Create Outlook Auto Reply Emails Using Rules & Template

Recently, 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. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create an automatic reply in Outlook based on certain conditions.

Auto Reply Rule vs. Quick Parts

Anyone that has gone through an email address change knows it takes time for everyone to update their address books. There are two ways to solve this problem. The first is semi-automated using Outlook Quick Parts. In this scenario, you would reply to people using a pre-made reply. This would work well for outlier cases, but we can do better.

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, the rule is triggered. In some regards, it’s like Excel’s IF function.

For example,

IF the incoming email came from an email address in your contacts AND it was 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 the Outlook 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. And for certain, he should update his Outlook signature with new details. 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.Pin
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 email 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 the incoming email was sent to the old email address. For example purposes, I’m retired-email@timeatlas.com.

  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.Pin
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.Pin
Compound rule with 2 conditions
  1. Click Next >.

Now, we’ll define what we want Microsoft Outlook to do when an email is addressed to retired-email@timeatlas.com, 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.Pin
Final Outlook Rule conditions and name
  1. Click Finish.

Tweaking & Testing the Outlook Rule

Although this isn’t a complex email rule, I suggest you 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 your contacts who already updated their address book.

An easy way to test this email 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 email 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 Outlook automatic reply rules can be tweaked to suit your needs. For example, you may decide that you prefer certain Outlook groups or Outlook distribution lists to get the reminder emails instead of all contacts. Again, Microsoft provides the framework, but you can easily adjust the email rules.