In the Trenches: When Email Lags

BrettSnyder by Brett Snyder on March 20, 2013

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?


Brett Snyder is President and Chief Airline Dork of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. Snyder previously worked for several airlines, including America West and United, before leaving to create a travel search site for Snyder did his undergrad at George Washington and earned his MBA from Stanford.