Although shared mailboxes have been around for years, it’s still surprising how many businesses still fail to make use of what is a relatively easy way to improve teamwork and simultaneously deliver a better service to both customers and suppliers.
Our recent article “Shared Mailboxes – what, why and how?” has been one of our most popular, which would seem to indicate a growing interest and awareness, either for those still trying to decide whether or not to use one, or for those keen to get maximum value from the one they already have.
Bearing this in mind, the following looks at some of the best shared mailbox practices along with some simple ways CompassAir can help you improve the management of this invaluable collaboration tool.
First some background on both the benefits available from shared mailboxes as well as some shortcomings to avoid.
The benefits of shared mailboxes
• Communication is unified – there are no longer long email threads containing cc, bcc and fwd
• As most tasks start and end with an email, the address acts as a hub, where work can be centralised
• Delegation of tasks is made much easier, messages can be assigned to team members (often using some form of automation), in turn improving responsiveness which leads to better service. In addition to this, shared mailboxes will provide insights into how well an organisation is functioning. Separate email addresses make it difficult for a manager to keep track of what employees are doing. By watching a shared mailbox it’s possible to answer such questions as how quickly customer queries are answered; whether there are any consistent issues being raised that require intervention; and observing peaks and troughs in email volumes that may need to be addressed using a re-allocation of resources.
• Transparency is increased – team members can see who is working on what. Not only this, but with each team member having an overview of what is going on, it means they can often better understand how and why decisions are made. Having such an insight is likely to result in improved decision making in the future. Similarly, with everyone having the same up-to-date level of knowledge better decisions can be made. For those emails that present challenges to an organisation, the fact that team members have a channel through which they can be easily discussed (especially important in these days of remote working) means solutions can be found collectively. In the case of new recruits to a team, getting up to speed is made that much easier when there is easy access to historic communication
• When staff are unavailable, maybe through illness or vacations, it is easier for colleagues to provide cover when records of earlier interactions with customers, suppliers or other colleagues are not hidden away inside a private mailbox
• Productivity will increase, again possibly in conjunction with automation by making use of rules, integrations with other software, shared templates, common, easy access filing and the like. Not having to cc colleagues, in other words having to ensure all the relevant people have seen emails, necessary when separate email addresses are used, will lead directly to a saving of both time and money.
Some of the challenges experienced when sharing a mailbox
Just having a shared mailbox will not on its own allow you to take advantage of the many benefits available. To do so, and get maximum value at the same time, certain steps need to be taken and procedures put in place.
In order that the effect these measures have can be appreciated, the following represent some of the challenges in using a common shared mailbox. Such shortcomings can be avoided by making relatively small changes to the way your team works and by using software such as CompassAir that has been designed specifically to make the best use of shared mailboxes.
• Favourites – it’s possible that some team members will choose to respond to those emails that present the least challenge to them, leaving the more difficult ones for their colleagues;
• Workloads – without having a system to allocate and monitor tasks in place it’s possible that some team members will find themselves with a much greater workload compared to others in their team;
• Neglected emails – there can be a tendency to avoid certain emails in the hope another team member will take responsibility. The danger here is that these emails remain unanswered, getting lost in the general “noise”, and so actually have an adverse effect on relationships with third parties; and
• Multiple replies – without software that allows team members to see who is working on what, it’s possible for effort to be duplicated and time wasted when multiple replies are sent in response to the same email.
Getting the best from your shared mailbox with CompassAir
Make good use of CompassAir “Views”
As well as shared mailboxes, CompassAir “Views” are central to our messaging software, allowing you to customise the way messages are organised and seen. When using generic software we are used to seeing only one view, namely the inbox as a whole.
It’s much easier for a team to collaborate if they can sort the emails that arrive in the shared mailbox, focussing on particular types of emails that need to be handled in particular ways. This becomes especially important when you have access to more than one shared mailbox – having the ability to isolate different types of emails means they can be dealt with more efficiently.
As an example, you may have access to an accounts department inbox as well as a sales department inbox. Within CompassAir there are no restrictions on how you organise what you see – it may be that you want to see only unanswered emails in the sales inbox, or those that include a key word, or maybe those where your team members are already discussing the content and how they might respond.
The following example demonstrates the many different ways in which CompassAir can display an almost infinite number of customised views, each defined by selecting one or a combination of two or more parameters:
CompassAir discussions is a chat-like feature that allows team members to communicate with each other without adding to email “noise”. In its simplest form it is similar to WhatsApp, letting team members communicate with each other on any topic.
However, “Discussions” also allows team members to “talk” to each other, but this time “behind” particular emails that have been sent and received. In other words it allows them to collaborate even more whilst keeping the focus on an individual message.
It’s this second use of “Discussions” that enables information to be shared between team members about specific emails. The narrative is always kept internal, never being visible to anyone outside of the team, and remains attached to a particular email covering anything from sharing information, or requesting assistance through to making recommendations.
