106

As a customer of one of service, I just got an invoice for services I ordered and paid. It always surprises me that at end of such mails containing invoice, you will find sentence like this:

This is automatically generated e-mail. Please do not respond to it.

From my own user experience I find no reason why (at least) big companies should use the no-reply bots to send you invoices.

To me, the invoices should be sent from address like customer-care@that-big-company.com so in case the customer has any issues with the invoice, (s)he can hit "Reply" button in their e-mail app and send quick response, which will be then transferred to someone at customer care.

But since lots of companies apply the other approach (do not reply, you have to find our contact at our web and then you can file a complaint.)

Is there any UX reason to send invoice like e-mails from no-reply addresses?

I don't see one, but because its quite common approach, there has to be any reasoning. Right?

  • 30
    I guess when a company sends thousands of invoices a month, they don't want replies to all of them. And with real sender address the mailbox would be filled with "out of office" replies and "thank you for your invoice". If I receive an invoice with problems, I usually call directly to the company who sent it, email might not reach them in time. And usually it says in the invoice that "if there's problems, call us immediately". And I still prefer talking with real people instead of machines. – Samuel M Aug 14 '15 at 10:19
  • 1
    Most out of office auto replies should be easy to filter out because they are not sent with any envelope-sender address. It's set up that way so that they don't bounce auto-responders don't reply to each other. – bdsl Aug 14 '15 at 11:15
  • 4
    In the Netherlands, noreply email addresses are not permitted. You may have a noreply@companyname.nl address but you have to read and respond to those replies. – freekvd Aug 15 '15 at 5:54
  • 2
    Acutally, the last company I worked for monitored the no-reply inbox. – Max Ried Aug 15 '15 at 20:17
  • 3
    About a week ago, I responded to an email I received from President Obama. Since then every day, I get an email telling me that President Obama does not read my emails. I did not expect President Obama to read my emails, but since he was asking for money, I would expect someone (who indirectly reported to President Obama) to read my email. – emory Aug 16 '15 at 17:43

17 Answers 17

80

It might not have many UX reasons...

... but it is benefical for the company.

I start with companies that have a large community, for example amazon. They have 244 million users and therefore many e-mails to send and to reply to. Most of the sent e-mails probably are automatically generated shipping confirmations telling you not to reply, because this address was just created for sending e-mails. If you reply to this e-mail you'll receive another automatically generated e-mail telling you to use their contact form. The contact form helps them to categorize your problem step by step (e.g. you can choose the order you have problems with) so the right person can help you solving your problem having all the required data from you. This of course can lead to a better UX as your problem gets solved more efficiently.

A large company like amazon also uses no-reply e-mail-addresses for sending out newsletters. First of all they will get hundreds of replies because of mail delivery failures or out of office replies. Then they avoid spamming replies, because it is easier to just hit the reply-button than going to their homepage and use the contact form (see insidesin's answer).

Smaller companies instead would love to hear every thought from their community members. If five or six people replying to their newsletter with "Thanks, that's a cool feature!" they are happy and it took them some minutes to read the e-mails.

But here too, it sometimes can feel the right way to tell users not to reply on this e-mail. Let's take automatically generated weekly summaries of what happened to your account. To me as a user it would feel strange to talk with their bot so even without the "do not answer"-sentence I would not have the idea to reply. For non-tech savvy users it nevertheless can help understand that it was not a real person who sent the e-mail.

  • 13
    I agree with your answer, except: isn't a contact form that categorizes a problem and helps it get resolved efficiently a UX reason? – user31143 Aug 14 '15 at 13:44
  • Haven't thought about it in this way but you are right. I only saw it as an advantage for the companies' workers to work more efficiently but it can also improve UX for the user by getting faster feedback and so on. – Marvin Aug 14 '15 at 14:10
  • The contact form helps them to categorize your problem step by step (e.g. you can choose the order you have problems with) But if you answer to the email with the original text included, the context is available too. – A.L Aug 14 '15 at 15:41
  • 2
    @dan1111, what if email actually suits the user better? Your contact form may not have a suitable answer for a required field, require me to be a customer (which is not applicable for what I am contacting you), force me to rewrite a letter that was being sent to multiple parties, need to be connected with the user ticketing system or simply keep a local record of what was sent. – Ángel Aug 14 '15 at 22:55
  • 1
    @Marvin UX doesn't only serve the user. UX must also meet business drivers. Usually we can balance those, but sometimes not. A "Don't email us" requirement that is advantageous for the company might be the result of a UX design that is deliberately balanced in favour of the company. (But I actually think we could do better than No-reply.) – JeromeR Aug 15 '15 at 8:41
27

Personally, I find this really annoying and really bad UX.

