Meet the best alternative to Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

By Shraddha Shetty

Ever had a very specific question related to an obscure topic? Can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer no matter how hard you search? Well, there’s a Google Groups page archived in some corner of the internet with a goldmine of information about this. You just have to put in the effort to go through the archives.

Say you wanted to find fellow vermiculture enthusiasts. With Google Groups, you either find a group for the same or create one yourself. It started out as a forum to discuss and find others interested in a range of topics from vermiculture to motorbikes. It was for a generation of enthusiasts what Reddit is to today’s generation.

But, that’s not it. Have other needs? There is a different way to configure a Google Group for every purpose. Want to discuss the nitty-gritty of the latest Android upgrade? Create a Q&A Forum. Send an email to everyone in a group with one address using Email List. Or work with a team and share documents with Collaborative Inboxes.

That’s Google Groups for you - a combination of high-quality information, the social nature of social networks, and the discussions of a forum all in one place.

It also makes it convenient for groups of people such as project teams and departments - to communicate and collaborate over topics of common interest.

Or, so it claims.

Google Groups is good for broadcasting and communicating information. There are no two ways about it. But, collaborating over email is a different ball game altogether.

Google Groups Collaborative Inbox lacks the collaboration

Amongst the many different ways you could use Google Groups, one way is to use it as a Collaborative Inbox. You could use a Collaborative Inbox to receive queries, distribute and track responsibility for topics among the group's members, collaborate with team members over projects or manage workflow. It gives users access to features like tagging topics, assigning topics to members, and marking duplicates.

But, Collaborative Inbox is not the most efficient when it comes to collaboration. The entire premise of “collaboration” stands on the fact that everyone should get a chance to contribute. It should make the workflow seamless and align the team to a productive routine. This helps in delivering faster services by cutting down clutter and commotion, in turn leading to happy clients. The Google Groups Collaborative Inbox interface only slows down this entire process by creating miscommunication.

While other Google services are best in class and disrupting the status quo, one can’t say the same about Google Groups. It’s been treated with much disdain - like the step-daughter of all Google services and sticks out like a sore thumb. It hasn’t received a single major update since years now. What does that do to your data security?

And, that’s not even the beginning. There are a host of other ways in which Google Groups Collaborative Inbox, quite ironically, becomes a hindrance when it comes to collaboration.

1) New unfamiliar interface

If you thought Google’s familiar interface was your ally, Collaborative Inbox is a whole different ball game altogether. It comes with a steep learning curve. To top it, you need to step outside and keep swapping between Gmail and the Google Groups dashboard to get anything done.

Now, what’s worse than swinging between two interfaces like a fly? A non-intuitive UI.

The amount of time and resources that gets wasted due to an underwhelming UI in this golden age of technology, is a crime. Especially, for time-sensitive teams like customer support.

The only way for teams to access incoming emails right within their inbox, without having to leave Gmail is by setting up delegated access in your Gmail account.

2) Two people working on the same problem

There is no way to identify if a client has been attended to. Imagine, your sales team receives an email in their Collaborative Inbox. Two of your sales reps send two very diverse replies to the same prospect, confusing him further (This is taking Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors too far!).

In another scenario, two members of your customer support team start replying to the same customer simultaneously. In a utopian world, all that attention would make for a very happy customer! Except, that’s a bit of a stretch and doesn’t make much of an impression in the real world.

Your sales reps' first impression with prospects is critical in forming a relationship of trust - the very foundation of sales. If anything, these glitches reek of unprofessionalism and lack of organization within the team- everything that translates to “Goodbye, client!”.

3) No difference between internal and external conversation

Say you’re discussing a project with a client and want to have a colleague pitch in with their input. Common protocol dictates forwarding the mail and have them fill in the gaps.

However, the mess of trail mails that leaves behind could put an unkempt bachelor pad to shame! An oscillation of internal exchanges spilling over into important discussions with clients creates confusion (Show your audience the movie, not the behind-the-scenes!).

More so, it’s a complete waste of time when one has to go back to that thread to find important information later. At worse, it puts the company’s reputation at stake and could cost you a client.

4) Visibility takes a backseat

While incoming emails to the Google Groups email address go to everyone on the team, the replies don’t. If you share files or even have a one-on-one with a client who has written to a shared inbox email address, the information gets buried as individual messages in your personal inbox.

