Okay, we haven’t calculated the exact hours. But assuming our 20-person team spent even one hour a day fumbling in a shared Gmail mailbox for the past 8 years—we’ve saved ourselves years of work.
One of our core values used to be “scrappy.”
We scrimped and saved to keep our revenue in the black.
“Workarounds” and “hacks” were part of our daily practice.
We used Gmail for everything when we first started this company—yes, even customers support—mostly because Groove’s support platform didn’t exist yet, but also because it was cheap and easy.
We envisioned a future company where we didn’t need to stretch our resources, though.
As soon as our initial inbox product was ready, we stopped using a makeshift shared inbox in Gmail.
Since then, we’ve been able to hire dedicated customer support team members, create an effective workflow for engineers to resolve bug reports, and build reports to see real-time customer feedback on our products and features.
The irony is, by transitioning off of Gmail’s free shared inbox we ended up saving (and making) more money.
We’ll walk through how we did it and when we knew it was time to go.
When we knew it was time to stop using Gmail as a shared inbox
Frankly, the moment you Google “Gmail shared inbox” is probably the sign you need to stop using Gmail.
Your business is changing, there’s more work to be done. You’re curious and optimistic about exploring new solutions.
Maybe you’re thinking of hiring and not sure how that would play out in the inbox. You’ve been answering firstname.lastname@example.org emails yourself up until now. You don’t want to completely let go of the reins. But is it possible to just give someone access to your Gmail mailbox? How would that work?
Or maybe you’ve already taken this step. You’ve got multiple people logging into the same account and…it’s not running smoothly.
Gmail isn’t made for collaboration. For personal email, it’s great and easy. But when you’re monitoring shared business emails (like sales@, support@, info@), it lacks the necessary features that only a real shared inbox provides.
These five missteps signaled a change was in order for us—we’ll show you how collaborative inbox software resolved every one.
We accidentally sent multiple replies to the same question
The hackiest way to “share” a Gmail account is to add delegates. Gmail allows up to 25 delegates per account. This means you can grant access to an assistant, to early hires, to sales, or to support reps so they can all respond to emails from the same account.
But, this can quickly become unruly. You won’t know who is answering which email or when.
Collision detection solves this problem in a proper shared inbox. You can easily see if somebody is already replying to a conversation to avoid embarrassing double replies.
We lost track of emails
It’s not realistic (nor productive) to watch your inbox all day and respond to new inquiries as they come in. Inevitably, some emails get answered quickly, others are placed on the backburner.
Organizing these various types of requests and making sure each gets a full resolution was nearly impossible with Gmail.
Using Groove’s Shared Inbox, we know where every conversation stands by marking it as Open, Snoozed, or Closed. Snooze allows us to mark conversations as pending so they re-open at a later time or act as a reminder to follow up.
We spent 90% of our time forwarding messages
As a founder at an early-stage company, you’re likely the first line of defense with emails. It’s simply part of your day-to-day to delegate emails to the right people. You forward bug reports to your engineers. Customer questions go to your support rep. Product feedback goes to your designer.
Delegating tasks to other teams is part of your job. But doing it every day, for hours each day, is simply inefficient. Not to mention, it takes your focus away from more meaningful work.
A shared inbox includes features like assignments, notes, and mentions to delegate and discuss issues without ever leaving the actual conversation.
We had a 100-page Google Doc with common replies
Ah, copying and pasting. One of the great business pastimes.
And by that I mean, it’s past its time.
You shouldn’t have to CTRL+F every time you need to find an answer to a customer’s question. Google Docs are easy and versatile, but they become unwieldy when used as a reference for shared company communications.
Groove’s platform includes a proper knowledge base along with an integration to access it directly within the inbox. We can effortlessly insert a knowledge base article into a reply and quickly open up an article for reference without ever leaving the inbox.
We got 0 insights from all these emails
You’re not running a production line at a factory—you’re running an entire business.
At the end of the day, it’s not enough to say, “We answered all the emails.”
