We've all seen it in our inbox…the From: field that says 'email@example.com'
"But," you say, "I would love to continue the conversation."
As a consumer, wouldn't it be nice to know that there is a human at the other end of the interwebs? Someone with whom you could share thoughts and ask questions, in a two-way conversation?
All too often companies send transactional and bulk email messages and fail to provide an easy way for the recipient to complete the communication loop. Due to the prevalence of this practice, it may seem acceptable – and in some very unique cases, it may even be necessary. However, this approach can lead to missed opportunities in customer engagement and retention and should be avoided if possible.
By prohibiting your customers' replies, you forfeit the opportunity to engage in a rich, ongoing discussion with your user – a discussion that could lead to improved product development, happier customers, and ultimately higher revenues.
The 'no-reply' habit can also prevent you from achieving optimal email deliverability. ISP's such as Yahoo and Gmail take into consideration their users' reply habits within their spam-detection algorithms. If a user actively replies to a specific address often enough, it will automatically be added to their trusted contacts list. In most cases, messages from senders that exist on a user's contacts list won’t be marked as spam, and will happily reach the inbox!
Breaking the habit
A great way to get started down the path of "do-reply" is to allow newly registered users to confirm their email address and/or activate their account by replying to your confirmation email. This can be offered as the preferred option, in addition to providing a confirmation/activation link.
Email is an ideal way to maintain a continued conversation, because, as a ubiquitous electronic communication medium, it's easy for the customer. Admittedly though, it can be difficult to handle hundreds or thousands of incoming customer emails through a manual process. Fortunately, with some advanced software, management of all of those incoming messages can be highly automated and quite efficient.
Consider the use of email at WordPress, Posterous, Intense Debate, and Facebook. WordPress and Posterous allow users to write and publish blog posts by simply sending an email to a specified address. In the same manner, Facebook and Intense Debate allow users to reply to wall and blog comments via a quick email reply.
These same ideas can be applied to your use case – just carefully examine your specific needs and get creative! Also, don't forget to do your homework – there are often services out there that have already done at least some of the work for you. ;)