10 best practices for managing G Suite shared inbox emails
By Harsh Vardhan
It is estimated that worldwide, around 300 billion emails are sent and received every day, with the average office worker receiving 120 emails a day. Luckily, 50% of these mails are spam, which is a relief.
But if you are part of a team that’s responsible for customer support/service or email inquiries, it is fair to say that almost 100% of your emails relate to work, and therefore need proper, timely responses.
Why are most shared inboxes messy
Gmail makes handling large volumes of emails easier by allowing incoming emails to generic email ids such as info@, support@, or sales@ to be forwarded to an email group that is made up of several individual email ids.
The idea is that any person in the group can reply to the mail, without having to rely on one individual. That’s a good thing, especially if the team’s work relies heavily on email interactions that need to be closed in a time-bound manner.
But forwarding emails is only the first step in the overall workflow, and collaboration is more than just forwarding emails to a group of people.
If managers can’t assign emails to specific team members or find out who has replied to a specific email or if a specific ticket is closed, a lot of time will be simply wasted.
The inability to do the above can have a cascading business impact - delayed responses that drive prospects to the waiting arms of your competitors, unresolved complaints that aggravate customer dissatisfaction, delayed invoices or warranty claims, etc.
Further, if managers can’t get objective and reliable data on the performance of individuals in the team, they can’t assess them fairly; nor can they take steps to continuously improve the team’s overall productivity and responsiveness to customers and hence, levels of satisfaction.
Best practices to manage processes supported by G Suite shared inboxes
Superior customer service and support can give your business a clear competitive edge. Shared inboxes can help manage throughput, but to truly save time/effort, boost the team’s productivity, assess individual team members’ performance and drive continuous improvement in customer satisfaction, managers of teams should also be able to do the following:
Assign each email to one individual so that everyone knows who is handling that email, and there is no risk of multiple agents replying to the same email (if you are a customer, how would you like receiving two or more emails, each potentially saying different things or asking you the same information again)?
Figure out the status of each assigned email without having to check individually with the team who replied, what they said etc.
Let team members consult with each other without exchanging emails, thereby adding to server clutter and also introducing the risk that someone might forward to the customer an email thread that contains internal discussions as well.
Monitor how well each agent is doing using parameters other than the number of emails s/he has sent in a day/week/month etc. An email battle with customers will add to the number of emails but escalations and customer satisfaction…. Ah, that’s quite another matter.
Let’s look at how teams that use shared inboxes can truly acquire and sustain a high-performance orientation.
1. Delegate tasks, don’t forward emails
With G Suite, you can only forward emails. Everyone in the group has access to respond to it- but do you know for sure who has or even whether someone has, indeed responded?
To find out, you have to end another e-mail or ask the team. This “spaghetti on the wall” approach that G Suite forces is time-inefficient.
Managers (and team members) can use their time more productively in responding to more emails or closing tickets by spending more time on finding better solutions.
Hiver allows delegation of emails to specific team members in just two clicks, and that too, right from the Gmail sidebar.
2. Clear assignment of responsibility
The purpose of assigning emails to specific individuals is to pin responsibility. But you need flexibility as well.
If for some reason, the person you initially assign the mail to (say Daniel) wants a colleague (say Jesse) to work on it because Jesse has handled a similar customer issue earlier, he should be able to do so easily.
With Hiver every email has a clear owner; besides, re-assigning responsibility is easy. All it takes is two clicks.
3. Drive accountability within the team
Customer support is a collective responsibility. But excuses such as “I thought someone else would have responded” or “I did not see that” are unfortunately all too common in teams that use shared inboxes.
The feeling that “somebody will attend to it” needs to be eliminated and with it, the risk that some emails go unanswered also decreases.
To foster a culture of accountability among team members, managers need to be empowered with clear and incontrovertible audit trails. “I assigned this email to you 2 hours ago and you have still not replied. What happened”?
With Hiver, accountability shifts from the team at large to specific individuals because managers will know clearly who each email was assigned to. If there are slackers in your team, Hiver helps you bring them on track.
4. Smart enablement of continuity
Large or strategic customers need priority attention. The easiest way to enable this is to set up rules so that all emails from these customer domains get assigned directly to team members who have worked with them in the past or have developed a good rapport etc.
