Every now and then I like to use this blog to take our readers back to basics and visit parts of the Salesforce.com application that they may have overlooked. Today's topic is none other than good old Auto-Response Rules.
Auto-Response Rules are a type of workflow that are available on Case and Lead. Broadly speaking, their function is to generate an email automatically in response to an incoming contact from a customer. They are often used in conjunction with Web To Case, Email To Case, and Web To Lead.
The great thing about auto-response rules is that they can automate that first response to the customer and provide that customer with a branded, professional-looking email that makes that customer feel that he has been heard. There can sometimes be a bit of confusion around when to use auto-response rules and when to use workflow email alerts. It can be fairly said that you can accomplish some of the same things with both. Auto-response rules have workflow-esque criteria, and like an email alert, they generate an email based on an email template. In some ways, workflow email alerts are more powerful in that they allow you to choose who to send the email to from a list of people who are related to the object, whereas auto-response rules only email the Contact on the case or the email address of the Lead.
Indeed, they are much alike, but auto-response rules are specially tailored for the use case of the first response to a customer contact, and they do have two very powerful features to that end. First of all, auto-response rules are processed sequentially, whereas workflow rules are processed in parallel. What does this mean?
Let's say I have two levels of support, Premier and Basic, and two products, Product A and Product B. If a Premier Support customer creates a case, I want to email him back with my Premier Support template, from my Premier Support email address. If the customer is Basic support, however, I want to send him an email from Basic Support using a template that differs by product.
If I were to try to model this using standard workflow rules, I would end up with at least 3 different rules, and with a convoluted set of criteria to ensure that I don't end up sending the email multiple times. Auto-response emails are different, though -- because they're processed sequentially, they are guaranteed to send at most one email. An auto-response rule will try each rule entry in sequence until it hits some criteria that matches, and it will send the email from that rule entry and stop processing the remainder of the rules. Here's how my auto-response rule might look in this example:
While it can seem at times that workflow email alerts and auto-response rules are identical, use cases like this one illustrate the differences. Happy emailing!