You want to understand why those emails came in to begin with. You want to figure out the underlying problems so that you can create proactive solutions. You want to leverage every single customer interaction to build a better product and grow your business.
You just can’t get any of these insights without a real customer support platform.
Groove’s Reporting Dashboard tracks metrics pertaining to:
- Conversation volume and response time
- Customer happiness and feedback
- User, team, and knowledge base performance
If you’re experiencing any of these pain points using Gmail as a shared inbox, it’s time to go.
How to move from Gmail to a real shared inbox
There’s plenty of options on the market for shared inboxes. Ranging from simple Gmail integrations and Chrome extensions to robust platforms and ticketing systems.
Our founder, Alex, tried them all before finally just creating his own product.
Clearly, we’re not ashamed to admit we love using Groove for our own shared inbox needs. We use our own business as a testing ground for features and workflows.
We believe it has everything growing businesses need to provide a world-class customer experience without adding unnecessary complexity.
But every business is different. So here’s a general list of tips for how to transition from a Gmail shared inbox.
1. Research the best shared inbox tools
The “research” phase is often the hardest to conquer. It’s difficult to feel motivated to do something that has no real endpoint. I mean, you could research forever.
I made a quick 10-point list, with a clear end goal, that you can use to move through this first step:
- Write down your biggest pain points.
- Create your wish list of features.
- Ask colleagues for recommendations.
- Check out rating and review sites.
- Do a Google search.
- Come up with five workable options.
- Cruise around their websites.
- View demo videos.
- Make a pro/con list.
- Narrow the five options to three and start free trials.
2. Start a free trial and sync up with Gmail
We’re not talking about enterprise-level software here that requires a hand-held demo and catered-to-you pricing. (I took the liberty of assuming you’re not an enterprise company since you’re still using Gmail…)
Move straight to a free trial to ramp up quickly and see how the software will actually work within your company. Connect your current Gmail email addresses to the shared inbox software.
Answer real customer emails and get a feel for the platform. Most services offer at least a week for a free trial. Use every minute to make sure it resolves all your pain points.
3. Organize your conversations
Test the organizational features of your shared inbox first.
With Groove, folders allow you to create custom views for certain types of conversations to suit your workflow.
This makes it easy to assign emails to teammates and ensures you follow up with waiting customers.
4. Set up automated workflows
Next, automate robotic tasks (like forwarding emails or copying and pasting replies).
Rules and Canned Replies solve these problems for us within Groove.
Canned replies are basically email templates on overdrive. Save your most-used responses directly within the inbox. Plug them into any conversation with one click. Automatically insert variables (like a customer’s first name).
Rules are essentially a to-do list for your inbox. Set them up using “if…then” conditions like:
- If [subject contains out of office], then [set status to closed]
- If [subject or description contains bug report], then [assign to agent ‘Lesley’]
- If [from email is email@example.com], then [add tag ‘VIP’]
5. View reports to uncover hiring needs and growth opportunities
And finally, evaluate the shared inbox’s reporting tool. This will be the hub for all your customer data and insights. It should be easy to understand.
In Groove, one of the most immediately useful reports tracks busiest hours. This tells you when email volume is highest. It’s a simple way to see when you should devote your time to monitoring the inbox or what hours a new hire will need to work.
You’ll want to use tags to track content and look at trends as well.
Pinpoint the exact areas that need improvement so you can hire the right people with the right skillset and grow more efficiently.
Shared inbox management for small businesses focused on growth
Early-stage growth is one of the most exciting moments in the business lifecycle. But there’s a lot of “we wish we knew this back when” advice that we feel compelled to dole out.
Blurry expectations with group email in Gmail strained my relationship with teammates in the past.
“Were they going to reply?” “Why did I always have to reply?” “Did they really say that?”
– Confessions from a poorly-shared mailbox
It’s silly to think that muddled email practices could cause such frustration. And even sillier when you realize it could be completely resolved by switching to a better shared inbox platform.
Prioritizing well-thought-out shared inbox management early-on in your company will set you up for more effective communication in the future. All while laying the groundwork for seamless employee collaboration and customer-centric decision making.