If you talk to customers through email, then (surprise!) you have a customer support tool. We take a customer-first approach to compare Gmail to Outlook to Groove for growing businesses.
“There are so many freaking emails. I guess it got lost.”
I just overheard my husband say this to his coworker on a call. They nearly lost a client because of miscommunication.
He works in Sales and he was talking to an Account Manager.
But this felt like a page torn straight from my own experience in Customer Support.
You might not realize it, but customer support software (which is built around an easy-to-use shared inbox) can help you and your team deliver exceptional customer experiences.
Outlook and Gmail work okay when you’re just starting out.
But neither are designed to enhance the experience for your customers—or for your growing team.
So with that in mind, let’s compare using Gmail vs Outlook vs Groove as a customer support tool for your growing business.
Gmail vs Outlook vs Groove for small business customer support
Before we begin, let’s clarify:
Gmail and Outlook both provide you with an email address (like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). You’ll need one of those to actually use Groove.
To be clear, Groove could not replace Gmail or Outlook. It would simply be an add-on for email management if you’re planning to use either one to support customers for your business.
For instance, here at Groove we use Gmail and G Suite in addition to the Groove platform. Our support emails (and several other business-wide emails for marketing, sales, and product inquiries) are forwarded from Gmail into Groove. From there, we use Groove to organize, prioritize, and delegate communications.
You could do the same thing with Outlook, forwarding your emails from its system to Groove for better customer email management.
You could also get an email address from Gmail and then use Outlook to manage incoming emails. Or (you guessed it) forward an Outlook email address into Gmail.
For the purpose of this post, we’re specifically comparing using each individual platform to engage with customers at scale. We’ll look at how you can utilize Gmail, Outlook, and Groove to perform customer support functions across your business.
The biggest challenge most small businesses deal with—the one that likely brought you to this article—is lack of organization.
With every customer email arbitrarily dumped into the inbox, it’s hard to tell which ones are urgent and who’s responsible for answering them.
Gmail, Outlook, and Groove each have their own versions of folders, labels, and rules to optimize organization. We’ll dissect each below.
Gmail categories, labels, and filters
Categories: These operate similarly to tabs on your web browser. There are five options you can turn on or off in Gmail settings:
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell Google exactly what you want to be sorted into each category. Instead, Google tries its best to sort them using its algorithm.
For that reason, categories are not as helpful as they could be for external business communications.
Labels: This sorting tool is a mix of file folders on your hard drive and tags you might use with social media posts.
You can apply labels one-by-one. So when a new support email arrives, you manually add a “support” label.
Or you can automate the process by creating a filter.
Filters: This tool automatically applies a label under certain criteria.
For example, you could set a filter that automatically adds a “Support” label to any email you receive through a form on your support site.
Outlook folders, categories, and rules
Folders: This feature enables you to sort messages similar to file folders on your hard drive.
Outlook comes with six default folders:
- Junk email
- Sent items
- Deleted items
You can add new folders to organize specific inquiries. For example, you can create folders for certain projects, people, or types of inquiry (sales, support, etc).
Categories: This feature allows you to color-code certain types of emails.
You can rename the default color-named categories to be something more practical for your workflow. For example, renaming the “blue category” to “bug reports.”
Rules: Use this option to automatically funnel certain messages into certain folders or to add certain categories.
Groove mailboxes, folders, tags, and rules
Mailboxes: Even before adding folders and tags, the ability to create multiple mailboxes allows you to separate different parts of your business and different teams.
This means teams can focus on relevant messages only. They can open the “Support” or “Sales” mailbox, without needing to sort through messages meant for other teams.
Folders: Within mailboxes, you can create folders to organize your conversations.
You can get more specific with folders dedicated to certain people or priority type.
Tags: Place keywords or notes on specific messages with this feature.
Tags allow for an at-a-glance overview of the actual content within customer inquiries. This will set the foundation for tracking issues overtime.
Rules: Automate parts of your workflow using this option. Each rule is composed of “when” conditions and “then” actions.
You can use rules to do a variety of things like automatically assign conversations to a team or individual, change the status, add star priority, or add tags, etc.
Summary: Gmail and Outlook offer organization tools to visually separate certain messages from others, but Groove enables you to carve out specific workplaces for teams to narrow their focus on only relevant communications.
Collaboration tools are severely lacking from services like Gmail and Outlook.
When you have multiple people responding to a single email (think: email@example.com), it’s really time to consider using an actual shared inbox, like Groove, not a make-shift one.
