Thursday, March 22, 2012

E-mail Oops

Well, Graces, it's been a heckuva week. I suffered not one but two epic humiliations, and I am here to share the first one with you in the hope that you will avoid similar mishaps. It involves an email gone oh-so-terribly wrong.

I have discussed email etiquette before, but this time I was guilty of the 'oops'. Here's the story:

We have been dealing with a clerical error on our City taxes for over a year. We did not make the error, that was done by a now unrelated third party but City Revenue Department has no interest in the original cause. Nor do they care that we owe them absolutely no money; they simply demand that we file some enormous stack of complicated forms to demonstrate that there was an error made by a third party. The burden remains on us or we will continue to receive harassing letters threatening enormous fines (for zero taxes due), jail time, repossession of our home, and ultimately, the reclamation of our vital organs.

My Grant of a hubby finally found a human being who was willing to answer our questions and he worked tirelessly to remedy the complication (hubby, not revenue guy.) Just when we thought the coast was clear, the accursed third party sent another erroneous piece of paper and upset the apple cart once more.

My patient husband approached his contact in the Revenue Department via email, cc'd me, and asked how we remedy the problem (again). The Revenue Guy sent back a convoluted email describing the regressive and onerous tasks we had to complete (again) to free us of this yoke. Frustrated, I sent back to hubby, "It astonishes me that more people who work for the Revenue Dept. are not murdered."

But I sent it to the Revenue Guy.


Under the Circ's, What's a Grace to Do?

Well, I immediately listened for the SWAT team that was doubtless speeding toward my house. I mean, threatening a civil servant is a major criminal offense, right? I also careened between hysterical laughter at the hilarity of the incident, and bone-chilling terror at the consequences of my action.

Then I emailed an enormously contrite message: "Please disregard previous email. I was intending to send it as a commiserating joke to my husband in light of the frustration we have had with this mishap. I am terribly sorry for sending it to you and sincerely hope you are not offended. We are profoundly grateful for the help you have given us through this process. I deeply apologize for any offense I may have caused and I really, really, really hope you have a sense of humor."

He sent back a curt: "I'm glad you clarified this. I wasn't sure of your intent. No problem." Not exactly, "It could happen to anyone, we're all pals together and let's go have a margarita," but I guess it was the best I could hope for, Graces. I mean Revenue Department Directors are not exactly known for their charm, wit and sparkle, are they. Oddly, my husband has yet to see the humor in this.

I also delivered a bag of homemade pistachio, cherry, dark chocolate bark tied with a pretty green ribbon along with a very contrite note of thanks to the Revenue chap's office the very next day. He came out to receive the bag, my personal apology, and my thanks. He even shook my hand.

So, I haven't been arrested for making terroristic threats to a civil servant. But we still don't have the tax snafu sorted out. And April 15 is a few weeks away. If we get a thorough audit we'll know why.

Moral of the story, Graces? Check, Double Check and Triple Check before hitting Send. If you don't, it can have dreadfully dire consequences.

Next post: my other epic humiliation involving overexposure. Have you suffered any whoppers lately?


Ruby's said...

When I was working my colleague gave me a valuable suggestion. He would ask me to fill the cc column with any letter many time over like


In this way even if I hit send the mail would not be sent.
An opportunity for running a counter check.


Anonymous said...

Grace, as usual, an awkward situation handled well.

Some email programs have an "undo send" option. Gmail, for instance, has a lab feature you can enable, so if you realize your mistake, you have X number of seconds to undo it (you get to pick how long). This feature has saved me many an erroneous send.

BT said...

Oh, Grace! How awful!

Once (when I was working at an institution of higher education) my direct supervisor beautifully answered a query on an international listserve, detailing how we handled a specific issue at our institution. She and I had a very informal, friendly relationship, so I replied to her saying - and I quote - "Heck yeah! You show 'em how we do biznass around here!"

To my profound consternation, I discovered the next day that I had not replied to my supervisor, but to the entire listserve. Of hundreds of distinguished professionals, including university presidents. To make matters worse, the annual convention was only two weeks away and I was going to have to interact with many of these people, and my name is a rather memorable and unusual one.

...yeah. I definitely got some comments when networking at the conference. Fortunately, most of them were very good-humored, but I think I went around for the entire four days with a perma-blush on my face.