One of the most difficult things to outsource, much less optimize, is email. Not only do people have trouble letting go of control over something so personal and in many case critical to their way of operating, but they also have no idea where to begin. I have come up with what I'm calling "The Human Autoresponder" and while the components are not necessarily that ground breaking, the compilation and final outcome is what really has me salivating over the possibilities.
Basically it works like this...you pick a certain keyword or combination of keywords that you often see in your incoming "essential" mail. In my case, I get a lot of inquiries regarding Crohn's Disease. Maybe you get a lot of email about a particular product or service you offer, or maybe you work in real estate and particular addresses are mentioned a lot. Previously, I had set up a standard canned response in Gmail that would respond to any email that had the word "crohn" in it. The autoresponder tried to cover all possible questions relating to Crohn's and give a general answer, pointing people in the right direction for the information they were seeking. I even had an intro stating that it was an automatic response and I hope it answered their question but if it didn't then I would get back to them with a personalized answer.
I was pretty satisfied with this setup and started testing it. Within about 2 hours I realized that it was a horribly bad idea. I got a newsletter email from the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation and when Gmail autoresponded it bounced back and then created a temporary loop. Someone else emailed me with a question that wasn't covered at all by the canned response. Long story short, it did not work...
I created an Evernote notebook called "Autoresponders" and each not refers to a different keyword. So now I have a note in Evernote and rather than contain a canned response about Crohn's it tells my story as well as bullet points for every possible resource related to crohn's I know of on my site and others and even my coaching services. But that's too much information to send everyone you say? I turned to our good friend IFTTT. I setup a recipe so that if a new email comes in with the word "crohn" the email will be forwarded to my FancyHands assistant with these instructions:
"This email has been automatically forwarded to you based on certain keywords. If the message is obviously spam or there was some error in the forward than let me know. The task is for you to personally respond to the person below using the information provided in an Evernote note. You will use your best judgement to create a personable and informative response. If you don't have enough information in the notebook then let me know. Otherwise, visit this Evernote note for full instructions: https://www.evernote.com/xxxxxxxxxxx."
So now the assistant has all of the information they need and can extract just enough to provide the correct answer to the inquiry. I even included an opening paragraph that basically explains how I feel it's more important to give someone the information they are seeking quickly than to delay just to give a personal response with the same information. It's not about arrogance and being too busy to answer them, quite the opposite.
One nice feature is that IFTTT recipes run every 15 minutes, so if you happen to be working in your email and you see one of these messages come in, you have the opportunity to deal with it yourself, otherwise you now have a method for a virtual assistant to craft an "automated" yes personal and charismatic response to your emails.