Shared Inbox Guide for Businesses

What is a shared inbox?

A shared inbox is an email inbox that helps multiple users read and send emails.

Shared inboxes are typically used when multiple users need to access the same set of emails, for example, teams like customer support, account management, or any help desk where people reach out with questions.

Shared inboxes typically have a generic email address (for example, info@, support@, help@, accounts@, careers@) that people can use to get in touch with you.

Or, they can even be used by departments in your organization that provide centralized services to your employees (for example, hr@, it@, or finance@) to respond to employee questions.

Shared inboxes make it easy teams to handle a large volume of emails. At the same time, they build transparency and efficiency within teams.

Shared inboxes are full-fledged inboxes that have their own inbox for incoming emails, drafts, and sent email folders for outgoing emails.

And while shared inboxes do not need a license, every user who is a part of a shared inbox needs a license in order to access it.

Why use a shared inbox?

Shared inboxes help people reach out to a central location, as opposed to individuals, when getting in touch with companies (info@company.com), seeking customer service (support@), or sending a bill for processing (accounts@).

Every member of a team that manages shared inboxes can access the same set of emails. These emails are then usually assigned to team members for further processing.

Shared inboxes are a far superior solution as opposed to appointing a designated email supervisor who would read these emails and then forward emails to specific team members’ personal inboxes — depending on the contents of the email.

Forwarding emails to individual inboxes doesn’t isn’t ideal because forwarding emails leads to inbox clutter, there is no way to know which emails have been assigned to whom, and which emails have been replied to/resolved.

It would only lead further to confusion, inefficiency and uncertainty.

Hiver shared inbox guide: why use a shared inbox

When to use a shared inbox?

Shared inboxes are typically used in an organization when multiple users need to come together to shoulder the responsibilities of managing a large volume of emails.

Typical example of this would be customer support. Support teams world over, irrespective of the size of the company or industry vertical usually receive a large volume of incoming emails. Having a single agent manage the customer support email address is obviously inefficient. An efficient method to manage a large volume of emails for a team managing customer support would be to use a shared inbox.

Another example would be that of a finance team. Finance teams often have to process a large number of invoices. In such a scenario having the ability to assign emails and track their progress becomes very important. Shared inboxes can come in handy here as well.

Sales teams often receive requests for pricing quotations. Pricing quotations are often not the work of a single salesperson and involve multiple discussions across the teams. Instead of creating long, meandering email threads, or having discussions using third-party chat tools, shared inboxes can be used as a collaborative tool by salespeople.

Almost all organizations have departments that provide centralized services to employees, like finances, HR, and payroll. Shared inboxes can be used by such teams to streamline internal company operations

How do shared inboxes work?

Shared inboxes are generally associated with branded group email addresses such as support@company.com, info@, or hr@.

These addresses typically work as a catch-all service or a centralized email inbox. Emails that arrive in this centralized inbox can then be assigned to individual members of a team. They can then begin responding to these emails. When replying, team members can choose to reply with the same company-branded shared inbox email address

Now, let us assume you want to set up an email account for your company to manage customer support or inquiries. You would normally create an email account like support@company.com with your existing email provider. If more than one user needs access to this email, there are two approaches that you can use.

The first one involves sharing the username and password of the email address with the members of your team. This, however, is an obvious security risk. At the same time, it could also lead to your email provider blocking this email address on account of suspicious activities.

The second approach could be to use solutions like delegated access or setting distribution lists. But these have their own pitfalls. We’ve described these in the questions below.

Clearly, there had to be a better way to manage shared inboxes and facilitate team collaboration over email. This need eventually led to the advent of tools like Hiver. Hiver brings your shared boxes right inside Gmail so that your team doesn’t have to switch between multiple tools. With Hiver your team now has access to the same set of emails, they can read which emails have been replied to, track follow-ups, and will no longer have to bother with shared passwords and missed emails ever again.

What rules can one create within shared inboxes?

When you create a shared inbox for your team, configuring shared inbox rules or automations can be used to make your shared inbox organized and your team more efficient.

