We’ve all had stressful email issues. You accidentally forget to send off an important response to your boss, or a big complaint slips under the radar. I’ve been in the middle of making dinner and thought, “Did I forget to send that email?” and bolted to my computer to double-check.

No matter how diligent you are, email is overwhelming. The average American professional receives up to 126 work emails per day, so the sheer scale of incoming messages can make it difficult to prioritize important notes and track progress.

If you work in customer support, that number is probably even higher. Even if you respond to 99% of complaints, one slipup can break trust — and as your team grows, that’s more and more likely to happen. Especially if you’re working within a big support team or through multiple inboxes, you’ll start to mix up who said what and which issues have been resolved. As your inboxes feel like more of a tangle on the inside, your business looks like more of a tangle to customers.

Before we dive into our tips for choosing email management software, let’s answer a few fundamental questions:

What is an email management system?

Email management systems enable teams to scale customer support without losing the personal touch or decreasing the quality of their customer experience. The best systems strengthen customer support strategies and help raise the bar for every interaction.

How can an email management system improve my customer support?

By streamlining communication and empowering your team with problem-solving tools, an email management system allows support professionals to provide exceptional customer service. The right system builds accountability and transparency internally, which translates directly to happier customers.

What are the most important features of an email management system?

The most important features of an email management system include multiple mailboxes, internal collaboration, personalized emails to customers, and strong reporting capabilities. The best system will also offer plenty of options for integrations with other tools you love.

7 tips for choosing the best email management system

Most companies wait until something goes terribly wrong to start implementing new email management systems. They’ve dealt with a string of unexpected support failures or rapid growth that their team couldn’t manage, which can lead to a social media uproar, bad press, or the loss of important customers.

The last thing you want to do is take an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. Instead of waiting for something to happen, be proactive about making positive changes. In the support industry, email management systems can enrich your team’s day-to-day work and the customer experience.

1. Talk to your support team and involve them in the process

The best people to help you select an email management system are your team members. They’re the ones with their hands on the wheel every day, driving support forward with an effective customer service email management strategy. Leaving them out sets a bad precedent. If you select a system that doesn’t align with the customers or their pain points, your team members are a lot less likely to go all-in on change — plus, your ROI would be much lower because there’s no guarantee that it’s the best solution for everyone.

Approach the selection process as a leadership opportunity for at least one full-time support professional and one manager. This small group will play an important role in shaping the team’s approach moving forward; make sure they’re excited about the chance to contribute to positive change.

2. Recognize the benefits of email for everyone

Before diving into the selection process, you’ll want to spend time thinking about what works well about email. There’s a reason why so many people use it as a form of communication, both in support and beyond. If you can pinpoint what your team and customers love about interacting with you now, you can make sure those characteristics are still present in a new email management software.

Here are some of the common benefits of email:

Asynchronous communication: Support teams can be flexible in response time without the pressure of the customer expecting an immediate response.

Collaboration: Multiple people can collaborate in a shared inbox and respond to customers through a single point of contact.

Accessibility: Approximately 3 billion people use email, and it’s extremely accessible. Customers don’t have to adapt to a new platform to get the help they need.

Simplicity: Email is intuitive and simple to use for customers. Setting up an inbox through Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook is easy, and sending off a message only takes a minute.

Ease of cost: Using email is free for anyone; it costs people nothing to send a message.

Personalized communication: Email can still feel personal. When writing to someone, it’s easy to make it seem like there’s a person behind the email.

3. Look for red flags that email isn’t working anymore

Just as there are tangible benefits to email, there are big drawbacks. Chances are, your customers and support people will bear the burden of using a shared inbox or an email distribution list as your business scales. Here are the reasons why email shouldn’t be your strategy for the long term:

No context: Problem-solving without the full context is equally frustrating for customers and support pros. It’s so much harder to get it right the first time if support doesn’t have access to past communication about the issues.

Collisions and letdowns: Emails often either slip through the cracks or multiple support personnel respond to the same customer complaint, creating confusion for customers. When people reach out to support, they’re already upset and mix-ups just make it worse.

No behind-the-scenes collaboration: Tricky support issues often need multiple collaborators, but working behind the scenes on email can become messy. It’s not clear who takes responsibility for next steps, and essential details can get lost in a long email chain.

No reporting capabilities: Strengthening the customer experience depends on knowing how your team is doing every day and setting goals. Without even basic reporting, it’s impossible to pinpoint the performance of your team and how everyone can improve their work every day.

Lack of accountability: With an email inbox or distribution list, managers can’t assign specific conversations to specific support personnel. Managing everyone’s workload fairly and easily is deeply challenging without a built-in system.

4. Understand other potential weaknesses of your current system

Although the list above outlines the typical issues people experience over email, they’re not all-encompassing. Don’t exclude other aspects of your team’s experiences while preparing to pick out an email management system. Send out a survey to your customer support team for anonymous responses. Make sure to go through any big-picture takeaways from their responses as a group to make sure you understand their greatest insights.

Here are some possible questions to explore:

  • What do customers complain about most?
  • If a customer writes in with an ongoing support issue, what’s your process for understanding past communication?
  • Are you happy with the current customer response time?
  • Do you know how many issues you resolve every day?
  • How do you feel about the level of power you have to turn around a bad customer experience (give refunds, etc.)?
  • Do you want more autonomy in your role or do you want more manager guidance?
  • How do you measure your own performance every day?
  • Are you frustrated on a daily basis while collaborating within an email inbox?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  • Do you feel that the support team is getting better or worse over time?
  • Describe team morale.
  • How often do customers write in saying an issue still hasn’t been resolved?

All of these nitty-gritty details set the foundation for you to understand how an email organization software can fit in within the larger context of your customer support strategy. Ideally, a new email management system gives everyone a fresh slate to tweak or overhaul the customer support strategy moving forward.

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5. Imagine the ideal company and customer experience

Even with its flaws, email is the norm for many companies and customers. The work you’ve done so far can help you discern how to harness the benefits of email without their drawbacks. For example, most people will want to hone in on a solution that gives customers the simplicity, affordability, and personalized experience of email while minimizing the back-end miscommunications for team members.

Look through all of the research and summarize your team and customer needs with key priorities. Beyond the support and customer experience, you’ll also want to consider how email management software can also help a larger organization fulfill a brand promise, align with a company’s values, and empower leadership with powerful business insights. When you’re considering different options, think big and imagine how a dynamic help desk could transform your organization from the top down.

6. Test solutions that align with your needs

Would you ever buy a car without driving it? Probably not. Take the same approach to selecting an email management system that you would with a big investment in your personal life. Using the key priorities your team has already identified, narrow down the list of potential customer service email management solutions to a handful of options.

From there, set aside time to test them all. Ask the team members you appointed to use the email organization software the way that they would every day. Run reports, create saved replies, assign conversations to team members, and respond to “customers” about ongoing issues to see how the history appears within the software. Even try building out a quick knowledge base and testing the integrations with other tools you use.

As simple as it is to select the software with the most bells and whistles, take the time to hone in on the option that makes it easiest to serve your customers’ needs while aligning with your values. Most of all, consider the solution that has the same level of support that you aspire to give your customers. Reach out to their support often and see just how well it works on their end; if they don’t live up to your expectations, their software won’t either.

The best email organization software will empower your team

The more you empower a team with a great customer service email management system, the more support pros can contribute to the lives of customers. With the right email management system and forward-thinking leadership, support teams can go above and beyond solving issues to act as an engine for growth.

Elizabeth Wellington

Elizabeth Wellington

Liz writes about business, creativity and making meaningful work. Say hello on Twitter or through her website.