On average workers receive around 126 business emails per day, with some reporting upwards of 500 emails per day adding to the 5,000 other emails in their inbox. This alone can require hours a day just to try to manage their inboxes.
With so much incoming email about customer service, project milestones, and more, mistakes happen. It’s no wonder 62 percent of workers have reported email mishaps.
Managing email well is about more than the right notification settings on your phone, or checking your inbox a couple of times a day. It’s about optimizing email as a support and communications tool by preventing emails from slipping through the cracks. You just need to make the following 6 improvements.
1. Delegate, don’t forward
Just as different team members take care of specific project tasks, email can be managed more effectively when you’re delegating so that the right people deal with the right emails.
But delegating by forwarding emails is a little like launching a bowling ball off the side of a cliff. You’re taking your chances, and it’s pretty hard to see where that bowling ball ends up after it’s out of sight. Assigning emails to specific team members leaves a trail so you can see whether the message has been resolved or if it’s still awaiting a response.
Now delegating is easier said than done, but here are a few tips to get you started.
Route emails to the correct people
Start by having your website contact forms automatically route emails to the correct person based on why the customer is reaching out. This can be everything from requesting a quote, needing a return, or a simple product or service question.
Work with an assistant
Delegate email to an assistant so they can manage some of your correspondence or routine emails. If you’re worried about security for specific inboxes, mail services such as Gmail also have options for email delegation, allowing select access to your account.
Utilize email productivity tools
Leverage add-on services like Outpost that let you assign new messages to specific team members. That way you know who is responsible for each message — and don’t have to maintain separate tracking just for your inbox. Using an email service that has a private “notes” function can also help streamline those sorts of email handoffs. That way you’re not in danger of forwarding on comments that someone on your team needed for context, but that was not meant to be read by the external sender.
2. Designate specific inboxes for primary projects, teams, and categories
In addition to team members having their own individual emails, it can be useful to have specific emails for certain departments, events, and even throwaway addresses to use when signing up for various online accounts. Here are a few tips to help build out your new inbox setup.
Create general addresses for departments, such as marketing@, service@, and sales@
Emails to these specific addresses can be reviewed, delegated, or replied to according to the necessary team. You can keep these separate, but it does become difficult when you have specific team members working between inboxes. Outpost makes it easier for one person in your organization to field messages that arrive in several different inboxes, all from the same email interface — you don’t have to log into three or four different accounts.
Limit access to your personal email
It can be really easy to push specific contacts, conversations, or email threads into your personal inbox. But doing that completely defeats the purpose of creating and assigning specific inboxes. Only give out your personal email on business cards or to direct personal contacts. Try to keep these emails focused on correspondence.
Make use of general accounts
For website accounts, instead of using your personal address, set up a general organization email (like firstname.lastname@example.org), or use free webmail services for “signup emails.” You can then use these emails as your address for online services, lists, or other times where you need to provide an email, but multiple people will need to use your login credentials.
3. Track responses in real-time
When dozens or hundreds of emails are sitting in a queue, you need to know in real-time what is being dealt with, what is on deck, and what still needs to be assigned or evaluated.
You don’t want to waste time or sacrifice productivity — or look bad to a customer — by having an email slip through the cracks (and never get a response) or receive conflicting responses from more than one person.
Real-time status is crucial. Make sure your email management system gives you access to at-a-glance status reports. That way, if someone is drafting a reply, you can easily see that someone is on it. If an email needs to be assigned to a team member, you want to be able to see that it still needs attention.
4. Share inboxes with your whole team
When using department email addresses or other general email addresses, it can be useful for the entire team to have access. That way, no one point of contact is the sole gatekeeper — which is helpful when someone is swamped with other duties, for example, or out of the office and off email. The main concern then is overlap between communications and sharing email logins, which can be alleviated with the right inbox management tool.
Create shared inboxes for specific topics or departments
We already mentioned this, but it’s good practice to create shared inboxes such as info@, sales@, service@, and so on. This is a quick and easy way to help your team immediately separate correspondence on the back end, while also helping your customers have direct channels for specific concerns.
Let your team access departmental inboxes
Give all team members access to their department’s general email (e.g., accounting@, marketing@, and similar). There may be more specific inboxes for various roles to handle but for the sake of transparency and info sharing, opening up department inboxes is necessary.
Build common processes
If an email address is assigned to a specific team member, that person needs to take point on the response. Anyone cc’d or on the general email needs to review the original email to stay informed or provide guidance, but should not lead the conversation. Additionally, having specific response templates, response timeframes, and a solid FAQ page can help keep all of your responses consistent, quick, and easy to maintain.
Give team members unique login credentials
Each team member should have their own unique login, too, so managers can know at a glance who has read or replied to a shared email. Having multiple people logging into department inboxes with the same credentials is a recipe for messy, suboptimal communication with your customers.
A shared inbox also means that the entire team knows what’s coming in and what the team is handling — while also making sure that there aren’t duplicate replies or emails that just seem to disappear without a response from your company.
5. Route all your business email accounts to one place
No matter how many email addresses you are responsible for, efficient sign-ins are needed. If you only deal with a couple of accounts, that may not be a big deal, but constantly switching between multiple accounts can be a demotivating productivity sapper.
Beyond one or two email addresses, switching accounts can become unwieldy. Instead of constant account switching, look into options for helping your team manage all their company email accounts from one central location. Having all your email accounts in one place can help you seamlessly and quickly review each account, reply to emails, and manage, archive, and delete. Email accounts in one place can be more effective and efficient for you and your entire team.
6. Make your own emails more likely to be seen and read
When you’ve figured out the best way to manage your company’s inflow of emails, take a look at the level of quality of the responses you and your team are sending. If your emails are clear and easily understood (and stick to consistent messaging across your team), they’re more likely to be read. After all, writing a solid email the first time can decrease the odds that you have to spend time writing back and forth to clear things up.
Tips to help you and your team’s emails hit their target
1. Use a keyword in the subject line
Get right to the point before your customer ever opens the email. Focus on keywords such as an event or project name: “April Business After-Hours — Catering Options”
2. Keep subject lines concise
You only have a few moments to grab someone’s attention and get them to click into your email. So the best thing you can do is get right to the point and keep your intent concise. For example jump right to the value proposition, such as “Agenda for our Tuesday conference call”
3. Make your main point or request in the first paragraph
Just like your subject line to get them into the email, your email should be quick and to the point. Be upfront and make your point or request along with any social proof such as a word-of-mouth referral or shared acquaintance within the first paragraph: “Kate Boss mentioned to me that you were looking for a new email management tool. Below are a couple of details about the one I work with. If it looks like it could meet your needs, let me know when you’d like to discuss more in-depth or arrange a free trial.”
4. Aim to keep responses around five sentences
It can be challenging — but that focus can result in clearer, more effective emails, plus less work for both you and the person you’re emailing. Want a bigger challenge? Consider treating email replies like text messages — and keep them to two sentences.
5. Don’t forget to communicate like a human, not an email robot
People want to know that they are speaking to a real person, not an automated message. There are some simple strategies for warming up your email messages that can help without sacrificing productivity.
Getting control of your email is a productivity goldmine
The more you and your team can keep on top of emails, the more productive you can be — and the more motivated you can feel.
After all, no one wants to feel like they’re chained to their inbox. With these tips, you won’t have to be — and you won’t have to worry about important emails slipping through the cracks.
*Editors’ note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated for 2020.
Posted in: Email