Whoever has access to the shared inbox will have access to this discussion and therefore at any time in the future will be able to understand the background to an email exchange, how a situation developed and why a particular response was made.
Another use being made of this type of discussion is for a team member to add instructions to an email on how a particular enquiry should be answered and by which team member. In other words, it can aid the delegation of tasks amongst the team.
In passing, and outside of the “Discussions” feature, a simple way to make an announcement to everyone sharing the same inbox regarding a particular message, is by forwarding the email to the shared address, adding whatever comments you choose to make above the existing text.
When a team responds in a similar way to a number of emails, making good use of templates will save significant amounts of time. Not only that, the responses of different members in a team to a similar email can be quite diverse in terms of tone, even though the essence of the message remains the same. Templates will ensure that a consistent tone is used repeatedly, throughout the team.
You can easily create a template from a message that is being drafted or has been sent, with the result being filed in a separate “View”, namely “Templates”. This is then searchable and filtered in the same way as other messages in other “Views”. All templates created within a particular mailbox will be visible to everyone who has access to that mailbox.
Templates can be used for any subject but would be especially helpful when providing third parties with information about products, pricing, company policies, office hours and contact details as well as when responding to common questions raised by customers or clients.
CompassAir Keywords or Tags
When a message has been received, whilst it’s being drafted or after it has been sent, keywords can be attached to it. These keywords will provide ways to easily identify emails when you need to refer to them in future. Not only will they be a source of information on particular subject matters, but they can also be used to identify trends. In shipping for example, they could be used to follow the volume of enquiries emanating from various maritime hubs around the world.
Keywords can not only make searching for a particular subject matter much easier, they can also form the basis of defining “Views” (see above). One example would be where a team member’s name, in the form of a keyword, is added to an email. It’s then possible for a team member to define a “View” as containing his or her name. This tagging could be used to delegate a responsibility to draft a response, or merely to draw a particular team member’s attention to a message that a colleague feels is relevant to that individual.
In the maritime sector, a very common use of keywords it to tag particular emails with a vessel name. By so doing, you can easily then find all messages relating to that vessel, as and when required. Of course, CompassAir does much more than this, having been created for use by maritime professionals. For example, one thing it can do is automatically extract vessel names from the body of an email. The software then automatically associates that email with the vessel within the ships database. Whenever required, the email is then immediately available to view when looking in the ships database for information on that vessel.
In a similar way to keywords, folders can be used to group messages together in convenient ways. As an example, they can be used to group emails by topic then, by using rules, emails can be automatically filed in named folders, which makes finding them at a later date much easier and quicker. In a maritime business a folder could once again refer to a vessel name, the name of an owner or more generally to the organisation that has sent the email.
Emails can be saved in multiple folders and automating the filing of messages will not only save valuable administrative time at the outset, but even more time when it comes to finding emails when needed at a later date. Folders can also be used as a means to delegate work amongst a team sharing the same inbox.
Within CompassAir, in the screenshot below email filing can be seen in the bottom left hand side of the screen, with folder names and structures being completely customisable.
Colour Coding Emails
Colour coding emails (an example of which can be seen above), or the use of flags, will enable team members to see at a glance which emails need to be dealt with and which are a priority. Clearly, a coding system needs to be established and circulated in advance and, by again using automation, emails can be consistently colour coded immediately they arrive in the inbox.
When referring to shared mailbox best practices, attention needs to be given to steps that must be taken to protect your business and the data that it holds, either its own or data belonging to others.
Policies should be adopted that cover for example the frequent changing of passwords, their format, the requirement to keep such passwords confidential by ensuring team members know not to leave them in a form where others can see them, and procedures for when a team member leaves an organisation, in other words, their access should be immediately rescinded.
Notifications – CompassAir “NotifyMe”
An inbox shared by a team will most likely contain many more emails than those of an individual. Along with this comes the risk of email overload. Notifications can be used to reduce this risk, alerting you to those emails, as soon as they are received, that require an immediate response.
CompassAir has a feature called “NotifyMe”, alerting you, on both your mobile and desktop, to those emails you need to see as soon as they arrive or when they are sent by colleagues. Marking a message “NotifyMe” means CompassAir will be watching out for future emails in the same thread, which could be as simple as a reply arriving to an email you have just sent. As soon as that reply arrives in your inbox, an alert is sent to your mobile and desktop application.
Inbox Zero (or something similar…)
Inbox zero is the process of managing your email inbox with a system that allows you to reach and maintain zero unread emails awaiting reply. Avoiding a backlog of emails, and the associated risk that some will slip through the net, would appear to be a reasonable goal for any organisation.
Whether “inbox zero” should be a culture or an actual goal to be achieved will be considered in another article. Whatever you choose, clarity, focus and better time management will undoubtedly serve to increase productivity. The various tools and automation that can be found within CompassAir will be of great value when making the inbox zero journey, helping teams to work more efficiently, deliver prompt responses and resolve problems quickly.