What is an Autoresponder?

Mary McMahon

An autoresponder is a program which automatically generates a response when it receives information. The classic use of autoresponders is in email management, but these programs can also be found on websites. This type of program can be a very useful and powerful tool for everything from Internet marketing to managing admissions to a university. Many people have encountered some version of the autoresponder at some point in their lives.

Many people set up email autoresponders while on vacation so that senders know a personal reply will not happen immediately.
Many people set up email autoresponders while on vacation so that senders know a personal reply will not happen immediately.

The earliest versions of these programs were designed to return errors when an email could not be delivered, to alert the sender to a problem. After the mail delivery system had made several attempts, it would tell the autoresponder to contact the sender and tell him or her that the email was not delivered. The cause of the error might be detailed as well, so that the sender would know why the error happened, and how it might be prevented in the future.

This concept also began to be adopted by people who wanted to send instant responses when they received emails to let senders know that the email was received, and a reply could be expected. These autoresponders are commonly used on customer service sites to tell people that their requests have been received, and that they will be processed within a set period of time. This technique is also utilized in marketing, so that when someone makes an attempt at contact, that contact is immediately returned and reinforced.

People can utilize autoresponders to handle their email when they are out of the office or unavailable, as well. While on vacation, many people set up autoresponders so that when they receive emails, the senders will know why a personal reply will not be immediately forthcoming. People who are especially concerned about responding to emails and requests may turn on the autoresponder when they are unavailable, even if only briefly while in a meeting or at lunch.

Content-based programs are also available. For example, when someone wants to unsubscribe from a mailing list, the server will generate an autoresponder to confirm that the person's name and email have been removed. These content-based autoresponders allow people to focus on emails and issues which must be personally attended to, saving time in the office. Programs on websites often perform the same function, guiding users through basic inquiries to see if the autoresponder can help before a real person needs to become involved.

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