5 Steps for Setting up a Shared Inbox for Customer Service

A shared inbox is a creative and elegant solution for managing your customer service emails. Here’s everything you need to know to set one up.

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It’s not easy starting a company, and it’s even harder to provide stellar service when you’re running on a shoestring budget with a minuscule team.

When your company is in its early stages, it’s obvious that you’re looking for ways to cut costs and maximize your efficiency, even when it comes to customer service. You want to provide the best customer service experience possible, but you don’t want to spend too much money on a customer service software solution.

Sure, you could just have all of your customer service requests sent to one employee, who then delegates issues to the rest of the team. But do you really want to leave that kind of multitasking to one person?

What if there was a way to manage your customer service requests using only email? Luckily, there are creative ways to manage your customer service requests without spending thousands of dollars each year on a dedicated employee or a software solution. The perfect solution for team email management is a shared inbox.

Overview: What is a shared inbox?

A shared inbox is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a generalized email address, typically something along the lines of “info@companyname.com,” or in this case, “support@companyname.com.”

A specific team will have access to the emails sent to this address, usually through some sort of forwarding process. This eliminates the problem of certain team members not getting information while others do. It also eliminates the need for unnecessary CC’ing in email chains.

However, this approach is not without its pitfalls.

Things to consider when using a shared inbox

There are two major considerations or potential pitfalls that you must keep in mind when using a shared email inbox for your customer service emails. Luckily, we’ll deal with them when going through the steps of setting up this system.

1. Collision

Collision is when two members of the same team reply to the same support email, which then leads to the customer receiving two different responses. This usually happens when either or both teammates aren’t aware that someone else has already responded to a certain email.

The problem is either remedied by certain email routing and switching systems, which send certain support emails to specific teammates, or by using a collision alert system built into a customer service software.

2. Neglected emails

This happens when one person on your team assumes that someone else is handling an email, when in reality it is sitting untouched. It can also occur when your support staff sifts through the available emails looking for the easiest cases. This leads to unaddressed support concerns and upset customers.

Customer service email routing is the perfect solution to this by sending relevant emails to the correct team members, rather than leaving the email pool as a free-for-all.

How to create a shared inbox for customer service

Customer service software platforms and email providers such as Outlook have their own specific instructions for creating a shared inbox. Instead of going step-by-step through each major provider, here is a general overview of what you need to do to create a shared inbox for your customer service team.

Step 1: Create the shared email address

Obviously, the first step in setting up a shared inbox for customer service is to create the shared email address. This address will encompass your entire team, so you can name it something like “support@companyname.com,” or “customerservice@companyname.com.”

Whatever address name you choose, make sure it’s easy for your customers to remember. Once you’ve selected a name, have your administrator add this mailbox to your email service.

Solutions such as Outlook offer this inbox tool directly through the platform, while other mailing platforms such as Gmail require you to use add-ons like Gmelius to create this shared account. Don’t try to create this shared account directly through Gmail and give out the login credentials to multiple team members.

This will trigger Google’s security challenges due to multiple different IP addresses attempting to log in.

Step 2: Add members to the shared inbox

Since you don’t want to run into any of the security blockades you will inevitably face by sharing login credentials with multiple users (trust me, you should be thankful for these security features), you’ll want to set up a list of members who will receive the emails from the shared inbox.

As an added bonus, some platforms allow you to block certain users from receiving these shared emails. Errors do happen, and you don’t want support emails going into another team inbox.

Step 3: Set up collision alerts

This is the first step in preventing support inbox email collisions. These alerts typically come in the form of forewarnings to other users who click to reply to emails that are already being dealt with.

A warning box will appear on the screen alerting you that another employee is already replying to a specific email, and this will give you the option to continue with your reply or return to your inbox.

This feature is more likely to appear on customer service management platforms than with regular email services.

However, it is possible for providers to incorporate these features using add-ons and plug-ins. Just remember this solution isn’t foolproof, which is why you’ll definitely want to consider the next step as an additional stopgap measure.

Step 4: Set up email routing and switching

As a cybersecurity and networking student, routing and switching has become a major part of my vernacular. The good news is that email routing and switching operates on similar principles.

The idea is that support emails will route themselves to specific customer support representatives through the protocols that you set up — whether by topic, difficulty, or representative workload.

This is a far better solution than relying on service reps to discern whether or not an issue is worth their time and effort while sifting through a general support email inbox.

Outlook offers this feature through its “Rules” function, which allows you to create specific routing rules based on the preconditions that you set. Other customer service platforms such as Hubspot and Kayako also offer these features so you can avoid any collision or support email neglect issues.

Step 5: Encourage your team to set up distinct folders

It’s hard to keep track of customer service emails when they’re mixed in with the rest of your inbox. You never want to miss a service question just because your representative lost it in the sea of chain emails and internal work banter.

That’s why you should encourage your team members to set up distinct folders that will route their shared inbox emails to a specific folder away from the rest of their inbox.

This is as simple as creating a new folder in your email platform and setting a rule that specifies that only emails coming from your shared inbox address will be added to this folder. It’s a very easy solution everybody should use to solve a very common problem.

Looking to upgrade your shared inbox?

What if you’re growing far too fast for your simple shared inbox to keep up with all of the incoming customer service requests? Not to worry! You don’t have to dump your shared inbox address.

All you need is a good customer service platform to sort, manage, and categorize the dozens of requests your company receives every day, and we can help you with that! Think of it like support inbox management without all of the hassle.

We’ve done the legwork for you and reviewed the top customer service software solutions on the market today, and we’re always out there looking for new tools to cover.

At The Blueprint, we dive deep into each platform and explore the nuances of what makes each software tool worth your time and money. So if you’re looking to upgrade your customer service system, be sure to check out our reviews and alternatives lists to find the right software for you.

Additionally, if you’re looking for other detailed guides to help upgrade your customer service skills, we’re always releasing new and helpful how-to guides like this one. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter below so you don’t miss anything!

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The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned. Click here for more information.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.