introducing yourself to clients avec suavity

On Thursday I got to do something that falls right in the sweet spot of my skill-set. When I’m doing Koha tech support and querying databases and the like, I’m learning so much as I go, I get the thrill from figuring it out and making something work, not from the elegance, style, grace and aplomb with which I do it. But on Thursday one of my jobs was to write an email.

I take pride in my emails. They are not corporate boringspeak, and I don’t blather on and on about things (except to certain correspondents). I go for well-expressed clarity, with a light tone. This email I had to write was an introduction to a couple of new Koha features my boss had developed for our clients, and it was to let them know we’re now on Twitter (you too can follow @prosentient if you want).

Before we go further, an aside because not everyone reading this is familiar with Koha and how this all works. See, because Koha is open source software, if a library looks at their version and says, “It sure would be nice if we could refine our search results right from the search page, which it doesn’t do right now,” they can come to us and we (and by “we” I mean my boss) can make changes to the way the software works. This is at a deeper level than changing settings in the program. We can make new settings to change altogether. For a tech-friendly but non-CompSci kind of guy like me, it’s goddamned fascinating.

So my boss had made some new enhancements to the software and needed to tell all our clients that the new settings were there and how to use them. I sat down and wrote a really good email. It explained how things worked, which buttons to press, which never to press, where they had options, how to limit those options, all with a conversational tone, thanking the libraries who’d funded the work, and in maybe 500 words. I was proud of it in that way that ancient Greeks got proud of things.

I sent it to my boss, he approved and I posted in the forum software connected to our listserve. I’d asked if html was all right, or if I should do it as plaintext. HTML should be fine. Just check how it works in the forum. So I checked. I had to redo the html, because our forum software still uses b and i tags instead of the current standards. Whatever. I previewed it the whole way through and it previewed fine after my reformatting. So I posted it and dusted off my hands.

When the email came through the listserve to my inbox, it was filled with Euro signs and carets and all sorts of terrible symbols. I swear it hadn’t had any of that in any of the previews I’d done; I’d been so careful! So now my first impression for all these readers isn’t “Wow, that was a great email!” it’s “Yeah that was an annoying email to read. You’d think a tech company would be a bit more conscious of their formatting.”

I hyperventilated only for a moment, then decided to go back to the forum software to at least fix the version that would be kept for posterity. I edited out the bad characters, but it insisted on doubling up my apostrophes. I’d delete the duplicate, Preview it, see no duplicates, save it and then there they’d be, reduplicated. At one point one “don’t” had six apostrophes in it. I got them down to doubles and counted myself lucky. “This is just the archive version. Nobody’ll care aout it that much.”

And then I checked my email. Every single time I’d previewed and hit save it had sent out another goddamned email. So now not only was the wonderfulness of my email hidden by formatting errors, I was also spamming the entire list of clients with my editing of it.

At that point I stopped. It was near the end of the day. I sent an email to my boss in which I explained what had happened, and apologized for if anyone asked why the new kid was spamming them so hard with these apostrophe changes. I tweeted an apology, too, since I didn’t feel right about sending anything more to the listserve.

It wasn’t a big deal. I haven’t heard that anyone was actually mad or anything. It was just stupid and not so smooth as I would have liked. Obviously the gods in the machine are all over hubris.

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