Unless the client bothers to cc the shared inbox ID while replying (Which, let’s be honest, almost never happens!), there is no way for group members to access these resources.

This also means that even when a person has started working on an email and is corresponding with the client, other agents in the group have no way of knowing that. What a mess!

5) Single option to mark the status of emails

Let’s assume an email arrives in your Collaborative Inbox. One of your teammates replies to the customer but stops replying mid-conversation. There is no way of figuring that out unless that person has copied the group email address in the reply. Nobody in the team will be able to figure out whether the ticket has been closed or task completed.

Collaborative Inbox does provide an option to mark an email as Complete, to signify the email has been resolved. That, however, does not give a clear picture of the in-betweens. Has the customer’s issue been solved? Was the email opened but the customer put on hold? The team will always be in the dark about the status of the email. The only way to know is to ask the concerned person about it.

6) Can’t keep everyone in the loop

You have a new member join the team and you’re given the responsibility of inducting him into the workflow - latest developments, previous happenings and what Sam ate for dinner last night. Even after all this, there are still so many information gaps this colleague may want to fill once he gets into the thick of things.

Wouldn’t it be exponentially convenient for you both if you could just help this colleague quickly integrate into the workflow, while also dodge human error?

With Google Groups Collaborative Inbox, if a team member joins after an email was delivered, they won’t have access to the historical archive. They miss out on important updates that must now be trapped in another colleague’s inbox.

Waste of time and running around like a headless chicken looking for assistance are only the first few issues this might bring up.

7) No way to mark important clients as ‘priority mail’

A big part of your revenue comes from a handful of your customers. Obviously, you would want to smother them with that extra bit of attention.

Sometimes, you’re hit by one big issue which is followed by a deluge of emails from different customers complaining about the very same issue. There’s a larger issue related to your product or service at hand here that needs immediate addressal. Then, there are also customers that simply have more pressing issues than the next one.

Typically, these customers should receive a more immediate, hands-on approach to solving their problems. In Google Groups, there is no way to ensure an email from a particular email address gets priority over others.

8) Lacks transparency and accountability

When you manage support using Google Groups, you'd want to know who's working on which email, and what is the status of emails you had delegated to your team.

While the Collaborative Inbox does let you assign emails, there is no way of tracking the status distinctly. One has to manually ask around the team to know the owner and status of emails.

It’s impossible for the manager to keep track of who’s attending to which client and who has closed which ticket. The manager can’t gauge which rep needs to be assigned more work. To top that, he is also unable to track if one slacker rep stops replying to a customer email midway. There goes all that team performance optimization down the drain!

9) Cannot directly import previous mailbox history to Google groups

Have a large repository of valuable information in your inbox?

This information can prove to be of immense value to your current workflow. Your business decisions could be shaped based on the data, inputs, and insights you receive from it.

You could say bye to it all as Collaborative Inbox does not give you the option to import all that data. Starting from scratch is not necessarily a great idea always. Not in this scenario, anyway.

Time-consuming, inefficient for managing large chunks of data because of how unintuitive the interface and inaccessible the data is.

Google Groups Collaborative Inbox is not well equipped to go anywhere beyond communication. It doesn’t cover even bare necessities when it comes to aiding at collaboration. In a utopian world, an ideal solution would have been a platform that acts as a buffer between all these collaboration loopholes and becomes a one-stop shop for all business needs.

Hiver: email’s new age best friend

The good news is that all these issues can be solved from within one platform - without switching to a new tool for different purposes or even stepping outside your inbox. Meet Hiver - a solution where email is collaborative in the true sense of the word.

1) Right within Gmail

Fun fact: Everyone already knows how to use Hiver! Reason being - anyone who uses Gmail (and that’s most of us!) can easily adapt to it. There is no significant learning curve or new behaviour one has to master.

You never have to step out of your Gmail inbox to manage your shared email accounts like sales@, support@, hr@ or @finance.

It’s just like using Gmail, except with a few cool new add-ons to its interface.

2) Internal conversation is segregated

A team is never strong if there is no open communication amongst the team members. Good collaboration comes out of good communication.

One way to streamline this process is forwarding the mail to the concerned person. But, the long trail mails that leaves behind is not a sight to behold.

