When your customer support volume is low or you only have one or two people answering customer questions, using a shared inbox can be an effective way to communicate with your customers and collaborate with your coworkers.
But despite what the Care Bears might say, sharing is not always caring, and as your business and customer service team scales, running support from a shared inbox like Gmail can turn from practical to problematic very quickly.
Table of Contents
- What is a shared inbox?
- The benefits of shared inboxes
- When shared inboxes fail
- The disadvantages of shared inboxes
- Help Scout: A step up from a shared inbox
What is a shared inbox?
A shared inbox is an email inbox that can be accessed and managed by multiple individuals. Everyone with access to the shared inbox can send and receive emails from a shared email address, view an archive of all sent and received emails, and save emails in shared folders.
In essence, a shared inbox lets multiple team members manage a central inbox in exactly the same way that they would manage their own personal email inboxes.
The benefits of shared inboxes
- Email is a simple way for customers to contact you. All of your customers likely have access to email. You won’t need to sell them on the idea of contacting customer support via email, and you won’t have to train customers or team members on how to use email.
- Email is asynchronous. Unlike live chat or phone support, email allows customers to communicate with you without time pressures. They can request support and reply to questions at any time that’s convenient for them.
- A shared inbox allows for collaboration. You can have multiple people working with customers at once through a central contact point. And unlike with a distribution list, you can see which emails have been opened and replied to by other team members.
- A shared inbox makes it easier to organize your support emails. You can create organizational folders that anyone can access for things like known issues, frequently sent responses, or praise for the customer support team.
- A shared inbox becomes an archive of customer conversations. New team members can get up to speed by reading through historical emails or can search the archive of sent emails to find the answers to questions they don’t yet know the answers to.
Because of these benefits, a shared inbox might work for your support needs in the beginning. It’s certainly more effective than trying to manage customer emails sent to a distribution list.
But as your business grows, the shortcomings of shared inboxes will become apparent.
When shared inboxes fail
A new pizza shop opened recently near my home, and I’ve ordered from there a couple of times. The first time, the store was not busy. A few staff members moved smoothly around the various stations, and the pizzas were turned out quickly.
On my second visit, however, I experienced an almost literal example of “too many cooks spoil the broth.” The pizzas were turned out much slower because there were so many people working that they were constantly bumping into each other, disrupting each other’s tasks and being forced to wait for access.
A shared inbox can be very much like that: a system that once functioned perfectly suddenly collapses under its own weight.