Create Outlook Auto Reply Emails Using Rules & Template

This week I got an email from a friend who changed his email address and contact information. He asked me the best way to notify his contacts. I sent some suggestions and then remembered Microsoft Outlook rules could complement his solution. Outlook could send an automatic reply using an email template to people based on certain conditions. You might think of this as a conditional auto-reply.

Anyone that has gone through an email address change knows it takes time for everyone to update their address books. An Outlook auto-reply rule and email template can pick up the slack. Basically, Outlook evaluates the incoming email, and if it meets certain criteria, it acts. For example,

IF the email came from a contact in your address book AND addressed to a specific email address, THEN Outlook should automatically send out a specific email message.

How to Create the Outlook Email Template

The first part is to create an email template for the rule. The template contains the information you wish to convey. In my friend’s case, he might enter his new information and also include a vCard attachment. For illustration purposes, these steps are using Microsoft Office 365.

  1. Open Outlook
  2. From the Home tab, select New Email.
  3. Type your Subject: such as “New Contact Info“.
  4. Add the details of your email.
  5. From the Insert menu, add your signature or business card.
  6. From the File menu, select Save As.
  7. In the Save As dialog, change the Save as type to Outlook Template (*.oft)
Save AS dialog with Outlook Template file type selected.
Saving Outlook Template File
  1. Type your File name.
  2. Click Save.
  3. Click the X to close the template.
  4. Click No when prompted to save the draft.

How to Create the Outlook Auto-Reply

The second part is to write an Outlook rule that uses this template whenever it processes an incoming email that meets your criteria. In our example, the criteria are an email from someone in your contacts folder, AND it was sent to the old email address. For example purposes, I’m

  1. From the Home tab, click Rules.
  2. From the drop-down menu, select Create Rule...
  3. In the Create Rule dialog box, click Advanced Options… from the lower right corner.
  4. In Step 1, check “with specific words in the recipient’s address”.
  5. In Step 2, click the specific words hyperlink.
Rules Wizard dialog with specific words selected for condition.
Outlook rule for specific words
  1. In the Search Text dialog box, enter the email address you wish to retire.
  2. Click the Add button.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Scroll down the Rules Wizard and select sender is in a specified Address Book.
  5. In Step 2: click the specified hyperlink.
  6. In the Add Address List, select the list to use.
  7. Click Add.
Sender's address book rule added.
Compound rule with 2 conditions
  1. Click Next >.

Now, we’ll define what we want Outlook to do when an email is addressed to AND the sender’s email is in my Contacts Address Book.

  1. In Step 1, check reply using a specific template.
  2. In Step 2, click the a specific template hyperlink.
  3. In the Select a Reply Template, change the Look In: value to “User Templates in File System”.
  4. Highlight the template you created above.
  5. Click Open.
  6. Click Next >.
  7. Add any exceptions (if needed).
  8. Click Next >.
  9. Type a descriptive name for the rule.
Naming the Outlook rule.
Final Outlook Rule conditions and name
  1. Click Finish.

Tweaking & Testing the Outlook Rule

Although this isn’t a complex email rule, I find you should always test them. The last thing you want is your new email address and contact info to go to everyone that sends you an email. That would make spammers happy and annoy contacts who already updated their address book.

An easy way to test such a rule is to use another email address such as a Gmail one. I created a test contact for myself in Outlook with the Gmail address. From my Gmail account, I sent an email to the address I used in Step 6.

If the rule works, you should see your copy of your template email in your Sent folder, provided you save copies. If you don’t see it, the rule wasn’t triggered for some reason. For example, you may have typed the wrong email address. One issue I ran into was my email rule didn’t work with delegated addresses. These are the email addresses that show “on behalf of.”

These auto-reply rules can be tweaked to suit your needs. You may decide that you prefer certain Outlook groups or Outlook distribution lists to get the reminder emails instead of all contacts. Microsoft provides the framework, but you can easily adjust the email rules.

Outlook 2019 For Dummies
Outlook 2019 For Dummies
Wempen, Faithe (Author); English (Publication Language); 352 Pages - 10/23/2018 (Publication Date) - For Dummies (Publisher)

Disclaimer: Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. I may receive an affiliate commission on these products if you buy. Updated: 2021-05-18