All this changes with Notes. You can now give real time feedback without having to indulge in emails ping pong. This is the closest you get to synchronous conversations in real time over email.

3) No duplication of effort

Collaborating through shared inboxes can sometimes be a tricky affair. When the team receives an email in their shared inbox, there is a chance that more than one person end up replying to the email. It could get worse. What if both end up sending two conflicting responses to the same issue?

Now you never have to worry about duplication of efforts within the team. With Collision Alerts, you’re always notified when another person is replying to a mail. This is especially most common in customer support or sales teams. The agents receive a host of queries and there is no clarity on whether there’s someone already attending to the customer.

With Collision Alerts, you can rest assured that team members are always aware of a possible clash. It also goes a long way in saving time, effort and increasing the collective team output.

4) Information is accessible and easier to find

You receive a mail in your shared inbox from a client. You involve more people from the team to gather inputs. All this new valuable information that comes from the other parties gets buried within the email threads exchanged.

The rest of the team cannot access it if they’ve not been copied on the mail. Either that, or it gets sandwiched between the tug-of-war of emails exchanged internally and externally. Both ways cause an immense amount of misplaced information that gets buried in personal inboxes.

With Hiver, anyone from the team can access replies sent to emails within the shared inbox. You don’t even have to be copied on them.

Communication gap is a thing of the past.

5) Better clarity on the status of email

Gone are the days of sending reminders enquiring about the status of an email. Hiver lets teams assign the status of every email to either Open, Pending, or Closed. These statuses are more descriptive in nature and closer to reality.

Everyone inside the shared inbox can see the status of every email. With this, teams will no longer have to ask around to know the status of tasks or tickets.

Tracking and segregation become a cakewalk as the status is clearly demarcated. It also helps track who has closed how many emails, bringing in transparency.

6) Easy access to historical archives

Onboarding a new member is never fun. No matter how much information you plug in, there will still be many loose threads hanging. The usual way out is forwarding emails you think might be relevant to them.

Plugging them onto the latest developments in the organization is mandatory. But, wouldn’t it be great if you could also give them access to historical data from the company?

With Hiver, everything in the shared inbox is archived and accessible by default. All emails and resources related to the inbox are open for their consumption. If a team member joins after a conversation has happened, they can read all the previous messages to gain context and catch up.

They don’t have to consult a single person on the team for help (unless they want to).

7) Has an option that lets you focus on priority emails

One never has to worry about missing out on an important email from the top clients. Even on a busy day, all the most pressing issues and priority clients can be easily segregated and addressed over others.

Time is of most value here. With priority support, you can give preferential support to a select few clients over others. Hiver lets you use automations that add tags based on conditions you set. For example, have every email that comes from lisa@company.com tagged as ‘Priority’.

8) Improved performance with analytics

Wouldn’t it be great if all that increase in productivity could be tracked and converted to measurable insights into a team’s performance?

With Analytics, track all key metrics for your shared inboxes. Get a better understanding of how your team is doing and work on underperforming areas accordingly.

Hiver’s actionable insights helps you identify areas of improvement and fix them. It also gives you a breakdown of each metric at the individual team member level. 

9) Directly import previous mailbox history

Does migrating to a new platform mean that you lose all the valuable information from your previous inbox?

Companies usually have exhaustive valuable data in their mailboxes, a large chunk of which gets lost unless specifically mined for information. Then there is always that inopportune moment when you need certain information while dealing with clients, but don’t know where to begin. With so much at stake, one can’t afford to lose all previous mailbox history.

With Hiver, that is not a concern. It lets you import all your old emails from say, support@ into the shared inbox. You can now have all your historical information at your fingertips.

Email 2.0 is not a pipe dream

On paper, a product coming out of the Google stable seems like the most reliable option for collaborating with teams. However, there is so much more room for enhancing email to its highest potential. Hiver solves every glitch that Google Groups Collaborative Inbox hasn’t been able to iron out.

Every team with more than one person handling an inbox - right from customer support, sales, operations to human resources, deserves a robust team management system in place.

It’s 2019. Teams deserve better than having to put in concentrated effort to collaborate and get things done. Let’s leave the effort bit to Google Groups.

About the author

Mumblecore connoisseur. Radiohead junkie. Lover of the written word. Likes to imagine herself as the love child of Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling.

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