Shared inbox automations can help you automate simple tasks such as assigning all emails with a particular word or phrase, say, “support urgent” in the subject line to a particular member of the customer support team.

Or change the status of all emails from ‘receipt@’ email addresses to close so that your team members know that they don’t need to respond to these emails.

Shared inbox automations or can even be set up to automatically assign all incoming emails to members of the team in a round-robin manner. This way you do not have to spend time manually deleting emails to team members and team members automatically know which emails they need to work on, so team efficiency automatically improves.

Read more about shared inbox automation in Hiver here.

Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox rules

Best practices for managing shared inboxes

By now, we know that shared inboxes are great for teams managing a large volume of emails. However, it is important to establish a few best practices in order to make sense of the incoming emails, avoid team conflicts, and delayed responses and prevent your shared inbox from turning into a nightmare.

Some of the best practices that can be followed include:

Give every email a designated owner: Shared inboxes allow admins (or anyone on the team) to assign incoming emails to team members. This way, every email gets a designated owner and everyone in the team gets clarity on their share of work. Accountability becomes better, team members don’t step on each other’s toes, customers receive faster responses, and emails don’t go unanswered.

Create a system to manage your inbox: To manage your team inbox better and improve team efficiency and accountability, utilize shared inbox features such as email statuses and labels. By marking emails as open/pending/closed, you clearly get an idea of where an issue lies along the redressal path. Creating email labels or tags to categorize your emails better and bring order into your shared inbox.

Collaborate with the team using your shared inbox: Collaborating with team members to resolve issues usually involves forwarding emails or switching tabs and moving to chat/IM tools for discussions. These clutter inboxes, and are inefficient as building context takes considerable effort. For contextual collaboration, it is recommended to use internal-only comments that do not involve forwarding or more emails. Hiver’s Notes does just that for you.

Stay on top of your teams’ performance: You can only improve what you can measure. As a team manager, it is often your responsibility to ensure that your team is always on top of their game. One way to do that is by making sure your team manages email super efficiently. Ideally, you should set up a weekly process to review how your team has been engaging with your customers via email. Having the ability to analyze key metrics like first response time, resolution time, customer satisfaction, etc., can help you identify where your team is doing well and their areas for improvement and can help you identify potential issues and nip them in the bud before they snowball.

Read more about shared inbox best practices here.

What are the benefits of using shared inboxes?

Shared inboxes, as iterated earlier, work best when multiple users in a team have to access and respond to a large volume of incoming emails. There are several advantages to using shared inboxes, including:

  • Streamlining and organizing communication better: Shared inboxes provide a centralized inbox for all your team email communications. They can help categorize, assign, and track emails, effectively making them a single source of truth for your business.
  • The ability to receive and respond to emails via your company-branded email address: Sending or receiving emails via a company-branded email address can inspire confidence in your customers as opposed to using individual email addresses.
  • Providing a single point of contact for all your customers: Shared inboxes can not only be used to receive emails but also for replying to emails. In that sense, they serve as a single point of contact for your customers, as opposed to them sending emails to a particular email address and receiving replies from another one on the same thread.
  • Categorizing and prioritizing communication: Shared inboxes can help teams become more organized and efficient. They often provide systems for categorizing emails either using folders or tags. This way everybody is on the same page about which emails need to be prioritized over the rest.
  • Increased transparency across the team: With shared inboxes, every email gets a designated owner. Members of the team always have visibility into each others’ work pipeline, thereby fostering a culture of transparency.

In a nutshell, you get streamlined communication, a more productive team, and your customers get faster and more accurate responses.

What features should one look for in shared inboxes?

