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I'm wondering if there has been research into whether users actually enjoy receiving those 'We got your email' type of responses from support requests or feedback forms. I find it irritating personally, but I realize I could be in the minority.

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I like it because it gives me a record of what a message that I sent which would otherwise have to remember myself. Why is that important? Because I can flag the thing in my inbox to denote that I did communicate something and am still waiting for the actual response. It is sort of the same as an order confirmation which I would flag to denote that I am still waiting for the goods to arrive. –  Marjan Venema Sep 21 '13 at 9:33
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Probably the best way to implement it would be a checkbox so users can choose whether or not they got a confirm email. –  PhillipW Sep 21 '13 at 10:25

2 Answers 2

This type of system behaviour is an implementation of a Feedback Loop, which is key for interaction design.

In Seductive Interaction Design, Stephen Anderson summarises:

We like to know that our actions are influencing the world in some way, that our actions cause reaction - cause and effect.

In this specific case, you can argue that a sufficient feedback loop would be to display an on-screen message saying: "We have recorded your request and will get back to you in due course."

However, confirmation emails have some additional benefits:

  • They serve as a receipt (or a proof), including date and ideally the content of the request. These can be highly useful for further communication with the business. For instance, I don't have an email showing when did I ask my power company to join my electricity and gas bills - despite this happening some 6 months ago; so every time I call I have to approximate the time, which reduces my credibility.
  • It assures the user that the email address they have provided is correct.
  • The email is used by some as a follow-up reminder.
  • In the strict development sense, many customer-service/fault-tracking packages send emails with a unique ID in the subject, facilitating further communication with the business via email exchange.

You can make an analogy here to a launderette receipt - would you prefer the owner to just tell you "It's alright Sir - I've got your name and telephone in my books; no need for a receipt. Just come back on Wednesday"?

A Photo a a receipt for cash exchange

Having said that, none of this may apply in your situation, and the benefit of such emails may outweigh the cost (of users having to deal with these emails).

Like receipts, if your reckon there may be too many too frequently, offer your users the option to opt out. Doing so would also answer your question - as you will have analytics regarding how many people, like you, find it unnecessary.

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As confirmation emails are an overhead that people have to spend time and resources dealing with, the potential for annoyance is high.

When they function as feedback to an action then they are problematic because they are neither close in time to the action, nor close in location (you have to be logged in to your email account to check for, or be alerted to, the confirmation email).

When they function as receipts (i.e. in the types of processes that typically require receipts) they are more suitable. Consider though that when they serve primarily a "peace of mind" or "insurance" function (where they are only needed in the case of a breakdown of the process) they will cause the user to spend time and resources dealing with an email that is unnecessary the vast majority of the time.

So an analysis of the task and process is needed to determine their suitability.

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While I don't disagree, I feel the following is worth mentioning: While the proximity of the feedback is a criterion to its effectiveness, this is also context dependent. In the case of personal email boxes - these are external to the system; an acceptable system behaviour in this case would be to send the email promptly so it is in the inbox next time the user checks or refreshes the inbox. Your personal email is in your control and rightly so, and nowadays people are able to get next to instant notifications using their mobile devices. –  Izhaki Sep 22 '13 at 17:07
    
You wouldn't consider the postmen ringing your bell every morning as acceptable despite shortening the feedback time. Nor would you wish a system like the one the OP describes to send you an instant SMS notification - which many will consider intrusive. –  Izhaki Sep 22 '13 at 17:08
    
Good addition. I always start from a position of don't give the user more work (especially not more work that is remote in time from the task/process). Email confirmation requires work reading, evaluating, and acting on the email (e.g. keeping/deleting) at some future time, and should be used only if it serves a vital function, and can't be achieved using more efficient methods (e.g.instant feedback that your action succeeded) that have no future work overheads. In the end the process/task demands will determine that suitability. –  uxzapper Sep 24 '13 at 0:19

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