This morning I got an email from Backpack, telling me that my business partner added a new page with some meeting minutes from our late night conversation the other day. I clicked the link, reviewed the page, and quickly rushed off a reply to his email saying that it looked good.

Then I noticed it. It wasn’t his email — it was sent by the Backpack system itself, not my friend. I rushed to my Sent Items, and found an email addressed to him. I was really surprised. I had lost context, focused on the author of the page instead of the email, wanted to respond about the content of the page, and the crew at 37signals just made the right thing happen automatically.

Notice what they didn’t do. They didn’t make me “Click here to respond to the author.” They didn’t invent a kludgey discussion area on Backpack for talking about the page content. And they didn’t just throw my email in the bit bucket because I hit Reply on a system generated message. They made things just work when my human habit of hitting-Reply-to-talk-to-somebody-that-wrote-something-to-me kicked in.

Two other nice things they did: gave the email author the simple name of Backpack, and used an email address of system at backpackit dot com that didn’t try to tell me not to actually use my email program to, you know, talk to people. I don’t know where the system address goes or how it’s responded to, and maybe other system emails are set to reply to that address. I’m guessing, though, that their example of great finish work on a system is carried throughout most of their other emails. It’s a humanized response that gives the system its polish.

What emails is your system sending out. If someone were to hit Reply, who should get that email. If you immediately say, “No one” then think about if that recipient came to your office or picked up the phone, who would they need to talk to so that they were helped properly. Is it Support? Is it their manager? Is it the VP of Marketing? Make the email go there. Make sure your customers need for human communication is fulfilled effortlessly and without thought or extra action. They will sing your praises.

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