There is a large music equipment online store in Europe, which does it differently, and I always enjoy interacting with them. When you reply to an invoice, you do not get just customer-care@whatever.example or billing@whatever.example, no, you actually get a direct email to the customer support representative responsible for handling your order. (And they have it set up so that the entire process is always handled by a single person, from order to payment to shipping.) The invoice email also includes that customer representative's name and direct dial-through phone extension, you'll never deal with a call center.

There's a tracing ID embedded in the subject line as well as the body of the email, so presumably they can directly pull up the details of the transaction as the emails enters their system. Similarly, if you have entered your phone number in the user details form, they will use caller ID to directly match your call with your user profile and your open transactions. The last time I called, I literally didn't have to say anything, they knew who I was, they inferred correctly which transaction I was calling about, they even guessed correctly why I called.

Ironically, this gives a much more personal and direct "feel" than with that store's direct competitor which is actually based in the town I live in and has a brick-and-mortar store I can literally walk over to.

  • 13
    I think that is a nice method, but it probably depends on a business model that requires more customer service time per order that can be sustained in many businesses. I don't think Amazon could do it, for example. – user31143 Aug 14 '15 at 13:49
  • 1
    I also think it's bad UX. There's nothing like getting one of those "no-reply" emails that's full of wrong information, with no contact info. So, you waste time on the website finding someone, anyone that you can e-mail about it. If it wasn't a no-reply, could have been done much quicker. – Brian Knoblauch Aug 14 '15 at 16:49
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    @BrianKnoblauch You mean like those Amazon mails that have, just below the main body of the mail: "Need to view or print your invoice? Go to Order Details. Learn more. // It's easy to return an item. Visit our Online Returns Centre. // If you need further assistance with your order, please visit Customer Service." All three items are hyperlinks o somewhere, all to a different (relevant) place. Is that really more complicated than replying to a mail? – yo' Aug 17 '15 at 9:41
16

As someone working in customer support, which of the following would make it easier for you to decide which mails you answer, which you forward to the technical staff, and which ones you ignore?

If you got these e-mails to your contact address:

  • Please implement feature X, we really need it!
  • I bought product Y from you but it doesn't work
  • Wow i liked the latest change you made to your site!
  • Your application crashes on Windows XP
  • H0w t0 SATISfY HER 1n BeD $$$ buy CheaP v14gR4

Or if all of the above came as a reply to an automatic mail?

  • RE: Email Verification
  • RE: Email Verification
  • RE: Email Verification
  • RE: Email Verification
  • RE: Email Verification
  • 1
    While the other answers are certainly good, this one stands out with the perfect analogy. – Chethan S. Aug 20 '15 at 4:34
  • Ironically, I think the second one, which came as a reply to an automatic mail, will likely make me want to open than the first. Why? The first ones one look just like what 'spam' mails to me. My inbox got a lot of mail with interesting titles like them, but they are not what I would expect after reading. – Judy Chen Jan 6 '16 at 3:40
  • 1
    @JudyChen the example here is not about personal emails. It's about emails customer support receives. – Oksi Oct 9 '17 at 15:34
8

Think of it this way,

That order you just received in the mail you didn't like one little part of it, so you emailed back with some small 'issue'. Imagine how many other people are doing the same.

Now imagine the effort it would take to complain about that small part if instead you had to go through a series of pages, support tickets or something along those lines.

It's a way to stop people 'spamming', without knowing they are spamming. It's another filter level.

Another bonus is that it lets the company select what email account receives what emails, i.e. we don't want thousands of emails at customer-care@big-company.com but we may want thousands of emails spread between engineers@, customer-service@, production-errors@, etc.

  • 7
    Since I've been working with automated no-reply -emails quite a lot, I like your answer. We recommend our customers to use no-reply addresses to automated messages from our products, but some customers want to use their real customer service email as the sender of automated messages. And usually quite fast they want to change the address because of excess spam, when people answer to "reset your password" -messages (etc.) with "thank you" or something else stupid, which creates new tickets to the customer service. – Samuel M Aug 14 '15 at 10:13
  • 2
    Yeah. I'd consider those on the 'nicer' end of what could happen if your automated emails had a need to be RE:'d after every reply. That would make a good website... "Untold stories of the RE:", where you display all the messages sent back to do-not-reply of big companies. Edit: 'RE: you there?' I have so many lame web ideas, but I'm too lazy to use my skills on them. – insidesin Aug 14 '15 at 10:17
2

Well, it's an anti-pattern actually as it totally disrupts the flow of any human being. I think it's something that is overused and IMHO can totally be ommited. One of the reasons I've heard was because some people (like marketeers) hate to sift through dozens of out-of-office mails. Another reason is probably because some companies apply a very rigorous set of bureaucratic rules to correspond with outsiders, although that in itself is an anti-pattern to me.