If you are evaluating a shared inbox solution for your business, here are some of the features that you should be looking for:

  • Simple UI: A simple UI will ensure that your team does not need to invest time and effort in getting trained. They can hit the ground running and begin responding to your customers faster.
  • Email delegation: Shared inbox solutions should have the ability to assign emails to specific users. This helps people know what they’re responsible for and prevents emails from falling through the cracks.
  • Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox features - email delegation
  • Email status tracking: Email status tracking can help shared inbox users identify where an email lies on its resolution path. This way users can accurately track which emails need to be responded to and which ones don’t.
  • Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox features - email status tracking
  • Seamless internal team collaboration: Internal-only comments for team collaboration is an essential feature because it allows your team to collaborate without depending on email forwards or switching tabs between email and chat apps.
  • Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox features - email notes
  • Analytics: Having the ability to track team email performance can help you and your team stay on track, find out areas for improvement, and work upon them — so that you can stay steadfast to your ultimate goal of delivering customer satisfaction.
  • Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox features - analytics
  • Collision Alerts: Sometimes, two or more members of your team may end up responding to the same customer email. It makes your organization look unprofessional and irresponsible. Collision Alerts can prevent such situations. Collision Alerts show up in the form of visual prompts which let users know that an email is already being replied to by another user — thus preventing duplicate replies. .
  • Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox features - collision detection

How does one use shared inboxes for customer service?

Shared inboxes are great for delivering prompt customer service. The support@ email address functions as a catch-all, bringing all your incoming customer support emails in one place. These emails can then be categorized using labels depending on the nature of the issue, and then assigned to specific customer support agents.

Agents who are a part of this support shared mailbox can then begin responding to them. Depending on where the email lies along its resolution path, agents can add a status such as open/pending/closed to the email.

When agents need to collaborate with each other in order to resolve particularly challenging customer issues, they can collaborate internally using internal-only comments and not writing more emails — instead of relying on third-party collaboration tools for private discussions. If you use Hiver for managing a customer service shared inbox, you can use Notes to smoothly collaborate with your team.

And when an issue has been resolved, agents can send customer satisfaction surveys to their customers to get feedback from them about how their issues have been handled and if they have been resolved to satisfaction.

Most customer service teams have an SLA (service level agreement) to establish the level of support that customers are entitled to. If you use Hiver, you can set up help desk SLAs — and easily track violations. It’s a great way to keep customer issues from snowballing.

Hiver shared inbox guide: shared inbox for customer service - sla management

Customer service teams also need to be swift while managing emails. Shared inbox analytics can help support team managers identify how their team is performing: where they’re doing well, and where there’s scope for improvement. This way managers can help their team always stay on top of their game and deliver the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction.

Learn more about how you can use a shared inbox for customer support here.

Shared inbox vs Google Groups

Google Groups are user groups that can be used as mailing lists and as online forums. When used as a mailing list, it works in the same way as a distribution list, i.e. a group email address that has several users’ email addresses associated with it. All members in this Google Group receive their own copy of any emails sent to the group email address. Replies sent to these emails will not be visible to other members of the group unless the group’s address has been Cc’d in the conversation.

Google Groups also have a completely different user interface than the standard Gmail UI which we are all accustomed to. And this UI is not very easy to use.

Managing emails with Google Groups means constantly switching between personal email and Google Groups which could end up being a major distraction leading to a loss in productivity.

Google Groups were not really designed for email collaboration. Google Groups work best only as discussion boards.

Learn more about why shared inboxes fare better than Google Groups here.

Shared inbox vs Collaborative Inbox

Collaborative Inbox is a new type of group available in the newer versions of Google Groups. Collaborative Inboxes help teams distribute and track responsibility for emails that come to team inboxes like info@ or support@.

However, unlike the simple and straightforward UI of Gmail, Collaborative Inboxes are surprisingly clunky and unintuitive. Teams using Collaborative Inboxes to manage group emails would have an extremely difficult time learning to navigate through this new and alien interface.

And because Collaborative Inboxes exist outside of Gmail, users will have to continuously switch between their personal Gmail inboxes and Collaborative Inboxes. This can lead to distractions, reduced productivity, and could subsequently lead to tasks falling through the cracks.

There are no straightforward ways to assign emails to users, track their status, and measure how the team is performing.

Shared inboxes like Hiver, which work on top of Gmail, usually address all the pitfalls of Collaborative Inboxes. Hiver’s Shared Inboxes are available right within Gmail’s right-hand side panel. This way users do not have to switch between tabs to navigate between shared inboxes and their personal inboxes. Moreover, because the user interface is now the same as Gmail, users can now hit the ground running.

