7 Shared Mailbox Best Practices You Can Put Into Action

Creating a shared mailbox is often the first step companies take when they’re building out a customer support strategy. That’s because if you’re starting out with a one-person team, a shared inbox is pretty easy to set up and manage. There’s no financial investment, and chances are your employee already knows how to manage email.

As companies grow, though, the volume and complexity of customer support issues grow with sales.

Just imagine that your dream business starts to take off. You go from 100 sales a week to 100 sales a day; your customer support strategy needs to be agile enough to scale with it. By incorporating shared mailbox best practices, you’ll ensure your future customers are just as happy as your current ones.

Here are our suggestions for upping your inbox game, and some scenarios that indicate you may require an upgrade.

Incorporate these 7 shared mailbox practices

Your worst-case scenario as a customer support team is that your business just doesn’t live up to the hype. Building out a shared mailbox workflow is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that you’re always maintaining the same level of experience in every interaction. In customer support, continuity and consistency are the two keys to retaining customers — and delighting people — over time.

1. Bring accountability to the queue

If a shared inbox is your team’s primary tool, create shared mailbox rules that bring clarity to everyone’s workflows. There are a few different ways you can build accountability into the queue. For example, a manager could ask team members to work during different time zones (to ensure there isn’t overlap) or assign specific emails to a folder that corresponds with each team member.

Related: 8 Top Features of the Best Email Management Software for Teams

Take the time to work out the kinks and double-check that every customer receives the help they need while building out a system. Likewise, the best teams will make an effort to onboard new employees with extensive training. Managing a shared inbox as part of a team requires a ton of coordination; no matter how much experience team members have in a support setting, new processes require new training.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

It’s not always clear who is completing what tasks within a shared inbox, regardless of how organized you are. Support pros can accidentally send out multiple messages to customers or unintentionally drop the ball. If these hiccups starts to happen, you may want to think about investing in a help desk.

Help Scout enables you to personally assign tasks and automate assignments with clear collision detection that ensures everyone receives the help they need.

2. Record processes and responses outside of the inbox

Do you have templates that team members can use? Or a guide to help support pros solve complicated but common issues? Without the proper documentation outside of an inbox, customer support pros are much less likely to be able to help people inside a shared inbox.

Make sure to record processes for people to reference in a shared private space, such as Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or your organization’s internal wiki. This extra step can help with onboarding and integrating new team members into a shared inbox workflow. As you problem-solve trickier issues, record your responses so that other team members can benefit from the completed work. The same goes for any temporary challenges that your team faces, like unexpected outages, shipping delays, or big slip-ups on the part of a business.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

You want to record essential information, processes, and templates in one accessible and searchable system. Any response templates recorded in an external doc require team members to copy and paste, and if they’re recorded in a few different places, they may be difficult and time-consuming to find.

Help Scout offers both a knowledge base (which you can set to private for internal company use) and saved replies within the platform, so you can send a helpful answer with the click of a button.

3. Make folders or labels for your mailbox

Folders are one of the key tools you can use to implement shared mailbox best practices. Within Gmail, they’re called “labels,” although they serve a parallel purpose to folders. These organizers offer a clear way to sort the flow of emails coming in on any given day. Use folders to delineate between in-progress conversations and completed conversations, or organize emails by topic.

Let’s say you have a folder for each common topic and one for miscellaneous issues; you can track the volume of each kind of issue. Maybe one team member is learning how to code; customers would benefit from having that team member guide them through technical issues. Assign each folder to a corresponding support professional to transform team members into subject-matter experts.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

The systems are tedious to maintain and made even more complicated by any personnel changes. In a shared inbox, it’s challenging to sort in multiple ways at once, and you can’t automate sorting or assignments to team members.

With Help Scout, you can use more sophisticated sorting mechanisms and assignments that save team members from unnecessary stress — and automate daily grunt work.

4. Create boundaries around access

Security is always a priority when you’re managing customer information. Within a shared inbox, you’ll have to take extra steps to protect your business insights and your customers’ data, too. That means changing passwords frequently and ensuring that every team member upholds best practices: No passwords written out on a Post-it, no using a shared inbox for personal emails, no logging in with unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Every time a team member leaves the organization, you’ll need to change the password again. If you forget, former employees have access to a ton of valuable business insights — and your customers’ information. In this day and age, data is gold. Losing it can break trust with your community and cause everyone harm.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

You’re struggling to maintain security around your inbox and the information it holds. A simple inbox doesn’t give you the extra layers of security you may need as your company scales. There’s no tiered access to an inbox; everyone has one password, from new employees through to managers.

