisy email, we also cut off the conversation with the customer — a valuable source of product feedback:

So, dealing with all that email is a bad idea, and cutting off the email with a “Do Not Reply” is a bad idea. When faced with this type of problem, look for the constraint that’s hiding the most detail. In this case “we don’t want to reject replies” seems pretty solid, while “we don’t want to deal with all that email” seems to have some wiggle room. Maybe we can get better at dealing with all that email.

If we allow replies, what kind of emails will we have to deal with? What smaller problems can we find to solve? When we break out these smaller problems, there’s a much higher chance we can find simple solutions that don’t suck for customers.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start:

A lot of these can be solved with automated email filtering and redirecting rules on our mail server or within our support system. Here’s a start:

At worst, this is a few conversations, a few hours of configuration, a few days of watching the inbox to set-up new rules, and a few hours a month to monitor and review. Speaking of review, there’s value in the data we collect from accepting these emails:

Yes, all this is more effort than a simple “Do Not Reply” address, but it’s not an outrageous cost, and not unreasonable given the massive upside — engagement with customers, faster product improvements, deeper insights, actionable data, better alignment with tools & behaviour, and of course, an improved overall customer experience.

Nearly everything gets better when you insist on a better user experience.