Rule-based assignment is also useful to implement the “account management” concept within your team- so that specific individuals are made responsible for specific customers.
This ensures continuity in customer interactions based on team members knowing the background and context, which helps the cause of customer satisfaction.
You can use Hiver to automatically assign emails based on rules such as sender’s email address or other rules.
5. Too many cooks spoil the broth
G Suite allows everyone in the group equal opportunity to respond to an email. But in the absence of the team automatically knowing which emails have already been handled, there is a very real risk that two (or more) agents reply to the same email.
If that’s not bad enough, the situation can get messier if each agent has said something different in his/her reply. This nightmarish situation is not improbable if shared inboxes are managed only using G Suite.
Hiver’scollision alerts let everyone in the group know when someone starts replying to an email. This neatly eliminates the risk of multiple responses to the same email.
6. Hassle-free status tracking
If you are responsible for managing teams that work with shared inboxes, you should be aware of: how many emails have been assigned, how many need to be assigned, how many are work-in-progress, how many have been resolved, etc.
With G Suite, tracking such data is not easy. Only when an agent copies the group email address in his/her reply will others in the team (the manager included) know that it has been attended to.
This creates the risk that an email to which a reply has been sent (but not copied to the group) may give the impression of being “pending” unless you ask around to find out if it has been attended to and by whom.
Hiver neatly categorizes emails as Open, Pending, or Closed, making it easy to track their status at a glance.
7. Manage workloads transparently without impacting service levels
Irrespective of how many emails come in, every email needs to be replied to in a time-bound manner. This may be easy to do manually if the volume of emails is low.
But when you have hundreds of emails coming in every hour, assigning them manually so as to balance work-loads can be a cumbersome (and error-prone) process. There are also special situations that need to be handled - e.g. ensuring continuity (e.g. emails from the same customer or follow-ups).
Hiver enables the above through automated round-robin assignment and the option to set additional rule-based automations.
8. True teamwork made truly easy
Being part of a team means you get the benefit of asking colleagues for advice or information or even a way to phrase an email response.
If people sit next to each other, they can have a quick chat. But if there are remote agents involved, the options are apps like Google Hangouts or Slack. But this means spending lots of time in setting the context for the other person’s benefit.
Gmail itself can be used, but the process necessarily relies on the back and forth of emails. Not only does this add to the volume of emails, but it also increases the risk that an agent may accidentally forward the “internal” thread to the customer.
Hiver’s Email Notes feature allows users to chat; the exchange is right next to the email thread but is not a part of the thread. Notes can even be used to instruct a colleague while assigning a task.
Not only is the time not wasted to build context, the risk that “internal” discussions become part of the email thread that goes to the customer, even inadvertently, is reduced.
Notes also support Knowledge Management within the team. They remain right next to the email, so when agents need on-the-job advice or new agents need to be trained, colleagues can simply point them to the notes.
9. Get the data you need to manage individual and team performance
Your team’s overall performance depends on the responsiveness with which emails are handled (time to first response), how long it takes to address a customer issue, and of course, how many emails are disposed off every day.
Such data is useful to identify training needs for specific team members, as well as to manage individual performances.
But G Suite only provides information on how many emails are sent/received by the group, while with Hiver, you can easily get data for the above metrics.
You can figure out who needs training or maybe a one-on-one pep talk. Just as easily, you can find out who has been doing consistently well and is perhaps ready for that promotion.
10. Promote a culture of fairness, transparency, and performance
Every team aspires to be a high-performance team. Every manager wants to be recognized for his/her skill in building and nurturing such teams.
But unless the manager (and the team) are empowered with the tools that can help them in their journey, they will be hard-pressed to deliver.
Hiver’s features not only make managing workflow and workloads easy and efficient, but they also allow a culture of accountability and fairness to be built and sustained.
Everyone in the team can see data in real-time. This creates a high degree of transparency, minimizing accusations of favoritism, etc.
Team members can track their own performance metrics and work on self-improvement. Everyone in the team is enabled to take responsibility for his/her own contributions to the team (and hence, the organization).