End-of-life for email replies

The time has come to bid adieu to the "reply to" functionality on email notifications. 

The background

xMatters users currently have two options when responding to an email notification:

  • For most email notifications - those with HTML enabled - the easiest, fastest, and coolest way to respond is to simply click the link that corresponds to your response choice at the bottom of the email. Your response is submitted instantly, and you can go about resolving whatever issue xMatters happened to be warning you about.
  • Another option, intended for use with plain-text emails, is for you to send an email reply back to xMatters. In the reply's subject line, you would type "RESPONSE", followed by your response choice, and then click Send. 

The issue

Over the years, we've received a lot of feedback that users get confused by the reply-to instructions embedded in every email. We've tried multiple times to update this language and make it as clear as possible, but ultimately, it's just a confusing concept that requires very precise steps. This has led us to remove the "To respond to this email..." instructions from HTML emails, and only display the instructions on plain-text emails.

We are now seeing that the latest versions of many popular email clients are not showing the plain-text version of the email, but instead rendering the HTML version (stripped of the HTML mark-up) of the email, which lacks the response token. (This token identifies the user and the event to which the user is responding; without it, xMatters can't determine who is responding to what event, and the response is simply discarded.)

That discovery has led us to investigate the popularity of the reply-to behavior within our system and we've found that it's not exactly the most heavily-used feature: we get, on average, fewer than 5 reply emails per day - compare to tens of thousands of email link responses.

The solution

Given the relative unpopularity of email replies, and some enhancements in progress for our HTML email functionality, we're planning to remove the reply-to functionality.

As of February 2018, users will no longer be able to respond to email notifications by sending a reply email back to xMatters. 

We'll be able to do this primarily because of two features we'll be adding to HTML response links in the near future:

  • Commenting: Reply-to responses allow users to include an additional comment in the subject line when replying to an email notification. This comment is passed back to xMatters, and added to the Events report. We're working on updating this feature so users will be able to include comments when clicking a response choice in an HTML email.
  • Link forwarding: Okay, so we don't have a cool name for this yet, but we're also working on a feature that will push a responding user through to another web page after responding. This could be a conference bridge, chat room, or even the management system where the event originated. 

This change will also mean the end of support for plain-text emails. The vast majority of our customers prefer the ease and simplicity of HTML response links, and the reply-to workflow is proving to be too cumbersome and obsolete.

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