Should you use Google Groups as a collaborative inbox?

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should you use google groups as a collaborative inbox

Using Google Groups might seem like an easy way to bring a collaborative inbox to your team. But should your company use it for managing team email?

Short answer: No.

Google Groups can be useful for internal business communication, such as an alternative to chat services like Slack. When it comes to managing sales and support emails from customers and prospects though, a true shared inbox tool (like Outpost) tends to be a better match for what teams need to collaborate efficiently and deliver solid customer service.

Is your team considering Google Groups as a team inbox? Are you making your case for why Outpost is a better choice? Here’s what you need to know.

What is Google Groups?

Google Groups says they use email to “make it easy for groups of people to communicate and collaborate.” The idea is simple: Group members have access to a special group email address. Anyone in the group can email everyone else in a group through one address. Users can also set up events and meetings, share documents, or even have online discussion forums.

Again, Google Groups can be great for helping companies communicate internally (especially if those teams are also using G Suite). In terms of managing workflow for the emails for, say, your sales or support team, though, the collaborative features of Google Groups aren’t as effective.

“I’ve never heard of anyone actually using the Google Group’s ‘Collaborative Inbox’ interface,” says Cassie Haehlen. As a customer success guide for Palo Alto Software, the maker of Outpost, Cassie has helped teams of all sizes transition from Google Groups to Outpost. “Google Groups is not user-friendly, and people are primarily using it for email communication.”

Pros and cons of Google Groups for collaboration

Google Groups includes some features that can be useful for, say, a customer service team, such as marking topics as resolved, or filtering topics by assignee, resolution status, or tag. The internal communications features for teams can be really useful. In fact, says Cassie, Palo Alto Software uses groups for some of their internal discussions.

“Groups are great for communication between departments/teams within the same company as a mailing list,” says Cassie. “We have groups that people use to send company updates, new hire updates, surveys, etc. to certain groups. In a sense, its best use is for single emails/updates that can be sent to a group of people.”

The key here is that supporting group discussion is not the same thing as enabling best-in-class team email. Support teams need to know quickly which customer support issues have been opened or are still waiting for resolution. Sales teams need to make sure that each inquiry only has one person working on it, so prospects don’t receive multiple replies from multiple people and wind up feeling frustrated.

“Google Groups are not ideal for email conversations that require back-and-forth communication,” explains Cassie. Some of the main areas of concern for teams?

Threaded replies aren’t supported in Google Groups

Team members can’t see email conversations in a sequential context.

Replies come from the individual user, not the group address

Email loses its continuity. If another team member needs to pick up a conversation, they may be missing important emails.

If a customer/user replies to the group, that reply goes to everyone in that group

No one wants more irrelevant emails in their inbox. Plus, replies going to everyone are how wires get crossed, multiple and conflicting emails get sent, and teams lose efficiency and productivity.

It’s difficult to know who’s in charge of what

Instead of one dashboard where a manager or team leader can see all the messages relevant to the group, you have to open each inbox individually. Technically Google Groups supports assigning individual emails to team members—however, managers can still only view those assignments from inside each individual email, not a unified, all-in-one space.

Team leaders can’t pinpoint where teams are performing well and where they can further improve

Teams can’t improve if they don’t know where to look for improvement. Likewise, teams can’t pinpoint what’s working well if they can’t identify it across the board. Metrics, analytics, and reports make a big difference in team email—and Outpost comes with metrics and reporting baked in.
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The tools and features you need to manage shared inboxes

For managing shared inboxes, says Cassie, Outpost has essential tools and efficiencies baked in that Google Groups does not. For example, because in Google Groups replies go to everyone in the group, there is no clear delegation and no way to track responses or follow other metrics.

When someone is managing a team, says Cassie, that can quickly leave team leaders and team members unsure of what issues need to be worked on. “Did Jane reply? What did she say?” explains Cassie. “Did she handle the question correctly? Was it handled at all?”

Other features, such as labeling, work on an individual inbox level—but that means that each team member winds up having their own distinct system that other team members won’t know.

“Gmail has filters, tagging, and labels,” says Cassie, “but they’re specific to the individual user’s inbox. Plus, Groups are not scalable: Adding a new staff member to the group just adds to the chaos.”

In Outpost, Routing Rules establish team-wide, standardized, consistent filtering and processing for emails.

“There’s a ton of value for Google Group Users in Outpost,” says Cassie. “They can still use their group email (and avoid paying the license with Google). Google Groups members can be added as Outpost users.”

In Cassie’s experience, she finds that teams come on board with Outpost for three main reasons:

  1. Assignments. Team leaders need to be able to assign specific emails to specific team members, and know at a glance the status and progress of each email.
  2. Collision Alerts. Are multiple team members working on the same email? Normally this can quickly result in the same customer receiving multiple replies, which quickly gets confusing and frustrating. Collision Alerts notify team members of the problem, so only one person remains responsible for handling the communication.
  3. Internal Notes. There are few things more embarrassing than an internal email going out to a customer. While Google Groups can be great for internal discussion, Outpost’s Internal Notes help team members not only discuss issues, but tie those discussions to the relevant email without any risk of their internal discussion ever accidentally going out to the customer.

“Google Groups can be helpful to communicate internally, if the emails are single updates, notifications, etc.,” explains Cassie. “It’s not ideal for communicating with customers.”

The best shared inbox for teams: Outpost

Google Groups has a lot of uses, but external communication is where a more robust tool, built for today’s teams, really shines. By gaining assignment tools, avoiding duplicate replies, generating performance-building reports, monitoring the status of every email, and more, teams can use their time more effectively, respond to emails faster, and better identify how they can improve.

“Outpost is an excellent solution for Google Group users who need a better process for managing email,” says Cassie.

Posted in Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.