7 Shared Inbox Software to Improve Collaboration in 2022

7 Shared Inbox Software to Improve Collaboration in 2022

When your business or school is small and you only receive a handful of emails each day, using a distribution list or shared Gmail or Outlook mailbox may be an effective way to handle incoming emails. After all, it's simple and it's inexpensive.

However, it's important to remember that distribution lists and shared mailboxes aren’t built for long-term email management. As your organization and email volume grow, these tools often create more problems than they solve, leaving employees frustrated and itching for a better experience.

Instead of forcing your email into a role it was never designed for, consider the benefits of a shared inbox tool — software deliberately created to improve email handling.

The different types of shared email software

There are several different types of tools that allow multiple members of a team to access and manage email sent to a single email address. Each tool has its own set of features and, in some cases, limitations:

FeatureDistribution ListsShared MailboxesShared Inboxes

Receive email from a team email address

Send email from a team email address

Access a group inbox to view all sent and received emails

View reports

View historical customer data

Assign requests to individual team members

Add private, internal notes to support requests

Prevent duplicate replies

Choosing the right option for your team is a matter of deciding which features you need in order to provide exceptional service.

For example, if you only need to work from a single queue and have no need for the additional collaboration, reporting, and productivity features that shared inboxes provide, a shared mailbox may work perfectly for your team.

But it's also important to think beyond what your team needs right now and consider what you might need in the future as well. As your organization grows, the shortcomings of shared mailboxes will become apparent.

Where shared mailboxes fail

A new pizza shop recently opened near my home, and I gave it a try. The restaurant was full of staff, but the food was painfully slow to arrive. 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 mailbox can be very much like that: A system that once functioned perfectly suddenly collapses under its own weight.

In the clip below, Angela Bradburn, Senior Communications Coordinator at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, explains some of the reasons why her team decided to make the transition to shared inbox software.

Bradburn describes some of the typical problems teams face when trying to share an inbox: confusion, inefficiency, and frustration for the team — issues that ultimately impact customers.

Shared inbox software won’t automatically create a great experience for you, but it can provide the structure and systems that allow your team to provide better service more consistently.

The 7 best shared inbox tools

If you're running into issues with efficiency, working over each other when trying to collaborate, or need more sophisticated reporting tools, it's probably time to upgrade to a shared inbox.

There are several signs that it's time to consider adopting a shared inbox tool:

  • Team members have replied to the same email with duplicate or contradictory input.

  • You don’t know who handled an issue, and it takes some digging to identify the person and the solution they offered.

  • People regularly send follow-up emails to ask about questions/requests they sent in that didn't receive a response.

  • You're struggling to create a schedule for your team because you have no insights into the volume of emails you receive, how fast your team responds, who’s responding to what, or how happy people are with the responses they’re receiving from your staff.

  • Collaboration is difficult. There is no easy way to assign things to specific users or add notes and comments without forwarding emails to different teammates.

These are all meaningful clues that your team is in need of a better solution. The first time any of these situations arise, it may be time to start looking at shared inbox options.

If it's time for your team to upgrade to a shared inbox, start your search by comparing the seven shared inbox tools below.

1. Help Scout

Best shared inbox software for teams providing multi-channel support.

Help Scout's shared inbox comes with many features designed to make it easier for teams to stay productive, collaborate seamlessly, and deliver exceptional email support.

Reduce complexity for your audience

While some email management tools interrupt your conversations with ticket numbers and login portals, Help Scout is invisible to those who reach out for your support. All they get is a helpful response to their questions.

email response in help scout

Additionally, when your team picks up a conversation, they have immediate access to that sender’s full profile: what they’ve asked you before, their account histories, and quick links to other internal systems.

customer profile in help scout

With the full context readily available to them, your team can give a much more personalized and useful response without slowing their response times. Plus, no one has to suffer through a back-and-forth email chain of you asking for account information.

Respond and collaborate as a team in the same space

When you're working in a shared mailbox but need assistance from another member of your team, you typically have to take that conversation out of your inbox; otherwise, you run the risk of accidentally copying the sender on a message that was intended to be private.

Help Scout's shared inbox solves this problem with private notes that appear in-line with the email text but are only visible to members of your team.

private notes in help scout

Stop stepping on each others’ toes

In Help Scout, collision detection indicators enable everyone to see who is working on which issue in real time. It’s a simple visual system: A yellow triangle shows you that another user is viewing the conversation, and a red triangle appears if someone else is responding to the conversation.

Plus, collision detection doesn’t allow you to send a message if another person replied during the time you were working on that response.

help scout's collision detection tool

Take and assign ownership of requests

Conversations in Help Scout can be assigned directly to an individual — or handed to the right team — so that it is clear who is responsible for providing a response.

You can also sort by assignee to ensure that nothing gets dropped in the shuffle if a team member is out for the day or leaves the organization.

sort conversations by assignee in help scout

Save time and effort with workflows, tags, and saved replies

Your team members are most valuable when they’re spending time understanding problems and solving them — not when they’re clicking around in a messy inbox sorting emails.