Dedicated shared inbox solutions also come with features like collision alerts which ensure that there is no room for duplication of efforts — and visual reports and dashboards which help you measure team performance — making the better alternative to Collaborative Inboxes.

Learn more

Shared inbox vs Distribution Lists

A Distribution List is essentially a group email address that can have several users’ email addresses associated with it. Users in a Distribution List will receive their own copy of any emails sent to the Distribution List's address.

When replying to an email received through a Distribution List, the reply will be sent with the user's email address and not the Distribution List's address.

And Deleting an email received through a Distribution List will delete the email only for the user who deleted the email. It does not affect the inboxes of the rest of the users.

A shared inbox is a full-fledged inbox. It has its own independent inbox from where emails can be accessed and read by individual users. Emails are constantly synced across the team so that all team members constantly see the same set of emails. Emails can also be sent by individual users using the group email address. And unlike in a Distribution List, an email deleted by a user is deleted uniformly for all users who are a part of the shared inbox.

Shared inbox vs Email Alias

An alias is simply a forwarding email address, attached to your email inbox. Every email sent to an email alias gets forwarded to the email id it is attached to.

You can have multiple email aliases that all come into your inbox and one of those email addresses is your “primary” email address.

Any email you send will always be sent from your primary email address, even if you reply to an email that was sent to one of your aliases. Aliases do not require separate usernames and passwords and typically do not need a license as well.

Aliases are only used as proxies for primary email addresses for an individual and cannot be used for team collaboration. Ideally, shared inboxes work better for collaboration over email.

Shared inbox vs Public Folders

Public Folders are one of the collaborative features of Microsoft Exchange. With Public Folders, Microsoft Outlook users can get access to common folders for sharing emails and storing information. Microsoft Exchange administrators can control user access by assigning permissions to a Public Folder.

Public Folders are commonly used as project collaboration tools, or as data archiving entities. They can be mail-enabled by an admin to receive emails, serve as main appointment calendar, or elaborate task management structure. Their main feature is its distribution – once an admin enables public folders they are automatically shown in users’ Outlook interface.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking to use email collaboration for a helpdesk-like scenario, Public Folders don’t work for a variety of reasons, namely:

  • No direct way to delegate emails: Emails can only be delegated by admins or by forwarding.
  • Limited collaborative features: Public Folders do not have the option to write private notes/comments to collaborate with team members.
  • No analytics or tracking: With Public Folders, there’s no way of knowing which email was assigned to who and the current status of the email. It also does not have support for analytics which means there’s no way for you to know how your team is performing.
  • Limited accessibility on mobile: If you love working and collaborating on-the-go, Public Folders are unfortunately not easily accessible via mobile apps and have severely limited capabilities.

Shared inboxes work better because they offer one-click email delegation, the ability to collaborate with internal notes, analytics to track team performance and mobile apps to enable collaboration on-the-go.

Learn more

Shared inbox vs Delegated access

With delegated access in Gmail, you can authorize another Gmail user to read, send, and delete messages on your behalf. For example, you can delegate email rights to an admin in your organization, or delegate your personal email access to an executive assistant.

Google Apps for Business allows users to add up to 25 users as delegates. The delegates can access your Gmail inbox without needing to know your password, can read and reply to any of your emails but cannot chat on your behalf or modify your settings and passwords.

While Gmail delegation works perfectly well in case of giving executive assistants access to your email, the feature was clearly designed keeping in mind communication and not shared inboxes and team collaboration.

Even if you were to try and use delegated access in Gmail as a workaround for shared inboxes, as the volume of incoming emails increase, you would be faced with the following difficulties:

  • Inefficient email delegation: The only way to delegate emails to specific users is to forward emails. This is an inefficient process and can lead to cluttered inboxes and tasks falling through the cracks.
  • Lack of accountability: As a consequence of email forwarding, it becomes difficult to identify which user has been assigned which email and what the status of the said email is.

A simple solution is to use a shared inbox. With shared inboxes, you can assign emails to users in one click and easily track the statuses of tasks. This way your team will always remain productive and accountable.

Learn more