Re: Providing clients information via e-mail

Subject: Re: Providing clients information via e-mail
From: Chris Despopoulos <cud -at- ARRAKIS -dot- ES>
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 15:38:53 +0100

I can only point out what I believe we did at Adobe
Developer Support, and that is only my personal opinion of
what we did, and in no way does it represent the opinions or
facts involved in any way that could be construed as
dissemination of proprietary information, nor is any
resemblance to people either living or dead to be construed
as anything but accidental. (Does that hint at my opinion
about disclaimers?)


1. Should all e-mail sent to clients be
reviewed and approved by a
central clearinghouse? The argument for this is
that it reduces the chance
of wrong or misleading information being sent to a
client. On the flip side,
it is argued that we do not screen what our
service representatives say over
the phone, so why would an e-mail discussion be
any different?

Your company should establish policies that actually
categorize the types of information and the types of
relationships that can be represented via email. It seems
there should be some categories that require approval, and
some that don't. In fact, different categories should
require different levels of approval... Some even requiring
approval from a lawyer. You probably don't screen what the
service reps say over the phone because you have policies
(explicitly documented or not) that determine the nature of
their relationships. In a word, your reps are probably
"cool" enough to know when to talk and when to keep their
mouths shut. But one thing to consider is that email is
written, and so it can be subpoenaed... Remember Oliver
North? He shredded lots of paper, but left his hard drives
intact. You can bet the CIA will never do that again.

2. Should a disclaimer be attached to the end
of all e-mail
transmissions that would limit the company's
exposure?

See above. In fact, you may often need disclaimers (for
example, if you send actual code to clients) and protections
(copyrights, reminders of non-disclosure agreements, etc.)
in your mail. It might make sense to just add them to a
general signature file. I think the term is due diligence.

3. How do other companies handle this issue?

Well, this is my opinion of how we handled it at Adobe.

4. Should only a subset of employees be
allowed to communicate with
clients using e-mail, or should client e-mail
addresses be made available
company wide.

Yes... Well, your policies should categorize the types of
communication, and map those categories to job
descriptions. For example, as a tech writer I had no reason
to discuss contract issues with customers. However,
sometimes a Tech Support engineer might, if some mode of
tech support was part of the contract. In that case, the
engineer was briefed on the special circumstances and
allowed to communicate *within the previously circumscribed
bounds*.

Should I be talking about FrameMaker to some giant company's
purchaser? Today I'm working on the "Amputates Your Fingers
While Typing" bug, and it's giving me a very hard time.
That might be a bad moment for me to represent the product
to a prospective customer. "Sure, FrameMaker is great, but
I only have three fingers left since the new version came
out!"

What if I told a customer that FrameMaker can cure cancer?
Adobe needed a policy that would indicate I was out of
bounds, both to protect themselves, and to fire me for being
so irresponsible. I don't begrudge such policies... I use
them to keep myself safe. When I see communication headed
to the frontier, I can then pass it off to somebody who
knows better what is happening in that area. And I believe
the customer is happier as well. It feels more
professional, and more like the real information.

Finally, many times there were public relations issues that
stirred up the rumor mill. In that case, journalists would
just punch in phone numbers trying to get somebody who would
talk. In those cases we would always get some directive
telling us how to handle the call, and to whom the caller
should be referred. Likewise with email.

Hope this is worth the verbose response...

cud

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