Working with my father’s pharmacy chain, Total Health Pharmacy, as a client was a responsibility and a pleasure, but our success came with many lessons. So when my dad told me that his work emails were bouncing, I knew that I needed to step in and get it done.
Total Health Pharmacy is one of Ontario’s largest Pharmacy chains with over 40 locations, it’s strength is actually that the stores are primarily pharmacist-owned. Owners know what is needed to service customers well, but not how to handle lower-priority items like maintaining their digital tools.
The first step was to investigate the issues. We logged into their email and immediately noticed that the email was a self-hosted system. These are great because they don’t have additional cost for adding new accounts. However, email systems are built on trust so when a virus sent out spam, the IP address was blacklisted by Outlook. They also tend to have poor spam filters.
We took a closer look at specific accounts and noticed an account that had been receiving a lot of spam that wasn’t being blocked. This turned out to be the one from the contact form. The form claimed the emails were all coming from an insider account so spam filters couldn’t connect it to the right addresses. As a result, those who were trying to maintain the inbox had to give up. The inboxes had notoriously low usage and we had to do something about it.
Our plan was to start by fixing the contact form, figure out what was causing the low usage, then fix the email system.
The contact form was simple. It just took changing the email “from address” to the contact email in the form. It immediately fixed a number of issues and the account was usable again.
We also took it upon ourselves to make an up-to-date list of stores and pharmacists. We emailed all the accounts and also called every store we could find. We asked them what issues they had with the emails and what they were using them for. Some accounts were unused or duplicates, such as a pharmacist account duplicated with a store account, where only one was being checked.
What we found out is that most of the issues could be solved by migrating the email accounts to a recognized email provider such as Gmail or Zoho. We ended up choosing Zoho because the price was good and they had good support and migration tools for the old emails and contacts.
The email migration was a difficult process nevertheless because the addresses were live and still in use. We started by creating a diagram of how the migration would go and confirmed it with outside industry professionals. We were lucky because the company has a .ca and a .com domain, one with emails, the other without. Our plan was to:
- Create .ca copies of the email addresses
- Forward .com emails from the original server to the .ca email addresses
- Copy emails from the old server to Zoho
- Point the domain to Zoho
We let people know about the changes at every step. Creating the copies wasn’t bad. We had a list of emails and went through it one-by-one. We had made a list of the emails that were requested to be deleted, requested to be merged, etc. and made sure to follow through with those requests.
We added the forwarding rules to forward new emails to the .ca accounts. This was so that we didn’t miss a single email.
We migrated emails in batches as we were limited to a certain size per migration and kept track of every address we had copied over.
Before we pulled the trigger and made the move permanent, we double checked to make sure each account was working. We added the (.com) “aliases” for each account while the domain was unconfirmed. This meant that both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org would go to the same inbox. We then decoupled the domain from the old server and coupled it with Zoho. We also made sure everyone could use the emails and had the support phone number for Zoho.
We successfully completed the migration with 0 email downtime. The thing that we got right was making a comprehensive plan first. We also were right to make sure to contact every store through all mediums. Logging our tracks along the way in the migration was tricky, but helped tremendously. The only thing that may have helped was if we had made an external backup of the old emails from addresses that were deleted as some patrons changed their mind about keeping old accounts.