Traditional email doesn’t inherently lend itself to collaboration. It’s not easy to get visibility into what other team members are doing, and it’s difficult to pass an email back and forth like you might a Google Doc.
A lack of visibility, difficulty in assigning work, and so on—this is the source of most team’s biggest challenges around email collaboration.
But, email can be an incredibly powerful customer service tool—and being able to work together on emails with your team in a shared inbox is the best way to take advantage of this.
Here are some examples of email collaboration breakdown (that you’ve probably experienced yourself):
1. A customer has a question, and emails your general (or customer service-specific) email address.
You respond—and realize your colleague has also responded, giving completely conflicting information. Now your options are to do nothing (bad idea) or reach out to the customer again with a follow-up apology and clarification (which doesn’t look great for your company).
2. You need input on an email before you send it, so you CC two colleagues. They both respond separately.
Now you have multiple email threads with different information, and no unified way to have a conversation between all three of you. Oh, and your inbox is messier than when you started.
3. You’re sending an important email, and you need someone on your team to look at the way you’ve phrased it.
So, to get their input, you’ll have to forward them your drafted response (which can be messy and frustrating—see above), send over a separate document, or similar.
4. Everyone in your office answers emails as a team—but not everyone is qualified to answer every type of email that comes through your inbox.
This means wasted time, confusion, and too many cooks in the kitchen. It gets confusing to have everyone working on everything all together, all at once (and sometimes this results in customers, clients, or important stakeholders getting responses that feel mildly off-brand).
So what can you do to make team email collaboration more efficient? You know you want to improve your email response times and generally serve your customers as well as you can.
Here’s where to start:
Use tools like collision alerts so no one sends duplicate (and maybe conflicting) information
What happens if a customer gets multiple emails from your company about a single question they asked? They’re getting duplicate information at best, and possibly contradictory information at worst.
It’s an issue that comes from a well-intentioned place—hey, multiple people on your team want to help solve something—but it can be a huge problem. It makes your business look bad, confuses recipients, and at the end of the day, it’s extra effort for your team that could be better spent on other tasks.
Using a feature like Outpost’s Collision Alerts is a good way to prevent this from happening. You’ll be able to tell if someone else on your team is working on a response, and know that you don’t have to send one too. This allows your team to present a clear, unified response, avoiding both confusion and duplicate work.
Avoid FWDs and CCs by taking advantage of internal notes
There are plenty of reasons why endless chains of forwards and CCs are frustrating.
For one thing, they’re just plain annoying. If you’ve been forwarded an email by a team member as a means of “assigning” it to you, it becomes a matter of sifting through the “background context” to get to the heart of what you’re supposed to be responding to.
Plus, forwards and CCs tend to compound on themselves—so you’re likely to end up with several conversations running simultaneously, making it difficult to keep track of the relevant information.
Beyond the regular interoffice annoyance aspect, however, is a larger looming issue: It’s really easy to accidentally include your customer (or another key, external party) in your response.
So—clunky at best, and potentially damaging to your business at worst.
An effective workaround is using something like Outpost’s Internal Notes feature. This way, you can have a conversation within your organization about a particular email, without having to clutter everyone’s inbox (and risk embarrassment) by forwarding and CCing the original email. Everyone who has access to your shared mailbox can participate, and you can tag people in your notes, alerting them that you need their input.
Assign emails to specific people—and don’t be afraid to pass back and forth
One of the most frustrating things about collaborating on an email inbox is not knowing who is taking care of what. If you assume wrong, someone goes without a response for well-beyond the ideal timeframe. This can result in degraded trust in your company and customer service, partners or other stakeholders who now feel put off and ignored, and potentially lost business.
So clearly, collaborating with your team on an email inbox isn’t as simple as sharing a password (don’t do that) and crossing your fingers. Just like any other project work, it’s important to assign emails to a specific person, so that everyone knows who is responsible for what.
Using a collaborative inbox tool like Outpost lets you easily assign an email to anyone who has access to an inbox—and you can pass a single draft back and forth as needed, too, which can be helpful when you’re working as a team to come up with a creative solution or answer a difficult question together.
Take advantage of better organization (and easier collaboration) by using multiple inboxes with a shared view
Finally, take a look at how you are structuring your inbox organization overall.
Collaboration tips like this are helpful when it comes to fine-tuning the process, but depending on the volume of emails you receive (and how different they are in topic), you may want to pull back and consider setting up additional inboxes if you haven’t already.
Why is this important? For one thing, it allows team members working within a specific inbox to hone in on exactly what type of messages they’re responding to.
Let’s say right now, you are working out of one general firstname.lastname@example.org inbox. If you are collaborating with your team on all emails that come through that inbox, you might be constantly switching gears. This might look like handling everything from requests from existing customers, to people searching for general information, and external stakeholder communication (maybe you have media partners, donors, community partnerships?) all out of one inbox.
Collaborating with everyone on all these varied types of outreach will get confusing fast. You might use a slightly different voice and tone depending on who you are emailing, and you might want to use templated responses that vary depending on the recipient. And, maybe everyone on your team doesn’t really need to be answering customer emails, for example.
If, however, you set up a email@example.com inbox, as well as maintaining your firstname.lastname@example.org inbox, your customer service inquiries will be routed one way, and your general inquiries another. Your collaboration will be more effective as a result of the narrowed focus, and it will be easier to build a streamlined system for working on email as a team—but you’re still all working together in the same inbox.
Email collaboration is easier with the right tools in place
On its surface, collaborating on email can appear challenging—and without the right tools in place, it certainly can be.
But, taking advantage of tools like Outpost gives you the ability to turn managing a shared inbox into a streamlined, collaborative, hassle-free process. Try Outpost for free today for 14 days (no credit card required) and see for yourself how much easier collaborating with your team on email can be.
Posted in: Email