With that in mind, we’ll show you the differences between each platform’s collaboration tools.
Groove collision detection, assignments, notes, mentions
Collision detection: Easily see if somebody is already replying to a conversation to avoid embarrassing double replies.
Assignments: By assigning conversations to specific team members, it’s always clear who is responsible for what.
Notes: Add internal notes to your conversations to have private discussions with your teammates about a customer request without leaving the platform.
Mentions: Quickly @mention a teammate to notify them of a request.
In Gmail, the only real collaboration option is to delegate your inbox to others in the company.
The delegates can see everything in your inbox from their own inbox and can read and reply to emails as you (or more specifically, as “sales” or “support”).
Gmail allows up to 25 delegates per account. That means you can grant access to your support or sales teams to respond to emails from the same account.
But, without collision detection, assignments, or notes, this can quickly become unruly. You won’t know who is answering which email or when.
Outlook shared mailbox
Outlook offers a shared mailbox option where a group can monitor and send emails from a shared address (like firstname.lastname@example.org).
When replying from the shared mailbox, the email will be sent from the shared address, not from the individual user.
That’s pretty much it. No way to assign or collaborate internally before responding to the customer.
Summary: Neither Gmail nor Outlook offer robust collaboration tools. If your team relies on shared email addresses (like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), they’ll need tools like collision detection, assignments, and notes which Groove provides.
Each platform realizes the importance of search when wading through emails. Let’s explore their search functions.
Gmail lists a number of search operators to filter your results and offers a quick way to open advanced search parameters within the inbox.
Outlook suggests using an advanced search query to refine your search results. Its advanced search form has easy-to-use input fields.
Groove leans on its robust organization and collaboration tools to help you find customer conversations based on clear parameters (like assignee, folder, or tag), rather than just keywords or dates.
Your business relies on revenue and growth metrics to set goals and track progress. The same can be said about customer conversations.
Customer service platforms and CRMs are well-known for providing in-depth reports. But you can get some basic reports from Gmail and Outlook as well.
Let’s take a closer look at how each one compares.
With the Microsoft 365 Reports dashboard, you can get a high-level view of email traffic within your organization.
This allows you to answer some basic questions like:
- How many emails are we receiving each day?
- How many emails are we responding to each day?
- Is this number growing over time?
The answers to these questions won’t necessarily enable you to improve these metrics. But they should inform your future hiring and software decisions.
Similarly, Gmail allows you to view app usage data with a user report. You can see total emails, emails received, and emails sent.
Groove’s Reporting Dashboard tracks metrics pertaining to:
- Email volume
- Time to reply
- Customer happiness
- User and team-specific performance
- Self-service efficacy
This level of transparency reveals how efficiently your team responds to customers. And pinpoints the exact areas that need improvement.
You’ll be able to not just view reports, but take clear action from them.
What’s more, the ability to track the content of these conversations will help you get ahead of customer confusion and improve your business’ overall offerings.
For this comparison, we’re assuming businesses using Gmail are using it as part of the full G Suite, and Outlook as part of Microsoft 365.
Most of the added features on these tiered plans will enhance other products (like storage space), not necessarily email capabilities.
That said, here’s a breakdown of those costs using each platform’s basic, mid-level, and premium plan:
|Groove*||G Suite||Microsoft 365 Business*|
|Basic||$9 per user per month||$6 per user per month||$5 per user per month|
|Mid-level||$19 per user per month||$12 per user per month||$12.50 per user per month|
|Premium||$29 per user per month||$25 per user per month||$20 per user per month|
Note: Both Groove and Microsoft plans are based on annual commitments.
As we mentioned at the top, we subscribe to both G Suite and Groove. In addition to using Gmail to provide us with a Groove email address, we also use Docs, Sheets, Calendars, and a range of other G Suite products.
If you don’t plan to use the full G Suite or Microsoft 365 suite of products, you could just get a free email account using simply Gmail or Outlook. Then connect to Groove for better email management at one of the price points above.
Which shared inbox is right for your business?
Considering these comparisons, the differences between Gmail and Outlook are fairly minimal. Especially when looking for a better way to manage customer emails as a small business, neither service really offers the necessary tools to succeed.
With Groove, we keep the user experience similar to Gmail and Outlook so it’s intuitive for non-support team members. But our platform provides more tools to enhance your customer interactions.
This allows teams to ramp up quickly and easily transition from Gmail or Outlook to Groove without missing a beat. See how Groove can help your team organize, prioritize, and resolve customer requests with a free trial—no credit card required, no strings attached.