Automation is not always good

Estimated read time: 2 minutes


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 70,355 other subscribers



I volunteered over 100 hours in 2014 in the community, but unfortunately every once in a while I have to cancel an  assignment. This was the case in fall 2014. I had signed up to volunteer at a weekend event.

The week before I received an automated email from the organizer reminding me where to go and of my assignment. Automation in this case worked. They spelled my name right. The email made sense and got me the info I needed.

As the event draw closer, I had a conflict arise and needed to cancel my involvement.  I thought I could reply to the automated email message and let them know. I opened the email, clicked reply and did not get one of those unfriendly “no-reply” email addresses. It looked like I was replying to the actual sender. Great. I apologized and let her know about the change in plans. I didn’t get a response but also didn’t have another way of getting in touch with her that I knew of.

The event took place! I know because friends were posting pictures from it on Facebook.

Then on Monday I received another email from the volunteer coordinator:

The …. committee would like to send a huge THANK YOU to all of the volunteers who came out on a chilly day to help put on another fabulous event. We truly can not say thank you enough. This … would not be possible with out all of our volunteers.

Automation didn’t really work here.

I didn’t attend. In fact, I canceled. Why was sent this? It doesn’t apply to me. It’s just one more email to delete.

if we take things completely literal, it could be argued that  they didn’t thank me and weren’t really talking to me. Sure,  it’s only talking to the “volunteers who came out” but it was sent to me and with that alone it’s addressed to me and talking to me. Qualifying language like the copy above doesn’t change.

In this case, automation didn’t work. It sent a message that didn’t apply to me and who knows how many others.

Automation works with care and oversight and foresight.

Remember to look at the different scenarios and think of the people receiving the messages. Are they getting the right messages at the right times? If you are not sure, keep fiddling and testing before they get them.

I will continue supporting this particular nonprofit, but it’s good to remember that bad automation can hurt and in some cases ruin relationships. If you can’t take the time to care about messages to me, why should I care about giving you my time (or money)?

Automation is best when we don’t notice it. And when it’s noticed it’s usually not in a good way.