I was going to send the first email to the customer.
I was 22- young, vibrant & excited (too excited or rather excitable as per my module lead) and had joined a reputed IT services company. Email communications with the customer was usually handled by the manager or the module lead. We were “raw” – and must learn corporate etiquettes before we could interact effectively with customer – we were told.
I have a strange habit of questioning status quo – so I questioned why the privilege to interact with the customers be restricted to only a few! The mails from the module lead to the technical person at the client side used to be simple technical questions – and in my simple mind, I found no reason why I could not write those emails. It was just simple English, after all.
So, one day, I decided to discuss it with my module lead, Raj. I told him that I would like to write the next query that we send for our module to the technical lead at the customer side.
The technical lead’s name was Sulu Taylor. Well, her actual name was Sulochana Patel, and she had married a corporate hunk from the US and settled there. Over the years, her Indian name – Sulochana, had been Anglicized to Sulu. She was a tough customer, expecting the best of quality, immaculate communication and the best in class service at ALL times.
That day, I drafted the email….
I carefully ensured that I use the right tense, the right salutations, summarize the content well and ask the question. Should I end with “Thanks” or Regards or Best regards – I debated in my mind. Hmmm… I must use regards to denote respect, and adding Best made it sound more professional. I went with it.
We would like to inform you….
Web developer, XXX Systems
I spent a lot of time reviewing my email, after all it was my first email to the customer. Raj came along and reviewed it too, and suggested few minor changes. Finally, after all the reviews done, I was now ready to send it.
I read the email, one last time. Everything seemed perfect. The language, the indentation, the summary… Ahh! Just perfect!
Ready, Get Set…. GO!!
I clicked “SEND”.
A pop-up box came up for “Spelling and Grammer : English (US)”.
This was the mandatory spell check that we had to do before sending any email. I hated it, but Raj wanted to make sure that all emails that we send must not have any spelling errors.
As junior technical guys, most of our emails used to be technical in nature. We would usually ask about what code we should use, if our interpretation of the requirement was correct with the code snippet etc. We used to code in a programming language called “C”, and it had its own syntax which obviously English dictionary did not have as words.
So, For e.g: a piece of code would be like
Int transactionCount; (int is a keyword in a programming language)
And the spell check would not find “INT” in its dictionary and will provide suggestions such as – Into, Nit, In, Ant, Ink, Inn, And so on…
It used to get irritating in most times – especially if we had put in some piece of code in the email. However, we were new, taking our first few steps into corporate life – and we obliged our seniors by agreeing to keep the “Spell Check” on.
I DID NOT want to mess up my first email to the customer. The spell check box showed – “Sulu” as the word that it did not understand and provided some suggestions below.
I don’t quite remember what key I pressed, but obviously I hit something. The box closed, and the mail was sent.
Minutes… or was it seconds later, Raj came fuming and stood next to me.
“What have you done, you stupid, over exhuberant fool? Open the email..” – he said.
I opened the email and gasped.
We would like to …… “
The stupid spell checker had replaced Sulu with Zulu and sent the mail across….!!! [Zulu is an African tribe] I had mis-spelled the name of the customer who was a perfectionist – and wanted everything to be perfect… EVERYTHING – written or oral communication, deliverable quality… yes, everything!
I am not skilled enough to describe the pandemonium that followed… I never emailed the customer while I was on that project ever again!
And yes… though I started communicating to customers from the next project, I have never used the “Spell Check” functionality in emails since then…