When COVID-19 brought the United States economy to a stop, Kentucky’s Small Business Development Center became a large support center for local businesses trying to navigate this new uncertainty. But with more businesses in need of their services, lack of productivity in their email communication began to build up, and the team became overwhelmed by the number of requests coming in.
With Outpost, they have been able to streamline team communication, keep everyone on the same page, and provide support to more businesses, faster.
|Before Outpost||After Outpost|
|Multiple channels of communication.||Streamlined communication.|
|Communication bottlenecks.||Better team collaboration.|
|Unable to track requests and prioritize conversations.||Ability to efficiently track and prioritize a high volume inbox.|
|Slow response times.||Faster email response times.|
|Inconsistent client messaging.||Consistent messaging across teams.|
|Lack of metrics for productivity reporting.||Ability to measure and track team productivity.|
Kentucky SBDC’s Response to COVID-19
Kentucky’s SBDC network has proudly served Kentucky’s small business community for over 35 years. As part of America’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), a network of more than 1,000 local community centers, they provide high quality consulting, training, and additional services to help strengthen small to medium-sized businesses.
The Kentucky SBDC team is known for its commitment to customer service, open communication, and professionalism. As an organization that serves thousands of clients each year, consistently providing high-quality service can be a challenge even under normal circumstances.
In response to COVID-19, the United States government began creating programs to help businesses affected by the crisis. With new information released daily, entrepreneurs and business owners struggled to keep up with the quickly changing economy.
“Business owners were so panicked– they had heard resources were available, but they had no idea how to access them.” Explained Kevin Norvell, the Statewide Project Coordinator for Kentucky SBDC.
The experienced and knowledgeable staff of Kentucky’s Small Business Center network quickly got to work to provide reliable news and resources to entrepreneurs and businesses in need. But as phone calls and emails came pouring in, the centers quickly found themselves overwhelmed by the number of requests flooding their inboxes.
Lack of visibility leads to email confusion and inefficiency
Before Outpost, each of Kentucky’s ten Small Business Development Centers managed incoming requests individually. While general questions about business resources could be handled by the administrative staff, any requests from potential clients were given to another department.
As Kevin Norvell explains, “Beforehand, there was no central way to manage incoming requests. We had ten centers, each receiving its own emails. Usually, it was one person at each office that managed incoming requests. A large part of that person’s job would be responding to general questions about available resources, and making sure that any requests for additional services like consulting, were forwarded to the correct department.”
With all of the emails in one inbox, the lack of visibility created miscommunications and made it hard to make sure requests were going to the right place.”It was a pain point our centers had felt before this,” Kevin explains,“there was no way for us to track emails, or know if someone was handling a request. And what if someone wasn’t there for a week, or didn’t follow-up on those requests? There was no way for us to ensure nothing fell through the cracks.”
Having more people help respond to emails didn’t help either and only caused more confusion. Without an effective way to collaborate and manage emails as a team, the offices struggled to keep up with the increasing number of requests.
“It was just very chaotic…our follow-up was not very efficient, and it was frustrating because we felt like there should be a simple solution for this particular need.”
“It was really just very chaotic…our follow-up was not very efficient.”
A simple solution to centralize email communication
Patricia Krausman, Director of Kentucky’s Elizabethtown Small Business Development Center, had been introduced to Outpost at an SBDC conference earlier that year and recognized how a shared inbox could help solve their growing email problem.
“At its simplest, Outpost provided a shared inbox that multiple people could operate out of. And the more we dove into, with additional features like assignments and reporting, we knew there was a lot of value here.”
With more emails coming in daily, it was essential to KSBDC that Outpost was a simple solution their team could implement quickly and benefit from right away.
“What drew our team to Outpost quickly was that it operated intuitively… Everyone was familiar with email obviously, and so when they logged into Outpost, the interface was familiar in many ways…That made it very easy for them to adopt and embrace this new tool from a very early point because the learning curve wasn’t complicated.”