It could just as easily be seen as a dark pattern, as it tries to actually demotivate you to send a complain or ask a question regarding your invoice for instance. Say that they've overcharged you by 1 dollar, most people would probably not go the extra mile to try and contact somebody, but thousands of such invoices start to really add up.

However, in some cases I agree it is necessary to do, like when sending password recoveries and so on, basically any computer sent mail regarding an abstract subject (like password, logins, ...)

I myself find it frustrating that I have to go to a company website, find the elusive contact e-mail address and than having to gather all my information once more.

  • 2
    Have you been responsible for handling a significant volume of email support? I think most people who have (including me) are more sympathetic to companies providing some limits on contact. Note that this isn't the same as being difficult to contact (which I agree is infuriating). Many companies that use "do not reply" emails still have support that is readily accessible. Limiting replies just cuts out some of the mindless responses. – user31143 Aug 14 '15 at 13:47
  • No, I haven't been, I admit being a little harsh in my answer, but I agree that not all message should have the ability to be replied on. Anyway, if I'd make a mail, I'd first consider talking to the user as well as the guys at the other end of the support line :-) – Xabre Aug 14 '15 at 13:54
  • I agree with your answer that some of the reasons for Do-Not-Reply are bad. While I think the legitimate reasons for the pattern need to be considered this adds to the discussion. – user31143 Aug 14 '15 at 13:59
2

From my experience developing e-commerce sites I know a little bit about how this happens. Rather than looking at how 'Amazon do it' in some ideal scenario we need to look at how it has happened with real small/medium sized businesses in the last few years.

Imagine a bricks and mortar business with some office server running some 'Exchange' thing so that everyone can read their emails The Microsoft Way.

Now add a web server for the ecommerce or other offering. This sits in some data center somewhere miles away, locked down for things like PCI compliance. As part of the project plan there comes along a need to send emails - new order emails etc. The important thing about these emails is that they arrive in the inbox rather than spam. The server does not have to read the replies, just send the order acknowledgement and maybe delivery/returns emails.

To have the emails sent from the web server rather than the Exchange box is a thing, PTR records, SPF records, a lot to get right so that delivery actually happens. If this is done wrong the web server appears as a 'fake' impersonation of the Exchange box (wrong IP address, no verification beyond that, 'reply-to' address that anyone could enter).

Now you could spend ages with some boss-of-Dilbert that manages email things in the Exchange world, or you could just decide that is just too difficult - 'change request forms', quote from some IT contractor too steep - and just get the email from the web server working on some other domain far removed from the Outlook/Exchange world. That domain could be 'example-web-sales.com' instead of 'example.com'.

It is these real world difficulties of getting an existing ('Exchange') email system that is managed by IT people (rather than developer types) to play ball with a new website that was probably built by a third party agency (where there isn't a lot of email delivery expertise) that cause people to take the 'no-reply' route.

  • I'm a web developer myself, and I get the gist of what you mentioned. But it is pretty standard to set different emails for From and Reply-to headers. The Reply-to address could be a real email address capable of receiving emails. When sending emails, it's useful to make it possible for the site software to dynamically change the from email address without having to store real SMTP/IMAP account details. – Ayesh K Aug 19 '15 at 14:36
  • My point is that at times email addresses can be hard to route/do things with if you have to deal with PEOPLE. Where I work right now we need to get an email address that corresponds to where I work for the third party email helpdesk thing. To get that to happen would take two minutes if you were actually doing it, whereas if you have to get permission from someone, explaining what it is required, so they can then ask someone else, then the task suddenly becomes hard. So, yes 'pretty standard' is fine but real world doing stuff isn't always easy because of people and inane procedures. – Henry's Cat Aug 19 '15 at 16:15
2

One potential reason that I didn't see in the other answers is that the original email may contain sensitive information (perhaps an account number or something). Making it so that the reply goes nowhere could prevent this information from being inadvertently left in as part of an email chain.

2

Actually, there is one, but it's not what you think.

