Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The problem with email

I am frustrated with how people treat email.  There have been several times lately where important communications are sent by email.  And I havent gotten them.  And no ones bothered to figure out why.  And I havent found out until after the fact that theres a problemits hard to know that youre not getting emails that you dont know are on the way.

Lets get something straight folks:  email is not two-way communication.  Sending an email is like shouting into wild blue yonder and hoping someones around to hear you.  Unless you get a response, you dont know that your message was even received.  And you have no control over when the message is read.  If you have something important to say, and want to make sure the other person heard you, and in a timely manner, you will have to demand a response, or follow up with an actual communication.  Like a phone call.

See, much as I hate phones, they have an upside.  If you dial, and the other end rings endlessly, then you know that your call did not go through.  Unlike a misspelled email address where you never see that undeliverable message from your mail server.  And if you only get an answering machine, you might get a clue as to whether youve actually reached the correct person.  But best of all, when you connect and actually speak to the person on the other end, then you know that they heard your words.

I wrote last week about how neurotic I was about Charlottes first soccer practice, where I hadnt heard bupkis from the coach beforehand.  I even called the school and was given vague reassurances, but no actual problem solving.  Last night, after her second practice, I asked when wed get a copy of the game schedule, and her coach looked surprised.  Turns out hed emailed it several days ago.  Turns out, hes been emailing since July 30.  Luckily he had his roster, including email addresses on it, and I could see immediately that someone had mistyped mine.

The dumb thing is, that email address has our last name in it.  As in TheSmiths.net (Not Smith, but I dont feel like publishing our family domain at the moment)  And someone had misspelled Smith.  Right next to Charlottes last name, which was spelled correctly.  I would have thought that, having misspelled the domain name of the email address, that his mail server would have told him it was garbage at least once.  But, it didnt.  And since I had no way of knowing that he was emailing me, and he never requested a reply to check his list, then neither of us knew there was a problem.

But I did know there was a problem.  I had called the school, to the only contact I had, and no one bothered to look into it.  Im guessing the message didnt get passed to the team coach, or he might have wondered why I wasnt reading all of the emails that were answering all of the exact questions that I had, and he might have double-checked the email address.

The other email incident lately involved the correct email address, but a time limit.  I had entered part of one of my manuscripts in a writing contest, and managed to submit something that was too long (OpenOffice and Word apparently disagree on the finer points of formatting, but thats a different story).  I got a response from the contest coordinator, requesting that I resubmit within 24 hours.  The problem was, that email came on Charlottes birthday (the same day I was being neurotic about soccer), to an address I dont see at work.  In fact, I only check that address about 3 times a week (Id love to write full time, but).  Despite the time limit, they used email and assumed that I would see it and be able to respond Luckily, someone did call two days later, and gave me the opportunity to fix the submission (which I did, first thing thing the next morning, and then checked that email address for the first time all week).

If something is important or has a time constraint, call.  If you are establishing an email distribution list for the first time and youre typing in email addresses, ask for a reply on the first message, and follow up (by phone) to any who dont reply.  And it never hurts to hand out a hard copy of your contact information, so that people can contact you with questions. 

1 comment:

Bethany said...

This is one of my biggest issues at work right now. As an Army contractor I had to get a guest account for the Army knowledge online (AKO) which took about a week to finalize. During that time I gave the office my personal e-mail address for anything important that I would otherwise miss. I then sent my new work address to the appropriate parties to have them change the distro list.

I stopped getting e-mails to my home address, but I also wasn't getting any new mail...hum. So I asked what was happening and they told me that they weren't allowed to e-mail to civilian e-mail addresses anymore. I pointed out that I had a new AKO address and asked them to add it to the distro list (again).

After another few weeks I went back to the right people to ask for my AKO address to be added (again) and I started getting emails sent to my private e-mail address again. I get something like 10 billion messages a day, otherwise I probably won't care, but I think they should freaking fix the problem after 5 weeks of requests, don't you?