“Never understood why companies block replies to confirmation emails,” my friend Ted Sindzinski recently remarked on Twitter. “Fastest path for help = better service = better name. Any time a customer is forced into ‘system,’ it’s going to frustrate. Figure out how to capture without them doing the work.”

I’m a believer in this. That is why my email address is the reply address on every automated email that my community software sends out – and has been for at least 13 years. Not just confirmation emails, but any sort of notification message, too.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to put a real email address on every automated email – but at the very least, you should do so for every email that requires an action. When you ask a person to complete an action via email, you should make it easier for them to contact you if they have a problem completing that action. There is no easier method than hitting reply.

Do Not Reply

You’ve seen automated emails where this isn’t true. They might even come from an email address like do-not-reply@domain.com. If you want to contact them, you have to do something else. You have to send them a message at a different address or visit their website to open a support ticket.

People do this for different reasons. They want to force you into some sort of funnel they can more easily track. They might be afraid of receiving a lot of unnecessary email, “out of office” autoresponders and bounced messages. These are reasons – but it doesn’t make them good reasons.

If you want to funnel people, fit the funnel to what they would do naturally. Feed reply emails into your funnel and track them. If you are worried about receiving too many emails, don’t be. As I said, I’ve had my email address on every automated email that has gone out for more than 13 years. My communities have received around 200 million pageviews, well over a million contributions and tens of thousands of registered users.

The Volume of Messages You’ll Receive

I have never – not once – felt overwhelmed by the number of email responses I received. While I suspect that this may be different for the top 0.5% most active, it could still mean a lot less than messages than you think. For the other 95.5%, it’s not a big deal.

Most of the emails I receive are legit emails from community members. The simple reason for this is that we confirm their email address on the first message. They have to confirm it as legitimate before we send them any additional emails. As such, bounced messages are very rare.

Autoresponders are a non-issue for me. They are more of a problem for people who run email newsletters. That said, if they are an issue for you, it’s easy enough to tweak your email filters to automatically prevent them from hitting your inbox (here are some terms you can use).

Why People Reply

Most commonly, the type of message I receive has to do with trouble confirming an account. They may have accidentally indicated they were younger than 13 years old, triggering a COPPA permission form. Or they are having trouble clicking the confirmation link. I can then manually confirm them and save that information in my records. If it wasn’t so easy to contact me, these members may have just left – never to return.

Rarely, an email I receive will be related to something besides the confirmation email. An example would be someone who wants to turn off new content notifications and doesn’t know how. I can then turn it off for them. This is much better than them reporting our emails as spam to Google or someone else. Yes, the option to turn off notifications is plainly available in their profile. Yes, perhaps, they are being a little lazy. But no, it doesn’t matter because if they report it as spam, it can damage us. I want to help them and will happily do so.

This is the same reason why replies to email newsletters should also go somewhere. Not only does a “do-not-reply@domain.com” email address harm engagement, it makes it harder for people to unsubscribe or update their email address. Yes, you have made your subscription options plainly visible in your email. But no, it doesn’t matter because if they have an issue, they will probably just report it as spam and be done with it. If they actually put in the effort to contact you, that’s a process you want to make as easy as possible.

If your community software is sending out automated emails – especially confirmation emails and newsletters – and the replies to those messages don’t reach anyone, that’s a missed opportunity.