Email is the most popular and (arguably) most functional form of professional communication. But sometimes, individual email addresses and one-on-one conversations aren’t the best way to handle communications; for example, in a customer service team with a shared mailbox, it’s important for multiple customer service agents to be able to reply to emails.
That’s where shared inboxes come into play. With a shared mailbox, you can have multiple team members collaborating on the same group of inbound email messages.
But how exactly do shared inboxes work, and how can you set one up for your team?
Table of Contents
- The 4 Main Benefits of a Shared Mailbox
- How to Share an Inbox Without Third-Party Tools
- How to set up a Gmail Delegate
- What Features Should Shared Inbox Software Have?
- The Best Shared Inbox Tools for Team Email Management
- How to Get Analytics for Your Shared Inbox
Let’s start by listing some of the most important benefits of a shared mailbox. Why would a shared inbox be superior to an individualize one?
1. High volume message distribution.
For starters, high-volume email streams are often untenable for an individual to handle. For example, if you have 5,000 customer service messages coming in per day, no single person can feasibly handle them alone. A shared inbox allows many people to share the burden from a single, centralized inbox.
2. Delegation and specialization.
Shared inboxes also make it easier for a team to convert messages into tasks, then assign those tasks to the most relevant parties. This prevents messages from being overlooked or forgotten, and ultimately leads to higher customer satisfaction.
3. Elimination of duplicated effort.
Shared inboxes prevent the possibility of excessive duplicated effort, which can happen if you have two or more people responding to the same messages. Hypothetically, task assignment and tracking should make this impossible.
4. Consolidation and analytics.
Finally, shared inboxes allow you to collect all your communications in the same place for further analysis. Many shared inboxes go beyond email, incorporating other forms of communication like social media messages, SMS text messages, and even live chats. If you’re interested in gathering and analyzing more data on your customers, this is valuable information.
There are some built-in features in popular email platforms that allow some ways to share an inbox. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on Gmail, though Outlook has similar features.
If you want to create a shared Gmail account, the easiest way is to create a Gmail group email and/or additional Gmail group email aliases.
These are collective email addresses, like customerservice@______.com, which are distributed to a predefined list of users on your team. Aliases are alternative names for your group email addresses; for example, help@______.com should go to the same place as customerservice@______.com.
Here, you’ll be able to add and manage your existing groups, adding email addresses of individuals as you see fit.
To add aliases, click on the name of a group, and in the Group information section, click Aliases. Here, you’ll be able to edit each Group Alias (up to 30 for each Group).
The big downside of this approach is the difficulty in collaborating efficiently; you may end up with multiple people responding to the same message inadvertently, and some messages may go without responses at all.
How to set up a Gmail Delegate
You can also set up mail delegation in Gmail. If you do this, you’ll be able to add one or more “delegates” to your account; these are people who can read, send, and delete messages on your behalf. However, they can’t chat with anyone on your behalf, and they won’t be able to change your Gmail password.
To add a Gmail delegate, open the Gmail desktop version, click Settings, then head to the Accounts and Import tab. From there, head to the “Grant access to your account” section, and click Add another account. You’ll be able to enter the email address of the person you want to add. This person will receive an email when you finalize this process, which will grant them access to your account.
Note that any account can have up to 10 delegates. In some situations, you can add 25 delegates (like if you’re using Gmail through work, school, or another organization).
At any time, you can remove delegates using a similar process, after accessing the Accounts and Import tab of the Settings menu.
If you don’t want to rely on the built-in features of Gmail (or your email platform of choice), you’ll need the help of a shared inbox tool for team email maangement. Shared inbox software typically comes with some, if not all, of the following features:
- Group-centric email management. First, you’ll have a central location where multiple individuals can come together and manage email communication. Everyone can see the incoming messages, and individuals can respond to those messages as appropriate.
- Ticket assignment. Most platforms here allow you to convert each incoming message into a “ticket” or “task” that can be assigned to a specific individual on the team. This prevents duplicated effort, and minimizes the risk of skipping over a message.
- Email automation. Many modern platforms also have at least some capacity to automate email responses, decreasing the amount of time you need to spend manually creating messages and leading to higher email efficiency.
- Team discussions. Sometimes, customer messages are too hard for an individual to sort out on their own. To address this, many shared inbox platforms include some kind of internal team chat feature, so individuals can collaborate to solve problems together.
- Reporting and analytics. You’ll also typically find some kind of reporting and/or analytic functionality, allowing you to measure things like incoming and outgoing messages, response rates, and even customer satisfaction.
