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How to check if an email has NOT been received by the recipient

Hi all!
We have a problem where we need to be sure that the recipient has received emails because it seems some are not being delivered and disappearing into cyberspace without our knowledge. The recipient must receive emails updating certain orders he is to fulfill and a lost email can result in him not being aware of changes to a product and hence shipping the wrong item! He is based in India and we are in the UK. It's tempting to blame the Indian IT infrastructure and blame every ISP involved, but what we want is a system to alert us if an email has not been delivered.
When an email has "gone missing" we do not receive any undeliverable messages, and therefore assume it has been received when infact it has disappeared into nowhere.
We have tried CC-ing a copy to Hotmail in addition to his regular POP account but sometimes the message doesn't even reach Hotmail.
Using Read Receipts is very tricky as we'd have to spend a long time cross referencing the receipts with the sent emails. Ideally what we need is a way to somehow flag or mark the sent messages once they've been confirmed as received. Both ends are using Outlook 2003 and OL2003 seems to offer various flagging options. This way it would be extremely easy to look at the sent emails and notice any problems.
There might be a possibility of implementing an in-house Exchange Server, but this seems a heavy weight solution to the problem. I suspect there must be an Outlook add-in to do what we need and was wondering if anyone knew of such a program.
Many thanks,
Dave.
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DPL31
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DPL31
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2 Solutions
 
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Don't use e-mail.  E-mail is simply not a gaurenteed delivery method and I don't see how it can be.  SPAM filters and relying on other ISPs is a requirement and you can never be certain they don't interfere with your message.

E-mail can not be any more guarenteed (and probably less so) than the US Mail - even the US Mail with it's tracking ability (when you pay extra) and delivery confirmation features CAN still loose mail.

Implement a different system.  For example, a client-server program that talks to a database over the internet - if the information is in the database, they get it or they get a message they can't connect to the database.  If you must, a web app can do similarly.
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PsiCopCommented:
Short Answer: You can't.

Long Answer: See what leew wrote.

There is absolutely no way for you to force a receiving E-Mail system to acknowledge receipt or delivery. Even if the same software is in use at both ends, the functionality can be disabled or blocked.

Either implement your own message delivery system (as leew suggested) or go pay someone (US Mail, FedEx, a courier service) to assure delivery.
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upul007Commented:
Perhaps with outlook set to give a delivery report as well as read receipts and then a confirmation through msn chat/messenger may work for you. The delivery report will need to be watched for. But confirmation via chat is almost instantaneous. You can even use msn messenger to transfer the documents and record chat history.
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war1Commented:
Greetings, DPL31 !

You can use this email service to determine if recipient has read the email
http://www.didtheyreadit.com/

There is some concern with privacy rights with this service.

Best wishes!
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I'm not so sure the company war1 suggested will work - while I have not used them personally or tried to, I suspect their method of knowing the message is read is by downloading a small "invisible" graphic from their web site and recording when that has been downloaded.  Systems lacking an always on internet connection and those that block messages from downloading such graphics (such as Thunderbird and Outlook can), would render this ineffective.

MAYBE they use another way, but I suspect not.

And just because you request a read/delivery receipt does not mean you'll get it - the mail server has to support it and/or the email app has to support it AND the user has to OK the sending of such a reciept.
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r-kCommented:
I agree with all the above.

An alternate idea for your specific situation might be to require the recipient to send a reply in confirmation to all mails that you consider important, and if you don't receive such confirming reply within xx hours then re-send the email and/or follow up by other means (phone etc.)

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moorhouselondonCommented:
A mail server's SMTP logs will tell you whether the message has been Accepted or not.  Having said that, I have seen instances of AOL Accepting emails and then ditching them (i.e., not delivering them).  The way that I have found to "prove" delivery (will only work for emails that take several seconds to transfer) is to see how long it takes for the recipent's email server to accept the message.  This can be seen in the Mail Server SMTP transcript.  If it accepts and delivers in the space of less than one second, it has not been delivered.  I agree that it is still not a guarantee, but I have found it to be useful when debugging delivery problems.  Delivery needs to be made directly from you to the recipient so that you can see the handshaking that goes on.  There are cheaper alternatives to Exchange.  I use Mdaemon and it will produce the required logs.
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DPL31Author Commented:
Thanks very much for the comments so far although nobody has hit the nail on the head yet!!

I see the logic behind a client-server database, but this sounds complicated and we have to use email anyway.
 
I looked at didtheyreadit.com but this seems to just be an enhanced read receipt service.