“What drew our team to Outpost quickly was that it operated intuitively– the learning curve wasn’t complicated.”
A shared inbox provides instant clarity and organization
Kevin says, “It maybe took one day for us to realize Outpost was working because it was like turning on a faucet– and even as we saw hundreds of emails coming through there was immediate ease to it.”
The instant collaboration and visibility of a shared inbox was like “flipping on a switch”. With so many emails coming in, it had been difficult to stay organized and track conversations requiring additional follow-up.
But with features like tags and assignments, Outpost made it easy to track and assign emails to the right people.
“We immediately recognized then that we could be confident everything was taken care of and nothing would slip through the cracks or get lost. Without Outpost, responding to all of our requests would have been much more chaotic and troublesome for us.”
“Without Outpost, responding to all of our requests would have been much more chaotic and troublesome for us.”
Streamlined email communication for remote teams
In addition to handling emails, applications, and website forms, one of the unique ways KSBDC uses Outpost to streamline its communication channels by processing phone calls with Google Voice.
“We were getting all these calls, but our teams were working from home, and we didn’t have a way to receive them. So we set up Google Voice for each of our centers and had the voicemails forward into Outpost. That way, the voice call would come to Outpost, and it could be treated just like a regular email.”
With Outpost’s routing rules, the team automatically assigned and delegated messages to the right people. “That has saved us so much time,” says Kevin.
Faster, more consistent email responses
With incoming requests now managed in one place, it was easy for the KSBDC network to efficiently stay organized and process requests. But with policies and information continually changing, it was hard to make sure each office was sharing consistent, accurate information.
For general inquiries, shared templates helped the teams maintain consistent messaging and save time responding to emails!
“We quickly created a template that had our frequently asked questions and links to available resources. That information was so useful because it handled a lot of the initial requests, while still giving people the option to follow up for additional assistance afterward. Outpost helps us collect and process the most client requests in the most efficient way possible.”
“Outpost helps us collect and process the most client requests in the most efficient way possible.”
Email transparency improves teamwork
In addition to providing valuable reporting data, Outpost’s analytics feature made it possible for Kentucky SBDC to track response times and see the requests coming into every office. After a few days, Kevin says, “Very quickly, we saw how some centers were being overwhelmed by requests.”
This insight prompted KSBDC to redirect general inquiries to centers with higher capacity.“We could very easily have a couple of people go through and intercept some of those requests and route them to another center with additional capacity. So it helped us to balance the load throughout the network.”
“It helped us to balance the load throughout the network.”
By evenly distributing the workload between the offices, teams felt less overwhelmed and resolved inquiries faster.
Helping Kentucky’s small businesses navigate the future
While the initial increased email volume helped surface the challenges KSBDC faced related to email before COVID-19, Outpost continues to provide value to the KSBDC network now that things have cooled off a little.
“We heard so much positive feedback from clients saying, ‘thank you for responding to my email.’ People were so thankful that we were able to provide them with the information they needed quickly. In large part, that was due to how easy it was to get that information back out using Outpost.”
Better internal processes and higher productivity with Outpost has helped Kentucky SBDC regain control over their communication and provide better support to Kentucky’s small businesses.
“Outpost has our highest endorsement. Especially for SBDCs, I don’t think you could have created a product like this, without the intent being specifically for SBDCs. And yet, Outpost has been able to check off so many of the boxes that we needed. So I think it’s cool how Outpost just does that, right out of the box.”
“Outpost has our highest endorsement. Especially for SBDCs, it has been able to check off so many of the boxes that we needed.”
Want to learn more about Outpost?
Traditional email wasn’t designed for teams. That’s why we built Outpost: to make your shared inboxes truly collaborative!
With Outpost, your team can work together in the same inbox, without sharing passwords or stepping on each other’s toes. Outpost is simple because shared email should be. Team up on email, stay organized and take better care of your clients.