In the Trenches: When Email Lags

Our business relies on very fast interactions between travelers and concierges. If plans change or something goes wrong, or even if a client just has a simple question, we need to know immediately. We rely on receiving email as soon as it’s sent, so we can attack the problem. Lately, however, we’ve been having trouble with this.

Some of our concierges have noticed emails arriving after 20- or 30-minute delays — clearly a huge problem. I had to figure out why this was happening.

It turns out that there are two issues. First, our email accounts are set up for spam filtering, so they use something called “graylisting.” What this means is that, when our mail server sees a message from a sender it doesn’t recognize, it temporarily rejects the email. If the message is legitimate, the originating server will try again a while later. (Spammers usually won’t.) So when the email is re-sent, it gets through. Thus, the 20- or 30-minute delays.

There’s a simple solution, right? Just turn off graylisting. If only it were so easy!

We forward our company emails to individual Gmail or Outlook accounts, because it’s the quickest way to get clients’ information to our concierges. Our host (with the mail server) requires graylisting to be turned on whenever we forward messages to other providers. This is because, if a lot of spam gets through, those other servers might flag my host as a spammer. That would be bad.

So, why not just turn off email forwarding? Ah, another great idea. But it’s a timing issue. If we set up our email accounts to use POP3 or IMAP instead of just forwarding, the mail servers won’t check for new messages as often as we’d like. And as far as I can tell, I can’t schedule how often Gmail checks mail, for example.

I’m tempted to try Google Apps but then that’s not ideal for the people who don’t use Gmail in the company.  So I’m stuck, looking for a better solution. Any ideas?

About Brett Snyder

Brett is the Founder and President of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. He also writes the consumer air travel blog, The Cranky Flier.
This entry was posted in Employees, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
15 comments
Soumyaranjan tripathy
Soumyaranjan tripathy

Our business relies on very fast interactions between travelers and concierges. If plans change or something goes wrong, or even if a client just has a simple question, we need …

crankyconcierge
crankyconcierge

Thanks for chiming in, everyone.  Most of us use Gmail to manage email, so Google Apps seems like the most likely way to go.  But we have at least one person who is an Apple-fanatic and I worry about how Google Apps would work for him.  How easy is it to get Google to push email to an iPhone?  For those of us with Android, it's excellent.  

 

On the flip side, we could do an Exchange server or something like Office 365, but for those of us who are addicted to threaded conversations in Gmail, it's not as seamless as Google Apps would be.

thetravelanalyst
thetravelanalyst

Maybe have everyone sign up for a Gmail account for the business so that you can use Google Apps?  Not sure how practical that would be. 

nbarnard
nbarnard

This is definitely an issue for your business since your customers are sending from Multiple IP addresses as their IP changes as they travel. 

 

I'd look for an alternate email provider that exposes greylisting as an option. An ISP that I use Panix.com allows individual users to explicitly turn off greylisting. Greylisting is implemented because it cuts down on a lot of spam, but it relies on the fact that email was never intended to be instantaneous.

 

You might also look for a provider that allows you to have your own virtual server so you can control this.  Drop me an email if you've got a few options you'd like me to look at.

Shane_DC
Shane_DC

Sounds like it it time for corporate gmail or a Microsoft exchange mail provider, with company provided email accounts for all. That way you forward but not to outside accounts. There are many out there. Exchange email shows up on your phone before your computer much if time. It's the whole push vs fetch thing. -Shane

Alex Bauer
Alex Bauer

Google Apps has been a godsend for our small company. Not only for email, but also for shared calendars, documents, and contacts. Google allows you to do forwarding, which is instant (never had any issues with graylist delays), and can still be checked using Outlook if desired.

 

I'd definitely give it a go!

Steve
Steve

I recently migrated our company's email from a traditional server to Office 365, and have had no problems at all - the web interface is great and it works well with Office 2007/2010 (though if you have 2003 or earlier it doesn't work). Maybe worth looking at it?

Steve
Steve

 @crankyconcierge 

Office 365 does have a threaded conversation view, though I immediately turned it off as I dislike that feature. 

Dave B
Dave B

 @crankyconcierge FWIW I use my GMAIL account on my iPhone, although not from google apps. It's a plain free gmail account. 

Just need to set it up as ra as I can tell.

 

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @crankyconcierge It appears to be an open question if Google Mail/Apps greylists. I'd confirm that they don't.. From what I know Google is not generally transparent about their spam filtering methods.

Alex Bauer
Alex Bauer

 @crankyconcierge Google Apps works fantastically with Apple devices. Calendar and contact syncing are supported natively, and Google provides Exchange access to email for iOS devices (which allows for instant push service).

 

There are also a number of excellent email apps for iPhone that support push from Google Apps. My favourite (and the current darling of the tech blogs) is called Mailbox, but the Gmail app directly from Google is also wonderful. Failing that, Google allows for instant forwarding (and I mean instant...it usually shows up at both the main inbox and forwarded inbox simultaneously) to any other email address, including iCloud accounts from Apple.

 

I've set up a number of small businesses on the Google Apps platform recently, so please feel free to get in contact if you have any other questions. I would be more than happy to share what I've discovered.

nbarnard
nbarnard

Err, it also cuts down spam in a computationally cheap way. It costs very little for both sides to implement.

Alex Bauer
Alex Bauer

 @nbarnard  @crankyconcierge For what it's worth, my company also relies on emails for near-instant communication with clients, and we've never run into an issue with delayed messages. Google certainly isn't transparent, but it whatever it is they do seems to work; I can count on one hand the number of false positives AND negatives I've ever encountered with them.

crankyconcierge
crankyconcierge

 @Alex Bauer  @nbarnard  Thanks to both of you.  Using Gmail today, they do a great job of filtering the spam into the spam folder.  I just need to make sure they don't do greylisting, or at least give the option to flip it off.  Our current provider allows us to turn it off but it automatically goes back on if you do email forwarding.  So that doesn't help.

 

Sounds like Google Apps is very likely going to be the way to go.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In the Trenches: When Email Lags – Intuit Small Business Blog Email has been causing a lot of problems lately, and we need to get this fixed. US Airways none [...]

  2. [...] In a Trenches: When Email Lags – Intuit Small Business Blog Email has been causing a lot of problems lately, and we need to get this fixed. Written by kenz ← Topic of a Week: JetBlue Goes Premium [...]

  3. [...] that need to be resolved. Three that immediately come to mind are finding a new phone service, choosing a better email provider, and deploying a more robust customer relationship management system. I’ve made some progress on [...]