Why I hate no-reply / unmonitored inboxes: with example

Wed, Jun 12, 2019 6-minute read

You know the story. You get an email from miscellaneous business that’s trying to coax you in to buying / clicking / agreeing to / on something. You look at the email. You have an issue.

You -gasp- reply to the email. And instantly a response back is received -

This is an unmonitored inbox. If you wish to contact us, please do so via our website.

Or some variant on the above.

This is hands-down one of the laziest, most-irritating behaviours these companies can have.

I previously whinged briefly about this when discussing the TripAdvisor issue.

But after another recent experience with it, it needs fleshing out.

Case Study: British Airways

I have been a member of what was the Avios travel rewards programme for a fair old time. Never used it a great deal but would acquire miles through a few ways and picked up a reasonable balance. Managed to get a reduced-rate flight at one time and left with a residual balance.

Sometime last year, Avios changes to British Airways Executive Club. This doesn’t really suit me but I don’t have a lot of choice. They promised to take care of it all and so I didn’t think much more of it.

BA recently emailed me to say they missed me from the club! Ah, bless. I just need to login and that would be enough.

OK - I try and do this, dredging old emails to find me the credentials I needed. I login and after a few nag screens check my profile. And yep - balance is 0 - and the old balance from Avios has not carried over.

I spend a few moments trying to find how to contact them and after bouncing through a variety of different screens I give up - thinking I can just reply to the email they’ve sent me. The From Address is, after all: ExecutiveClub@my.ba.com - looks legit to me and the reply-to is: reply-lotsfgibberishthatlooksabitlikeauniqueid@delivery.my.ba.com. There is nothing in the email to say do not reply. So I go ahead and reply.

And yep, instant response - with some weirdness:

      This email address is not a monitored inbox. It is used only to send automated communications to our customers.
      If you would like to get in touch, please contact us at ba.com.
      If you no longer wish to receive emails from British Airways please submit this request at ba.com.
      Please allow 10 days for all requests to be actioned. Test Beahviour

Before even discussing the annoyances, there are other things wrong with this:

  • The unsubscribe / opt-out is not GDPR compliant. To have to click a link, login, fill in email address and submit is not in keeping with GDPR requirements.
  • Please allow 10 days? Absolutely unacceptable - these are automated systems - unsubscribe should be instant
  • What the actual fuck is “Test Beahviour” ?

But to the point - why “no-reply” ?

There is no good technological reason why customer service requests cannot be received as a reply to their email. A properly constructed / encoded reply-to address - which is exactly what they have - can be simply used to route the request to the correct place and in to their helpdesk system / call-logging system.

Instead, I am forced to click a link out of an email and I am then presented with a form. This form asks for a lot of stuff. So maybe this is it? That typical replies to emails do not provide enough information, and so customer services waste time having to re-ask this information? Um, let’s look.

It asks me for:

  • Address (it’s not clear what sort of address, but presumably email as opposed to postal)
  • Membership Number
  • Tier
  • Name, Address and Phone details
  • “Topics”
  • Flight details
  • Hearing impaired

With the exception of flight details and hearing impaired, all fields are required.

[There is a further annoyance here: when I land on the site, I am logged into it. Why, for the love of God, do I have to provide you with information that you could easily at least pre-fill for me?]

Now - the email they sent me contained:

  • Item 1: email address (they emailed me with it; and nevertheless I’m emailing them…)
  • Item 2: my membership number (and some stuff about tier points)

So they knew these details at the point they sent me the email, thus they can encode that in to the reply-to address and latterly extract it. In other words, all of the stuff in the online form they ask for they should be able to find or infer automatically from the membership details.

So maybe it’s something else. Maybe in my question:

  1. do I talk about a flight but not give the flight number? If so, check my account to see what flights I have booked. If there’s only one, you can respond accordingly.
  2. do I talk about some other problem? If so, the stuff you’ve forced me to put in the form is not going to help.
  3. Is my question unclear? Does my question contain credit card details? Or attachments? None of this is solved by the online form and cannot be solved by the receiving mail server.

Why is this an issue?

Well, I’m hoping it’s pretty clear. Customer Service is easy. Customer needs to ask something; you help them. Simple, right?

Making it hard to get in touch is just downright lazy - and automatic bad customer service. If I have a question but I have to get through 5 levels of knowledge-base before I’m allowed to contact you, then that’s poor customer service.

I freely accept that humans are unpredictable, lazy and stupid - but if they need to ask you a question then it is at least as much your fault that you haven’t made it easy to find the answer to that question in the first place. So, the onus is on you. If you haven’t already answered the question; let them ask it.


As far as I am concerned there is entirely no good reason to disallow email replies to the spam that companies like this send out. Somebody please enlighten me, but as far as I can tell the reason they do it is:

  1. Laziness
  2. Cost of proper system that does it
  3. Inefficient / poor internal processes
  4. Massively disconnected teams / call-centre style agents who do not have access to everything

And none of that is acceptable or real.

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