Use Help Scout to apply tags and create workflows to automate common tasks. For example:

  • Automatically assign billing issues to the finance team.

  • Identify urgent issues and raise their priorities.

  • Give your product team an easy way to review customer feedback on particular issues.

workflows in help scout

Additionally, as trends start to emerge, you can start building a library of saved replies. These are email templates that will help save you the trouble of having to type the same responses over and over.

Use your support conversations to create a better organization

Help Scout’s reporting tools help you turn a stream of conversations into usable insights. Understand your customers, clients, students, or patients better than ever by answering questions like:

  • When do most people need help, and how responsive are we during those times?

  • Which support channels do people want to use, and how is that changing over time?

  • What do people think about our new feature, and what language do they use to describe it?

  • Which types of questions are we best at answering, and which are associated with lower satisfaction?

You can expand access to your Help Scout data beyond your client-facing teams with light users. This user role grants additional team members access to behind-the-scenes features, such as the ability to view and follow conversations, leave private notes, create and edit Messages, and view reports without taking up a paid seat in your account.

Light user licenses are included in new Plus and Pro plans, making it easy to increase visibility and collaborate across your organization.

reports in help scout

Provide more than just email support

A shared inbox is just one of the tools your team gets access to when you sign up for a Help Scout plan. You can also use Help Scout to create a knowledge base, offer live chat support, and send visitors proactive messages while they're browsing your website.

And if your organization offers phone support, you can use Help Scout's integrations to funnel those conversations into one location. Your team can prioritize and work more efficiently with everything in a central location.

Price: Starting at $20/user per month.

2. Outlook shared mailbox

Best for very small teams that are already using Outlook.

screenshot of outlook's shared mailbox

If your team is using Outlook and needs basic shared inbox functionality, creating a shared mailbox in Outlook may be a good choice. Essentially, it’s an email folder you can invite multiple people to use.

Since it’s not really a tool built for scale, it doesn’t have many bells and whistles. Still, for teams already using Outlook, it doesn’t come at an additional cost.

Price: Free for current Outlook users.

3. Google Collaborative Inbox

Best for very small teams that are already using Google Workspace.

screenshot of google collaborative inbox

Very similar to Outlook's shared mailbox, Google Collaborative Inbox lets teams set up a shared mailbox associated with a Google Group.

Collaborative Inbox has a few more features than Outlook, such as being able to assign emails to specific employees and set email statuses.  While not as powerful as other options on this list, it doesn’t cost anything additional, so it can be a good option for small teams that are just getting started delivering support.

Price: Free for current Google Workspace users.

4. Hiver

Best shared inbox for teams that want to use Gmail.

screenshot of hiver's customer service software

Another option for teams using Gmail is Hiver. Hiver acts as an add-on to Gmail to make it more robust.

With Hiver, you’re able to assign emails to specific people and add in notes. There are also task automation and analytics features, but it should be noted that many of the more advanced features are only offered on their higher-cost plans.

Price: Starting at $12/user per month.

5. Front

Best shared inbox for personal email use.

screenshot of front's customer service software

Most shared inbox tools are used to manage a group email address (info@, etc.). However, if your team wants to use both personal and shared email addresses when responding to messages, Front could be a great option.

Front offers additional email management software features, and some collaborative features like internal comments. They also have more advanced features like analytics, automation, and CRM integration on their higher-cost plans.

Price: Starting at $19/person per month.

6. Helpwise

Best shared inbox for social media messaging.

Helpwise Screenshot

For teams that provide support through phone messages like SMS or WhatsApp and social sites like Twitter and Facebook, Helpwise could be a great option.

Helpwise connects with each of those different platforms, meaning you can manage all of those conversations in one place to help limit confusion and make sure messages don’t slip through the cracks.

Price: Starting at $20/user per month.

7. Gmelius

Best shared inbox for teams wanting project management capabilities.

screenshot of gmelius' shared inbox

Gmelius is a Gmail add-on that includes a number of features like internal notes, shared labels, email assignment capabilities, and reporting (though on their base plan, they only track up to seven days’ worth of metrics).

The key differentiator for Gmelius is the added project management functionality through Kanban boards (think Trello). You’re able to create tasks, add due dates, and assign those tasks to different users.

Price: Starting at $7/user per month.

Upgrading to a shared inbox

While a distribution list or shared mailbox may work well for your team when you're just starting out, these tools simply aren't built to scale. The right tool for the job needs the capability to grow with you and help you build relationships — no matter how many conversations you’re having.

A streamlined, transparent workflow through Help Scout empowers teams and scales as an organization grows, ensuring that no one ever slips through the cracks of a shared email account.

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Jesse Short
Jesse Short

After spending a few years working as a support agent, Jesse made the switch to writing full-time. He works as a Content Strategist at Help Scout, to help improve the agent and customer experience.

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