As much as I appreciate the city’s efforts to be responsive by sending follow-up messages for online requests, this District’s current mechanism of communication is more frustrating than it is helpful. For years this has been the case. I’ve been ignoring this issue, but I’d like to take some time now to address it directly. I recently received a response for an online request I sent to the DC webmaster regarding a problem with Real Property database search. The message (below) is more confusing than it is helpful. I offer these points for your consideration so you might improve your ability to serve the residents who take the time to provide the feedback you invite on the District’s site:
[I have interspersed the District’s original message within my post, below. Some names and numbers have been removed or substituted to protect individuals’ privacy]
From: imailagent [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2006 14:58
Subject: Email from the EOM (Intranet Quorum IMA00447391)
- Neither the From Address or the Subject give me a clue as to what this message is when I scan through my e-mail inbox. With all of the spam once receives these days, you should do everything possible to ensure that the recipients of these messages don’t inadvertently delete them just because they don’t recognize the sender or the subject matter.
- Specifically, with regard to the From address, the sender’s email address: I have no idea whatsoever who imailagent is. Why would I? Why should I? It isn’t even as if this is simply an unrecognizable e-mail address—it’s the supposedly friendly display name of the sender’s e-mail address. This is the part of the name that you actually get to define. Suggestion: Change the name of the sender, the display name in the FROM address for each message, to DC Customer Service.
- Specifically, with regard to the Subject: What is EOM? What is Intranet Quorum? Why would I care? Why should I care? The message Subject here baffles me. It doesn’t help me understand what this message is about. It’s worth noting that the message itself doesn’t ever define EOM or Intranet Quorum—and it shouldn’t have to because those terms shouldn’t even be in the Subject or the message. They’re not useful or important to me, the message recipient. The number in the Subject line is equally useless to the recipient. I initially assumed that it’s a tracking number for my request, but reading further into the message reveals that it is not. My request has a tracking number assigned to it that, in fact, is not the same as the “IMA” number in the Subject. Strange. Suggestion: Change the Subject for each message to something more useful. In this particular case, that could be Acknowledgement of service request #475602.
- One more thing I notice before even opening the message: it has an attachment. With the many concerns about e-mail viruses spread by attachments, I would assert that sending an attachment in a message that the recipient doesn’t recognize is unwise. It might further encourage the recipient to discard the message without even opening it. Being both curious and careful, however, I first scanned the message attachment for viruses and then opened the message. To my bewilderment, the attachment is simply a text file that contains some XML with very basic metadata. I’m unsure why this attachment is included with the message that I received. At first I thought that perhaps it helps your automated system track any further correspondence on this request, but if I reply to the message I received, the file will no longer be attached to my response. So…why is this here? Suggestion: Do not include this attachment on the message that you send to the person who initiated the service request.
April 29, 2006
- The first piece of information in the message is a date. It is today’s date. This is helpful, I suppose, except that the date of the e-mail message itself gives me the same information. What would be more helpful is the date that I made the request—especially since this acknowledgement comes to me several days after making that request. Suggestion: Replace the correspondence date in the message with the (clearly labeled) request date.
Thank you for writing to Mayor Anthony Williams. We appreciate your comments and care about your concerns. This acknowledgement is in reference to your recent email.
- The message states, “This acknowledgement is in reference to your recent email.” I didn’t actually send an e-mail message to anyone, I completed a feedback form on the District’s website…so that’s a bit misleading. I’m assuming that your system uses the same form letter to acknowledge all requests. Suggestion: Change that sentence to “This acknowledgement is in reference to your recent request.”
Your request has been forwarded to [Jane Doe], the Mayor’s point-of-contact at the . Please feel free to contact that office at [(999) 999-9999] or [e-mail address] regarding the status of your request.
- The message states, “Your request has been forwarded to [Jane Doe], the Mayor’s point-of-contact at the .” Yes, that last sentence is missing…something. Is it “Office of the Chief Technology Officer?” Is it something else? Suggestion: Fill in the blank.
Your correspondence has been assigned the following EOM tracking number: 475602. Please refer to this number when referencing this request.
- The messages states, “Your correspondence has been assigned the following EOM tracking number: 475602.” Again, that EOM thing. What is that? No…forget that…I don’t want or need to know. Suggestion: Change the sentence to read “…the following tracking number: …”
If you receive no contact or reply from the agency within 5 business days, please call (202) 727-1000. Give them the contact’s name, office, and tracking number and ask for a point-of-contact follow-up.
For future correspondence with the Mayor or to submit your e-mail address for his database, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Nowhere in the message is there any reference to my actual request. Nowhere. It doesn’t mention the request date, the request itself, or even the “Subject” that you required me to select when I completed the online feedback form. Suppose that I made a few requests over the past few days. Suppose that I made multiple requests on that same day. How would I know which acknowledgement corresponds with which request? I would not.
- Why not include the original request in the response? This would be extremely helpful for some context. Especially since the sender could have initiated multiple requests.
Believe me, I appreciate the ability to submit feedback and request services online through the District’s website. I also understand the complexity involved in managing and responding to all of those requests—I’ve supported (and built) such systems myself. Having this experience, though, helps me also understand how important it is for you to help those requesting support and providing feedback to receive the information they need to know that the District has received, understands, and is working their request(s).
Thank you for your consideration of my suggestions, above.
Resident of the District of Columbia