Solving This Client’s Email Problem Was Quite The Journey

Sometime in February I got a call from a client of mine who was unable to send emails to some of his key customers. Since a lot of what he does is over email, this is business impacting. Thus I went to his office to investigate. And it didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. His email server was blacklisted. Meaning that the email server that they were sending to was not taking incoming emails because his email server was on a blacklist. An email Blacklist is a real-time database that uses criteria to determine if an IP is sending email it considers to be SPAM. There are several blacklists… Each list [has] a unique way of accepting inbound mail and determining if email is considered SPAM. They can all impact deliverability for emails. Which was the case here based on this bounce back that he got (sensitive information has been redacted):

franko

Since my client wasn’t in the business of sending SPAM, I looked at his email server which was hosted by one of the bigger hosting companies around to see if it had been hacked. It hadn’t. So I reached out to the IT department of one of the companies that he could not email to. They were nice enough to give me the reports from their Barracuda Networks Email Security Gateway. And that allowed me to find the answer quickly. My client was hosting his email with a company who was doing shared hosting. Meaning that your email and web server is actually on a server with many other customers email and web servers. Now the upside to that is that this kind of hosting is cheap. The downside is that if there is some sort of bad actor on that server, you’re collateral damage. In this case, he was being blocked because the IP address of the server was being blacklisted due to the behavior of another customer.

My next step was to phone his hosting company. That turned out to be a wee bit frustrating as while they understood the issue, they didn’t appear to be interested in solving it by addressing the bad actor on my client’s server, or moving my client to another server. The only thing that they were willing to do is to try to get him off the blacklists that he was on. The key word being try because much to my surprise, they said that if that didn’t work, he’d have to move his email off their hosting service and onto Google’s Gmail platform or Microsoft Exchange. That shocked me because this is a hosting company that is huge. Not GoDaddy huge, but big enough that they advertise on YouTube, via banner ads, and on TV occasionally. We decided to go with trying to get him off whatever blacklists that he was on while working on a “plan b” which I will get to in a minute. Now to check if your email server is on a blacklist, you need a tool like MXToolbox that will allow you to do a blacklist check of a few dozen blacklists at once. I did that and found my client’s email server on four blacklists. But strangely the hosting company claimed that they could not find my client on any. That absolutely blew my mind. And when I phoned them back to call them on it, they had no explanation as to why they couldn’t find him on a blacklist when I had clear evidence that he was, It is almost as if they didn’t want to fix this.

That’s when we decided to execute “plan b” which was to move him to another hosting company. In this case we went with Rebel. They had an option called Full Control Hosting which allowed him to have a dedicated server which would avoid this problem going forward. This option was marginally more expensive, but because of what had gone on to this point, it was worth the extra expense. Now his previous hosting company had a similar option, but we weren’t going there because of their lack of action when we came to them for help. Another factor in going with Rebel is that they would do the work for us including moving the contents of the six email accounts that my client’s business had, and change all the DNS settings as well. All I would have to do is to change the settings in the Microsoft Outlook clients that each person used which was trivial. We set a date for last Friday to get this done. And the reason why I picked a Friday is because that the DNS or Domain Name Server changes may take up to 72 hours to replicate across the Internet because of the way Domain Name Servers work. Thus having it replicate over a weekend would be low impact. And on the day that we chose to do this, the migration from his hitch. It took about 90 minutes from start to finish and the result was that he could not only send email to whomever he wanted to, but because he was on a server of his own, he would never be blacklisted again. At least one would hope not. But for him, this was a huge win as this problem was business impacting.

The final step was to cancel the contract with his previous hosting company. We did that today and it was cathartic given the way they failed to act when he came to them for help. Which reinforces the fact that if you don’t provide quality customer service, you won’t have customers.

This was quite the journey.

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