The recipient is an agent and so it is perfectly acceptable to make changes his end if that solves the issue, and this includes making his system give read receipts etc. It would also be acceptable that he has an account set up this end on an Exchange Server or other mail server package. Considering the options so far, setting up a mail server at our end might be the only sensible solution. I can't see how emails would go missing locally when we send to his account on our mail server, and then we could also have access to check his mailbox and see that all messages have been downloaded.

Perhaps another option would be to set up a Terminal Server at this end, and then he could remotely connect and view the emails??. In this case the emails would not go outside our premises.  

I'm still hoping that someone comes up with a dead obvious solution though..........

Thanks again,
Dave
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Keep in mind, sometimes the solution you want simply doesn't exist.

If this problem is costing your business money, then you need to find a reliable solution - one reliable solution is a client/server/database solution.

Terminal Services might be solution.

Using Exchange and having the remote site use Outlook Web Access to view the e-mail is another possible solution.
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moorhouselondonCommented:
You could set up an email account for him on your mail server.  With Mdaemon you could give them Worldclient (which is like webmail) to view their emails on your system, or you could give them a straightforward POP account with username and password.  Only problems there are that you need to be on a Fixed IP address, and (if using POP access option) that a hole needs to be knocked in the Firewall to allow incoming access on the POP port.
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DPL31Author Commented:
Will be checking out Mdaemon over the next few days but please keep any other suggestions rolling in!
Thanks,
Dave
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upul007Commented:
After reading through the post again it seems that there may be something very wrong in your setup. Your agent not getting an email as well as the hotmail account! Do you get other similar issues with other parties?

What you need is a system where you are in control of what your agent is doing and stable data transfer. There are some very good ideas here. Create a system! Use webmail, Ftp, voip.
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danross44Commented:
Another potential solution, if you would prefer to get around this and continue to use email to communicate these messages, would be to attempt to use process of elimination to narrow down where the message is getting blocked/cut off. You could start by having the user send you test messages where they/you change just one of the following factors per message:

their outgoing mail server, your incoming mail server
their isp, your isp,
the computer they are sending from, the computer your are receiving from

One of these 6 entities is most likely the culprit.  Therefore, keep a log of each test message and what entity was changed as well as what it was changed to. Test all 6 and if there is 1 of the 6 that causes the message to be delivered successfully, then you have your culprit entity and you know a way to get around the prob as well as who to blame/contact about looking into it further. If there were 0 of the tests that yielded a successful result, then put your hands up and try something else. If there were more than 1 that yielded a successful result, try some more tests and see if you can narrow it down any further.

I did this process once in the past, and although the entity it enabled me to identify at first denied vehemently that the issue was on their side, knowing the prob entity alerted me to change that entity for a parallel one that did not have the same problem. And once more, I had a good laugh and without words I told you so when the problem entity finally came back a couple of months later to let me know I was right.  
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PostmasterCommented:
Another option might be to use a public folder.
If you host this and set it up for India to access, then it is possible to 'see' what has been read (by setting the per-user read OFF).

This way you can actually see what has been opened, and it is possible to have different flags for different situations:
In Progress
Completed
Delivery confirmed
etc

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moorhouselondonCommented:
Has the original question been edited?  I think I've gone senile in not remembering some of the detail.  The fact that this is one recipient only prompts me to make the following comments:-

Having their email Pop box hosted on your system is a very reliable way of handling things if (as it sounds) you are dealing with this entity a lot.  They use Webmail to access it.

Another thing you could do, again if you are continually communicating with them, is to adopt a Serial Number notation for *every single communication* you have with them.  You have an arrangement with them that they send you a once daily email (if the traffic, or the "turnround time" on production is high enough to warrant it) which  gives the last Serial No. received, together with a list of any missing numbers.  When UK reissues the Missing Serial Numbered emails, you assign a new Serial Number to the copy, which mentions the Missing Serial Number so that there is not more confusion if the Missing Email magically turns up late.  If I were implementing this, I would automate this at both ends by having a utility at each end which (a) merges the Serial Number into the outgoing email (b) cracks it open from the received email when it reaches India (c) sends a periodic confirmation back to UK, or immediately if something is received out of sequence.
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lovewithnofaceCommented:
Also, just a small thing.  I'd make sure that I was using e-mail address that could be counted on.

No use going to all this trouble if you're using a Hotmail account.  Or a yahoo account that has various bulk mail filters etc.  Or an AOL account where they decide whether or not you need to read certain e-mails, and if it comes from something on their black list, it gets deleted even if you wanted it and you get no say.

Whatever system you do decide on, try and implement it as simply and easily as possible.   You want backups involved, but you don't want it so complex that no one understands how to send an email anymore.
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