Thursday, November 5, 2009

What SpellCheck Won't Fix

Recently, at the Learning Center where I teach, the phone lines went down unexpectedly. We had no incoming or outgoing calls on a highly lucrative business day. And what is worse, when students or families called, they heard a message that said the line had been disconnected.

The challenge with this: lots and lots of families pay our center lots and lots of money, and they expect us to: a) teach their children with effectiveness, b) answer the phone, and c) pay the phone bill. And it falsely appeared we were doing none of the above. So, our center director contacted the phone company only to learn that they had shut down the line for system maintenance.

While that is understandable, they didn't need to choose an effective business day, shut the line down without notifying the office, and ultimately make it appear that it was an act of negligence on the center's behalf.

Well, here's where it gets interesting.

Ann, the center director, asked the phone company (who shall remain nameless at this point, for reasons you shall soon see) to reconcile the situation by sending her a letter to forward to all of the center's clients, explaining the error and exactly whose fault it was. Here's what she received:

Due to system maintenance on your account, you may have experienced some down interrupting your phone system.
We apologize for this incontinence however it was a necessary part of making the changes to your account.
Thank you.

Feel free to read again if you need to. I know it's alarming to the trained eye, as all of us long desperately for more punctation, fluency, careful word choices, and complete thoughts.

Now look closely at the second sentence: "We apologize for this incontinence..."

Incontinence. When is the last time you've seen that word used in a professional setting? So, apparently someone urinated uncontrollably all over the phone line? Or worse?

Ann, a reasonable woman, sent the letter back to this Customer Care Specialist. She offered her the opportunity to fix and rewrite, before she sent the letter out on the phone company's behalf. The Customer Care *Specialist* responded with a second draft, now with extra words and paragraphs, but significantly lacking punctuation or clarity.

And, the second draft still apologized for the 'incontinence.'

As you might imagine, this letter will not go out to all of our clients, but it will go to a higher authority at the phone company. I'm pretty sure they don't want their *Specialists* telling the world that the 'down' we are experiencing is attributed to a lack of anyone's bowel control.
Just a guess on my part.

Today's lesson: It's a good idea to do more than SpellCheck when you're sending a professional letter to a team of teachers, writers, and professionals. Because SpellCheck won't tell you what you meant to say.

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