Generally speaking, a no-reply e-mail is an anti-pattern.

In my career, I've seen one example where two companies didn't use no-reply e-mails, and things went south. It's not a good reason to use no-reply e-mails, but certainly something you should consider when using support tools instead.

Consider this scenario: an e-commerce company decides to substitute the no-reply e-mail as the confirmation order sender with an automated contact@example.com address, which puts your e-mail into a support system, where it creates a ticket for it, gives it an assignee, etc.

A couple weeks later, that company integrates through an API with a partner, who places a lot of orders in the company's system. Unluckily, the partner also has the same policy of putting data in a support system.

So, what happens is: the partner starts placing orders in extreme quantities, receives a ton of order confirmation e-mails. Since the partner provided a standard contact@example.com address again, all of those e-mails go into the ticketing system. So, the ticketing system starts sending out ticket creation confirmations to the original company. Obviously, to the contact@ e-mail, so they end up as separate tickets in the ticketing system of the first company. Which, by the way, sends the confirmations back again which causes the partner's system to create even more tickets, and send out even more confirmations.

Complete e-mail paralysis on both sides for a couple hours ;-)

  • It's amusing to think of this happening. So you've seen this happen? – JeromeR Aug 15 '15 at 8:45
  • 1
    About four weeks ago, with our taxi booking startup - to make things worse, on a weekend. One of the managers had his e-mail plugged in to that system and push notifications on his phone went crazy. – Wojtek Szkutnik Aug 15 '15 at 8:52
1

Is there any UX reason to send invoice like e-mails from no-reply addresses?

Clarification to the customer comes to mind. The customer recognizes it's generated by a computer and not by some division of the company. Although this computer may or may not be part of the 'Customer Care' division, this is of no relevance to the customer.

  • This is a technical excuse, not a UX justification. Replies to computer-generated emails can easily be routed anywhere, so that the appropriate humans will see them and respond. Do-not-reply is an intentional choice to close off a route of communication. – user31143 Aug 14 '15 at 14:04
  • @dan1111 The UX part is where the customer instantly recognizes by the no-reply address and the footer telling it's automatically generated that indeed is automatically generated. It does prevent miscommunication. – Mast Aug 14 '15 at 15:10
  • the fact that the email is "automatically generated" is irrelevant, because it has no bearing on whether the replies could be received. That is my point. – user31143 Aug 15 '15 at 10:54
1

From a UX perspective - the perspective where the recipient of the 'no-reply' email is the centre of the universe: No, there is no good reason as people are used to replying to emails (some will try anyway) and clearly this would be the easiest way to raise any concerns they have at the point they have just finished reading the email. Intentionally making such action more difficult may be beneficial to the business but it is a negative experience for the end user.

In short, there may be a business case for increasing the difficulty such that only the truly motivated will complain but there doesn't seem to be any tenable argument as to how this would offer a superior user experience.

1

The no-reply can be beneficial to the user. The system used by a company might be sending these emails from a bot inbox which won't reply. Not having the no-reply, might allow the user to think that he can just reply to the email where he/she will not get a reply.

1

If it would be possible to usefully handle most of the kinds of replies people would likely sent in response to automated notifications, such capability will often provide a better user experience than any form of no-reply email.

If, however, usefully handling such replies would not be practical, having an automated notification explicitly disallow direct replies may be better than having it nominally accept direct replies but then be unable to usefully handle them.

Given that most email recipients will also have web access, the quality of user experience that may be achieved by having an email conspicuously ask people to respond using web links which are relatively short and conspicuously belong to the organization from which the email supposedly originates may often be better than anything which could have been achieved through email alone. If many customers have a problem, for example, those using a purely-email system may waste time writing messages to tell the company something it already knows, while those using a web-based reply link could be given immediate information and/or assistance before they even write a word.

Of course, a lot of companies routinely include absurdly huge web links, and sometimes direct people to dodgy domains (any link in an email from Acme Bank, whose main web site is at acmebank.example.com, should direct users through that domain, and not some other domain a customer likely never heard of like acmebankcustomerservice.example.com) That companies sometimes botch their web-link reply features, however, doesn't mean web-link replies are not a good approach in many cases.

1

Scams (aka Phishing)

This trains users not to trust a reply-to address as a vehicle for contacting the company. If you want to contact the company, visit their site manually or look up their phone number. Teach users that it's weird for official e-mails to contain contact information. Once they get used to this, they are at far lesser risk of getting scammed by someone impersonating the company. This is the same reason you read statements about companies not providing links to their website in the e-mail; you don't want your users to contact someone whose only intention is to hurt them.

