Create Shared Team Inboxes for Your Company for Better Productivity

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shared inboxes

Raise your smartphone if you feel like you spend too much time dealing with email.

As of 2016, the time American workers spend on email had gone up 17 percent. Whether you’re using Gmail or G Suite for your business or some other provider, creating specific team inboxes can help your team serve your customers better and spend less time shuffling messages around.

As a manager or founder, you have to figure out ways to delegate with confidence so you can focus where it matters most.

First, if you’re a founder or director, is your email (joethefounder@mycompany) the only publicly available email address people have to contact your organization?

If so, you probably already know this, but just to be clear: you’re (probably) a huge communication bottleneck. If your organization is growing, it’s more than likely that your unread email tally makes your blood pressure rise.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can build a system that serves your customers better and that makes it easier for your team to step up to the plate.

How can you be sure that your team is providing quick, clear, and correct responses to your customers, just like you would?

When you get your team inbox system in place, the people on your team in charge of managing those general inboxes have to understand what you expect in terms of how quickly they should respond, and the most efficient ways to get customers the answers they need.

Your team also needs a plan for what to do when the person in charge of an inbox goes on vacation. Right now, are this messages just sitting in someone’s inbox unattended for days or weeks?

Setting up a few specific inboxes is the first step to getting organized and delegating email tasks with confidence.

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Naming: Think customer experience, not org chart

As you create some of those catch-all inboxes, think like an outsider as you name them. A general email account doesn’t have to directly reflect your organizational chart.

CustomerRetention@yourcompany.com probably isn’t the best ways to present your customers with their communication options when they need you to help them solve a problem. Those types of email address names don’t really account the problems that your customers are trying to solve—they speak to your internal org chart.

Customers don’t care about your org chart. So when they’re on your website or Googling how to connect with you, if you make it easy for them to figure out where they need to send their email to get a response from the right person, you save them frustration, and you save your team time.

The key here is to set up a general inbox for any customer touchpoint into your business. This automatically helps funnel the right message to the right people. Tweaking the names of those email addresses can go a long way to making your mail accounts more customer-focused and benefit-focused, however. Instead of sales@, careers@, support@, for example, use something like getstarted@, myfuture@, or fixitnow@.

Put the right email address in the right area on your website

Help them self-select. If your customer’s only ways to email you are JoeTheFounder@yourcompany.com or Info@yourcompany.com, you haven’t given them much to work with in terms of self-selecting the path to quick and quality responses. Set everyone up for success by thinking through what’s going on in the customer’s head when they’re reaching out to you, and who (or what part of your team) should be the first responder.

Making these dedicated email addresses available on your website (fixitnow@yourcompany.com goes on your customer service page) is a first step toward streamlining. From there, on the back end, make sure you set up appropriate templates so your team (for example) can save time when they’re answering frequently asked questions.

Set up specific emails for temporary situations or specific events

There can also be email addresses that serve for very specific circumstances or temporary events too.

For example, if your company puts on an annual event, it can be easy for correspondence related to that event to get lost in the shuffle. Then, when it’s time to plan next year’s event, you’ve got to wade through tons of other messages to get back up to speed on what you did and who you corresponded with last year.

Instead, you could set up “eventname@” and make it accessible to the team members who work on the event. All correspondence can go to and from that direct address, with any emails breaking out to individual team members strictly on an as-needed basis.

When the event is done or the address isn’t needed, you can choose to remove it from regular access, or just know that you don’t have to monitor it as closely for now.

Sacrificial email addresses and how to make them

So, you need to sign up for various websites, subscribe to all those apps and newsletters, manage a little online shopping, and deal with social media profiles—but it would be nice if you could do that without having all their notifications clog your main work inbox.

It turns out that Gmail has a little email management trick for that:

You can turn any account in Gmail into a sacrificial or “throwaway” address just by using a “+” and any word you choose before the @ in your email address.

So, when signing up for a list instead of using “myname@awesomecompany.com,” you could use “myname+lists@awesomecompany.com.” Worried that you’re signing up for something that’s going to make your email account a spam magnet? Transform your email into, say, “myname+crud@awesomecompany.com.” Are you using your work email for social media? Sign up for those networks with “myname+social@awesomecompany.com.”

The key here is that even though Gmail can still route emails to these variant addresses to your main account, you can easily filter those messages away from your inbox. By setting up Gmail filters, myname+crud@awesomecompany.com emails can be, say, automatically deleted, and myname+lists@awesomecompany.com can be routed to a “Read Later Low Priority” label or folder. You get the idea.

Email should work for you, not against you

Now that you’ve set up the best dedicated inboxes for your team, there are a few things you can do to save you some headache in the long run.

1. Assign one person to be in charge of each inbox

They don’t necessarily need to be the one to respond to every email. But they should be the person who makes sure messages get to the right person who can provide the best response.

Make it easy for them to delegate messages to other members of the team. Since you’re reading this on the Outpost blog, you might have guessed that we recommend Outpost as the best tool for this, since it allows you to assign emails to specific team members without a mess of forwards and CCs that can lead to embarrassing situations.

When the email lead goes on vacation, assign someone else to delegate email in their absence, so messages don’t just sit there for weeks.

2. Set up the right templates

There’s probably a series of typical questions your customers ask. The answers might already live in your website FAQs.

Use your FAQs to help you develop templates so you can answer those questions quickly. But always, always personalize those templates.

3. Make sure your team is trained on the best ways to respond

A lot of this will depend on your own company culture. But our email response checklist can help get everyone on the same page.

We also have some advice on how to deal with angry customers who reach out by email, and how to warm up with your emails if you start to notice that you’re not really connecting the way you want to with your customers.

Outpost can help

We built our Outpost collaborative email tool to help teams manage their inboxes better. It sits on top of your existing email system, like Gmail for business.

It’s set up so that if you’re managing multiple inboxes, you can do that all from one place, without separate logins or sharing passwords. Plus you can assign specific messages to individuals on your team, and easily see if something is still waiting for a response.

The most important part is figuring out how to communicate well with your customers. A lot of that will depend on how well you set up your systems and train your team on your expectations. Email can and should be a useful tool, not a daily slog through the mud.

Posted in Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.