Saturday, 10 December 2011

E-Mail attack tutorial: the copy list

Not enough research has gone into the use of the e-mail as an offensive weapon, and yet it must be one of the more common and effective today. In my usual spirit of willingness to contribute to the sum of public knowledge, heres my take on a particular aspect of the attack e-mail: the use of the copy list. 

Twice in recent weeks I’ve come across an interesting use of copy lists on e-mails by clients wanting to make a complaint. Let’s say, for instance, that in a piece of software, they’ve failed to notice (or rather remember, since you’ve explained it at least twice) that you have to press a button marked ‘OK’ before a particular report is displayed.

‘Please immediately address the failure of the report to display,’ they will write, ‘since our users are all expecting to be able to view it today.’

And that copy list: it includes John, Mary and George from the correspondent’s own department; Carol and Anne who were at the meeting on Thursday; plus of course Colin, Richard, Terry and the other Mary who were there the week before; their boss, the correspondent’s boss, George’s boss; the boss of the whole division; two of his colleagues from the board of directors; and the guy from administration who always seems to be copied on everything though no-one’s quite sure what he does.

You scamper around trying to find out why the report’s not working and, after an hour’s wasted effort which also involves interrupting two of your colleagues and getting them to take a look, you establish there’s absolutely nothing the matter. You reply with something tactful like: 

‘Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The report does now seem to be working correctly. Could you please try it again, ensuring that you select it from the drop down menu at the top of the screen, set the date and departments for which you want it to run and then press the ‘OK’ button?’

All that guff about the drop down menu and the selection of the department is just there as smokescreen, to save their blushes, so that it isn’t obvious you’re really just saying ‘come on, you moron, you didn’t click on ‘OK’ did you?’

Back comes a response quarter of an hour later.

‘Thank you for getting back to me. The report does indeed work correctly. My apologies, but I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to click the ‘OK’ button.’

And who’s on the copy list? Just the guy from administration who always seems to be copied on everything though no-one’s quite sure what he does.

But I’m wise to this tactic now. When it happened to me most recently, I carefully copied all the names in the copy list back into my reply and basically wrote, ‘OK, so now you’re admitting it was you that was being dense all along, are you?’ Not of course that I used those terms – I said something along the lines of ‘given the position, does this mean that you are now happy that everything is working correctly?’ I then added a few more names to the copy list. Two can play at that game, you see.

Though the response was in writing, I could practically hear the gritted teeth behind it. ‘New information now available,’ his ‘unfortunate absence due to other commitments from the most recent meeting’, all the excuses, as a prelude to the admission that he was glad (yeah, right) to ‘acknowledge that everything does indeed now seem to be working correctly.’

And, I’m glad to say, there’s been no repeat of the complaint.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And you can always add in your response "Thank you for bringing this to my attention personally by email. As I am occasionally unreachable owing to travel, it will be best if you submit any such questions in future to our support help desk at who are available 24x7. I took a look at your support contract and can see that you elected to have the Bronze coverage which offers response within 8 hours Mondays to Fridays holidays excluded. Platinum support offers 2 hour support 7 days a week including holidays. I attach a quote for that enhanced service, which appears to be more suited to your needs."