Contributor(s): Sarah Lewis

An autoresponder is a computer program that uses event triggers to automatically initiate an email, SMS text message or robocall. The event trigger can be action-based or time-based. Autoresponders can be manually built or configured through email, marketing automation, security automation (SOAR) and emergency response system (ERS) software tools.

The business rules for autoresponders are defined by the individual organization's needs, but typically fall into two categories:

  1. Action-based autoresponders -- for example, an autoresponder message could be set to remind a customer about an item left in a website shopping cart. 
  2. Time-based autoresponders -- for example, one week after making a purchase, a retail marketing website might automatically send a coupon code to the customer for their next purchase.

Autoresponders in direct email marketing

The first autoresponders were used to alert senders when emails were undeliverable, but these automatic response message are now used as a tool for increasing customer engagement and retention. The best results are achieved with autoresponders when organizations deliver relevant content, open lines of trust and communication, ask customers for consent and do not send too many emails per subscriber.

Popular email campaign building software includes Getresponse, MailChimp and Campaign Monitor. Microsoft Outlook and Gmail also include features that allow users to generate autoresponses .

Autoresponders can be used by organizations in a variety of ways, some of the most popular include:

  • To alert users that their comment or inquiry was received and will be responded to as soon as possible.
  • To welcome new mailing list subscribers or confirm an email preference change.
  • To suggest usage ideas, tips, blog posts or help articles for a particular purchased product.
  • To offer a related, add-on item or remind users of items in their cart.
  • To send holiday or loyalty-based offers. For example, to celebrate a customer's birthday or anniversary.
  • To share the company's story, brand or social media
  • To ask for product feedback or participation in a survey.
  • To aid users in account recovery or resetting a password.

Pros and cons of autoresponders

When implemented correctly, autoresponders can increase the value of an organization's mailing list, raise brand awareness and generate additional revenue. Autoresponders also automate a large portion of email marketing, making it possible for all subscribers to receive key messages with minimal effort. This makes it an attractive solution for small businesses with limited marketing or content generation resources.

Inversely, autoresponders can also have negatives that need to be considered. The initial build of an autoresponder can be daunting and labor intensive to configure correctly. Even if successful, they tend to lack the ability to be segmented into targeted mailing lists. Autoresponders also tend to have a higher opt-out or marked as spam rates, which means any effort put into those emails never made it to that subscriber's inbox.

This was last updated in April 2019

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