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The Art and Science of System Generated Emails

One buzz word for the past couple decades has been “workflow automation.” As a technologist and someone who values efficiency, the intent of these ideas and the systems are important, but their implementation tends to get a little sloppy on the details.

One area where the rubber hits the road are system generated emails. Usually, a system generated email requires the user to take some sort of action, or to be notified of something. Here are some guiding principles that I recommend for developing a strong system generated email:

    1. Minimum Customization (i.e. variable copy): Since emails have to go through copyedit reviews, the communication departments, the legal teams, etc. — keep it simple. Less is more.
    2. Minimum HTML Formatting: The email has a purpose and really does not need too many bells and whistles — every added second to download to the users phone or computer reduces the chance of action.
    3. Consistency between Subject, Body and Footer: Humans proceess what they read in patterns. If the content is structured in a way to make it easy for the reader to understand, then there is a higher chance of response.
      1. Subject: [What does this have to do with?]:[What is the action?]
      2. Body: Identify Main Actor; State Needed Action; State Alternative Scenario and Action (if needed)
      3. Footer: What to reference for help? Who to speak with for help?
    4. Active Voice: All copy should be in the active voice

Thanks for reading.

~ Krishan