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Put your e-mail responses on autopilot

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An auto-responder is a type of e-mail that automatically replies with a standard message to anyone who sends mail to it. Many businesses have a link on their web sites that creates the e-mail. You can buy fancy auto-responder software programs to enable this functionality. However, you can create your own program using Outlook 2007. It’s not beyond the average user!

Let’s say the link on your web site reads, “I’m interested! Send me information about the All Star 2011 Sales conference.” By creating a message template and an incoming mail rule, you can simultaneously mark the message “read,” create a response with the additional information, capture all the information in the e-mail in a separate folder and track e-mails from potential attendees. Here’s how:
  1. First, you need a customized message template. To create it, compose an e-mail as if you were going to send it to a respondent with all the information promised on the web site.
  2. Next, click File and Save as, and then change the Save as type to Outlook Template. Name it something easily recognizable.
  3. Then, confirm that the Save in the directory has automatically changed to Templates and click Save.
Now you need to create the rule. The rule will examine each incoming message for the specific subject line created by your web site e-mail form. For example, in our scenario, it’s “I’m interested!” When this condition is true, it will send a reply based on the auto-response created in the steps above. In addition, it will move it to a folder called, “Prospective Attendees,” which you already created.

To create the rule:
  1. Click on Tools, then Rules and Alerts.
  2. On the E-mail Rules tab, select New Rule.
  3. From the bottom of the main list in the category, start from a blank rule; choose Check messages when they arrive.
  4. Choose the option that says: With specific words in the subject. As this is added to the rule description in the bottom part of the dialog box, click the link to specify the words “I’m Interested!” exactly as it will appear in the subject line.
  5. Check the boxes marked: Move it to a specified folder; Reply using a specific template; Mark it as read.
  6. Click the link to specify the folder and template. Be sure to change the Look in directory to User Templates in File System. This is where you’ll find the template you created earlier.
  7. After clicking Next, you may want to specify some exceptions, such as if the subject line contains either “Re:” or “Fwd.” This would obviate the auto-responder from sending out duplicate messages to interested parties.

Turn the rule on and test it with a “safe” e-mail address to make sure the rule behaves as you like.

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Contributor: Melissa P. Esquibel, Microsoft® Certified Trainer

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