Help Scout complies with enterprise-level standards like HIPAA and GDPR. You can also give users the appropriate level of access and change it when their employment status or role changes, too.

5. Look for overarching insights

How many emails do you see a day? What are the most common issues that people write in about? If you’re not tracking some basic metrics on customer support, you’re missing out on the opportunity to incorporate valuable insights into your business decisions.

Related: How Email Management Software Improves Customer Support

Support managers can make an effort to record a few simple observations each day. Over time, basic data can change the way you do business for the better. Let’s say you receive a ton of requests for a certain capability. Rather than constantly reacting to complaints, your company can proactively build out that component of their product.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

You’re looking for more information about your customers’ pain points and how to address them. Insights within a shared inbox will always be vague and anecdotal unless you’re an Excel whiz with the time to manually import thousands of data points. Even at its best, these takeaways are rudimentary and never cost-effective.

Help Scout enables you to run real-time reports on everything from response time to customer satisfaction, individual performance metrics, and time to resolution.

6. Prioritize inbox zero

Trust between a company and a customer is fragile. Once you break trust, it’s hard to earn it back. If a customer is already unhappy about something — so much so that they’re emailing customer support for help — they’re much less likely to forgive another mistake.

Even one message that slips through the cracks can be the turning point in a customer relationship. The bigger your backlog, the more and more likely that is to happen. If you work toward reaching inbox zero every day, you’re aiming for prompt responses and quick resolutions.

Everyone who has worked toward inbox zero with their personal email management knows how challenging it is. With a shared mailbox, the process is even more difficult and requires persistence, but it more than pays off.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

Customer conversations are slipping through the cracks. Even if you are strict about maintaining inbox zero, that doesn’t mean every issue has always been resolved, and there’s no safety net to ensure that every person’s needs are met.

With notifications in Help Scout, you can set up automatic reminders to respond to any conversations that have gone unanswered, ensuring that every customer benefits from a timely response.

7. End on a positive note

With an inbox, it’s easy to cross off a customer conversation once you’ve resolved an issue. But solely problem-solving through a customer support mailbox leaves a company’s best opportunity to build a relationship hanging. Imagine if, instead, customer support professionals ended every conversation by adding extra value.

A support agent could suggest a different way to use the tool or a new shortcut that may save the customer time. Or, they could just ask, “Is there anything else I can do to make your life easier today?” People love to feel seen, heard, and supported. This extra step transforms customer support from a cost center to a revenue generator.

You might be ready to upgrade from a shared mailbox if:

You’re unsure how to go above and beyond for your customers once you’ve solved their initial issue. Without the context for each customer complaint, it’s harder to pinpoint specific, immediate ways that a support team can help someone. Understanding how and why they use the tool sets the groundwork for support to make more valuable contributions to a customer and a company.

Email falls short on this front, but a tool like Help Scout pulls valuable information, like past conversations and customer information, into a sidebar for you to reference at any point.

The drawbacks of using a shared Outlook mailbox

A shared Outlook mailbox gives team members one space for responding to support requests. Although it’s easy to assume that such a simple solution simplifies customer support, that’s not always the case. There are drawbacks with any tool — and with a shared inbox, they’ll become more pronounced over time.

While you can get away without a help desk for a while, ultimately, an inbox is not an easy tool for managing an excellent customer experience. The lack of accountability and built-in organization means that customers may never receive a response or may accidentally get multiple emails with different input. As a manager, it’s hard to know who handled each customer support issue (and how they handled it) unless a problem escalates up to your personal work email. There’s very little oversight, even if you’re reviewing a few responses every day.

These accountability challenges contribute to the overall performance of your team. Without reporting capabilities and their corresponding insights, it’s hard to know how happy your customers are. Collaboration is nearly impossible on the back end — you can’t assign specific conversations or add internal notes without creating a tangle of email chains. Because it limits the capabilities of the team, a shared Outlook mailbox also limits the strength of your customer experience.

Go beyond mailbox best practices

These seven shared mailbox rules can transform the way that you help people for the better. But with a shared inbox, there are always limitations that can hinder the work of your team, especially as you grow. You’ll still hit hiccups every day.

Explore other possibilities, starting with email management software that delivers a simple and delightful customer experience.

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Elizabeth Wellington

Elizabeth Wellington

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