Example scenario:

  • User places order
  • User receives confirmation with customer service address for reply
  • User sees problem, replies to e-mail
  • Customer service resolves problem
  • A few weeks later, user receives another e-mail from an impersonator about an order they didn't place
  • User replies to impersonator informing company they didn't place the order
  • Impersonator tricks user into providing more information ostensibly to "clear up" the "order" (username, password, name, date of birth, credit card number, who knows what they could get?).
  • Impersonator uses info for nefarious purposes.

Alternative scenario without being able to reply:

  • User places order
  • User receives confirmation without customer service address for reply
  • User sees problem, goes to website, contacts customer service
  • Customer service resolves problem
  • A few weeks later, user receives another e-mail from an impersonator about an order they didn't place
  • User goes to website, contacts customer service
  • Customer service informs user this is a phishing scam and requests they flag it as such for their e-mail service

It's all about setting an expectation that the user must intentionally seek out contact information, rather than trusting what's being fed to them. This is, of course, not perfect, but it's a good step to take in a world where it's so easy to impersonate someone via e-mail.

  • I'm really surprised no one mentioned this before me. – jpmc26 Aug 17 '15 at 6:14
  • «A few weeks later, user receives another e-mail from an impersonator about an order they didn't place but including a of your "support personnel"» He thinks "Nice, I don't need to search up that hiddden contact form again". He gets scammed, too. It is much better to provide an viewable email address in your domain. If you are used to see "customers@company.com", it's less likely that you think they are now using "company-customers@hotmail.com" (even though many people would still click it ☹). – Ángel Aug 18 '15 at 8:44
  • @Ángel As I said, it isn't perfect, but it's a good step to take. – jpmc26 Aug 18 '15 at 13:00
1

A very nice answer to a similar question is answered by @Emerson Rocha Luiz

Why is it common practice to send newsletters from fake email addresses?

Copying and pasting the content as per policy.

5 reasons of why use fake emails

  • Most emails from mail marketing are from some automatic tool or 3rd provider. These tools sometimes do not have easy way to configure a nice reply e-mail or who use do not know why
  • Reply e-mail is used by algorithms to define if one email should be considered spam or not. Reply/send email and title are most simple way to set a spam filter, but in practice good spam filter should consider more than this
  • The reply email will start to receive spam. Sometimes a very large amounts of spam.
  • Sometimes, in special for sites that send too much email, reply emails already are configured on spam filters and will be just discarded. New fake emails solve this.
  • Domain of reply emails and direct links to a site can impact on SEO to make your domain blacklisted. One client reported that on past, before know me, get out from fist page of Google after send 300.000 unsolicited email.

At the end, for UX is good have a nice and simple reply e-mail, but in practice, in special for old or services that users prefer use set as spam instead of unsubscribe, is very hard to you convince your client to use a nice reply email, because you will need to choose between or email have a nice reply email or the email really go to inbox of destiny. This depends of your client, is not for everyone. For new clients, I recomend that you try to convice use a nice reply email if this service is nice.

0

Somthing no other answer has mentioned.

Out of office emails

When sending huge amounts of emails (more so for marketing emails than receipt type emails) there are a lot of messages coming back these can be tricky to filter as there is no standard email reply and word based filtering gets you some false positives

-1

Turn off the reply buttons
If an email is not intended to be answered then the no-reply thing is completely valid.
What is outrageous is that the [reply] button appears active.
After so many years of email experience, it should be possible by now to send emails that do not prompt the receiver to reply.
This is something to be implemented in the email protocol.
In a menu, for example, we think that graying out the unavailable options is good UX. Why can't we simply gray out the email reply buttons?
This would be better for both the sender and the receiver.

  • -1 for solving problem the hardest way possible. As if you were solving traffic jam problems by forcing everyone to drive on the opposite side of the road – Pavel Janicek Jan 6 '16 at 7:55
-3

The sole purpose of sending No-Reply emails is to convey important messages, information, balance sheet of a company to share holders...

It is only to convey, it is one sided and does not need any answer from the receiver and there is no need for the receiver to reply for that email.

If at all any doubts arise, there are other ways of communication to the companies or any sender, BUT not NO_REPLY, email.

Even if you send, it will bounce back to your inbox without delivering

  • 1
    No-reply is often use for things the customer might want to reply to (e.g. an order confirmation). – user31143 Aug 15 '15 at 10:55

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