Let’s take a look at some of the best team email management and shared inbox platforms on the market:
1. HubSpot CRM
HubSpot CRM is a customer relationship management platform that also connects your team via shared inbox. Utilizing HubSpot conversations, you can unify your sales, marketing, and customer service teams and centralize all their communications. There are also a ton of additional productivity tools available to streamline the emailing process, including templates, canned responses, and help content. Be sure to see our complete list of CRM software tools!
Drag is an app designed to make it easier to manage messages and tasks in Gmail. With it, you’ll gain access to a Kanban-style layout. And as the name suggests, its primary mode of interaction is dragging and dropping. It doesn’t take long to learn, and it features an internal team chat to clarify miscommunications and allow for easier collaboration.
Front is a shared mailbox tool meant to consolidate your customer communications across a variety of different channels, including email, social media, SMS text messages, and more. Within the same collected app, your team members will be able to create tickets, send automatic responses, and even edit emails as a team.
EmailAnalytics Visualizes Your Team's Email Activity
- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- Salespeople spend an average of 13 hours per week on email.
Hiver is a great tool if you’re interested in a minimalistic shared mailbox solution for Gmail. It functions as a simple Chrome extension, so it doesn’t take long to install or start using. Once active, you can use it to manage incoming emails as a team, automate outgoing emails, tag messages to organize them, and even host internal communications.
Gmelius is a tool we’ve mentioned before, since it has so many cool features for Gmail. With it, you’ll be able to organize and distribute your message using Trello-like project management boards. You can also create templates and canned responses to make your customer service team more efficient, and integrate Gmelius with practically any CRM.
Intercom is what we use here at EmailAnalytics for our shared mailbox tool (among many other uses). It’s an excellent CRM and helpdesk that enables us to manage customer support inquiries, sales inquiries, and more. I particularly love how it gives me all of a customer’s information at my fingertips, making it easy for me to get context when helping a customer. It enables teams to delegate conversations to individual service agents, and offer a slick, user-friendly UI.
Cerb.ai is a collaboration platform that tries to combine the benefits of shared inbox management, task assignment, automation, and workflow development. It’s also friendly to integrations, with open APIs.
With Loop, you can automatically turn any email into a chat-like discussion with your other team members. From there, you can turn emails into tasks, and assign them to individuals for responses and follow-ups. No registration is initially required for this one, so you can download it for free and see how it works right away.
You might mistake ClientFlow for a traditional email client, but it’s functionality is much more robust. In addition to basic email management features, it has project management software functionality, allowing you to create, assign, and track the progress of tasks related to customer communications.
Helprace primarily serves as a customer support-based ticketing system, but it also has a built-in shared inbox. With it, your team members can take and share notes with each other, collaborate on responses, assign emails as if they were tickets, and even establish attributes for each message to make them easier to categorize.
Kayako is primarily a help desk tool, but it also doubles as a shared mailbox. With it, you’ll be able to track customer interactions across a variety of channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and live chat—not just email. It also has built-in support for measuring and reporting on customer satisfaction.
HappyFox is another help desk tool, with ample support for a shared inbox dynamic within your team. With it, you can streamline all your incoming customer communications, and convert messages into easily assigned and easily managed tickets. There’s also voice integration and the ability to convert certain social media messages into tickets automatically.
Outpost is designed for small teams, so it may not be the best for large-scale organizations, but it’s highly intuitive and easy to get started with. One of its best features is built-in “collision alerts,” which prevent you from accidentally sending two different messages from two different agents to the same customer.
Next up is Qonvo. With this app, you can integrate multiple channels, including your email, live chat features, SMS text messages, and even social media messages. It also features the Qonvo Assistant, a proprietary digital assistant that learns from your past customer interactions to recommend messages in the future.
With Missive, you’ll gain access to a full email client, designed with collaboration in mind. With it, you’ll be able to get details on all your individual email accounts, work together on new messages and tasks, and even manage communications on multiple different platforms.
Many of the independent shared mailbox tools on this list will have built-in features for analytics and reporting. With them, you’ll be able to see who’s been assigned various tickets, how many emails have come in, and more.
However, if you’re working with a shared inbox within Gmail, or if you’re handling customer service exclusively with a shared Gmail account, you’ll need a separate tool for team email management.
EmailAnalytics is the ideal tool for the job. With it, you’ll be able to integrate any Gmail or G Suite account and track metrics like how many emails are being sent and received, your busiest times and days of the week, and even your average email response time. Sign up for a free trial today, and get a better understanding of how to improve your customer service email strategy!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.