Email has been declared dead so many times that it may well have been George R. R. Martin’s inspiration for the liturgy of the Drowned God on Game of Thrones: “What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.” It’s true in this case — email remains popular, having survived assassination attempts from RSS, Google Wave and Facebook.

Why support teams use shared inboxes

When your support volume is low or you only have one or two people answering customer questions, using a shared email inbox as your primary customer contact point does have some benefits:

  • Email is widespread. Essentially all of your customers have access to email, so you don’t need to sell them on the idea.
  • Email is simple. You don’t need to train your customers or your staff on using email, and you can set an inbox up in minutes.
  • Email is free. Anyone can sign up for a Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook account and contact you at no cost.
  • Email is conversational. It’s a medium built for back and forth communication without time pressures or technical barriers.
  • A shared inbox allows for collaboration. You can have multiple people working with customers at once, through a single contact point.

But despite what the Care Bears might say, sharing is not always caring, and running your support from a shared inbox like Gmail can turn from practical to problematic very quickly.

While a shared inbox might work for your support needs in the beginning, as your business grows, the shortcomings 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 all the extra staff 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, where a system that once functioned perfectly suddenly collapses under its own weight.

Angela Bradburn, Senior Communications Coordinator at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, has just gone through the transition from a shared inbox to using a dedicated help desk tool with her team. In the clip below, she shares some of the reasons they decided to make the move.


Angela describes a situation typical of the problems teams face trying to share an inbox for customer support. Confusion, inefficiency and frustration for the team that eventually impacts on the customers.

The pitfalls of shared inboxes

  • Loss of context. Email inboxes on their own don’t show who the customer is, and they aren’t able to use contextual information from prior interactions or internal data sources.
  • Collisions between team members. When multiple people have access to the same email account at the same time, it’s too easy for people to reply at the same time or leave it to someone else (a confusion that can lead to delayed replies).
  • Risk of miscommunication. Have you ever received an email reply that clearly wasn’t meant for you? Email does not allow for clear separation of internal notes and external messages.
  • Loss of knowledge. Email is where knowledge sharing goes to die. So much great information ends up lost inside email threads, which are difficult to find later on.
  • Inefficiency and lack of ownership. Once an email conversation involves more than two people, things quickly become confusing. Who is supposed to follow up? Is the customer waiting for something? What happened last time?

You can work around some of these limitations by layering on browser extensions and tools, but that leads to an increasingly complex system which can break at any moment with just one conflicting product update. Rather than playing Giant Jenga with your customer service tools, it’s better to use something that’s built for the job.

Help desk 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.

Help Scout: A step up from a shared inbox

Switching your customer service team to a new system isn’t a step to take lightly. It takes some investment and it if not handled carefully it can be disruptive to your team and your customers.

The good news is that the right tool lets you maintain all the genuine benefits of a shared inbox while addressing the limitations.

Help Scout adds capability for your team without adding complexity for your customers

While some help desk tools interrupt your conversations with ticket numbers and login portals, Help Scout is invisible to your customers. All they get sent is a helpful response to their question. Meanwhile, your team get all the benefits of Help Scout’s conversation handling, documentation and customer management tools.

Help Scout email response

Be responsive on multiple support channels
If you decide to offer customer service through chat or phone, Help Scout integrations allow you to funnel those conversations into one location. Your team can prioritize and work more efficiently with all your customer knowledge in one location.

Help Scout gives you better customer context
When your customer service team pick up a customer conversation, they have immediate access to that customer’s full profile. What they’ve asked you before, their account history, quick links to other internal systems.

sidebar profile

With the full context readily available to them, your team can give a much more personalized and useful response without slowing their response times.

Take and assign ownership of customer questions
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 getting that customer an answer. The rest of the team can get on with their work, confident they aren’t missing anything.

Private notes make it easy to share relevant details or tag in a team member to help resolve the issue at hand. You’ll never have to worry about a customer going unanswered, or receiving replies from two people on the same issue.

Private notes and mentions

Save time and effort with Help Scout workflows and tags
Your customer service team are most valuable when they are spending time understanding your customer’s problem and helping them figure it out, and not when they are 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 priority

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

example workflow

Use your support conversations to create a better business
Help Scout’s reporting tools help you turn a stream of customer conversations into usable insights. Understand your customers better than ever by answering questions like:

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

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

  • How do my customers think about our new feature, and what language do they use to describe it?

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

Help Scout Reports

Shared inboxes don’t scale

What you need from a support tool grows and changes alongside your team, product and customer base. While a shared email inbox works well in the beginning, it isn’t built to provide customer support at scale. The right tool for the job has the capability to grow with you and helps you build those customer relationships, no matter how many conversations you’re having.

Help Scout can help you deliver a better customer experience without your customers having to change a thing.

Create a better experience for your customers with Help Scout.

Get Started

Find out how Help Scout can help you

Get a demo and your questions answered with one of our customer champions.

Mathew Patterson

Mathew Patterson

After running a support team for years, Mat joined the marketing team at Help Scout, where we make excellent customer service achievable for companies of all sizes. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.