Shared mailboxes – what, why and how?
What is a shared mailbox?
Very simply, a shared mailbox is one that many people can access at the same time. In other words, they can receive, read, manage and send emails from the same account.
It provides a single easy point of contact for those outside of your organisation, a clearly defined business email address that your customers and suppliers can use.
The benefits from using a shared mailbox include an increase in productivity, transparency for teams and the ability to share access and documents without sharing logins.
Why use a shared mailbox?
Email started off as simply a way to exchange messages between individual accounts. It has been around as a means of communication for nearly 50 years, the first email being sent in 1971.
Over the years its demise has been predicted on a regular basis, the first time being back in 1989. On the contrary its use continues to grow. with the Radicati Group predicting steady growth continuing at over 4% per annum, expected to exceed 347 billion per day in 2023.
Email is an essential tool for business, its being connected in some way with almost every activity, and is especially important for customer support, sales, marketing and the like. Most businesses consist of more than one person, and because of that there is often a need for many people to access the same email account, often at the same time. As business email use has grown, and still continues to grow, the demand for such access has increased and will increase at the same time.
In the situation where each individual is using only their own email address the limitations soon become clear. If this is the case then the only way of sharing messages is by using another email with a cc, bcc or by forwarding. As well as being cumbersome, not helping team collaboration and resulting in a lack of transparency in the activities of fellow team members, the end result is an avoidable increase in email “noise”.
What might seem like the simplest solution to some would be where a common address (non-shared) is made available to those individuals who need to make use of it. However, this also has a number of shortcomings, the main being that each user has to share the same login detail, namely the account username and, importantly, the password to access that account. Consequently, there is a security issue as well as a lack of accountability – anyone in possession of the username and password can access the account and there is no obvious way of telling who it is each time, should the need arise to later see exactly who did what.
So the use of multiple addresses means that there is no easy way to collaborate, no easy way to share information, and there is no ownership. Take customer service an example of the impact this can have on a business. An essential ingredient of good customer service is a prompt response, something difficult to achieve when using multiple addresses. Similarly, the management of workloads is made more difficult – routing emails through one individual who then distributes tasks to team members is far from the most productive way of working. Interestingly, surveys have shown that customers are willing to pay more for good service – as well as making teams more productive, there may be an even more direct impact on the bottom line of a business by using shared mailboxes.
With a shared mailbox, each team member has access to that box as well as to their own address. Take as an example the fictional Paul Smith, a member of the customer service department at ABC Ltd. He will log into his own account email@example.com and be able to send and receive emails from that account. At the same time he has access to firstname.lastname@example.org, without having to log in to this separate, “second” account. The benefits of this include the following:
• 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;
• 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, means they can often see how and why decisions are being made. Fully understanding such circumstances is likely to result in improved decision making in the future. 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 someone’s private mailbox; and
• Productivity will increase, again possibly with the aid of automation – using rules, integrations with other software, shared templates, common filing etc.
How to use shared mailboxes
Team email collaboration software is the cornerstone of what we do. Whilst we have modules that serve to increase the productivity of those in the maritime sector (S&P brokers, Owners, Managers and Chartering Brokers), our underlying messaging software can bring benefits to almost any type of business. In addition to simply sharing mailboxes, our software has many features that help maximise productivity and efficiency. Some examples of these features along with more general examples of how shared mailboxes can be used are as follows:
• Enhanced security: one way to help achieve this is by ensuring that the passwords of each individual with access to the shared mailbox (via their own login) are changed on a regular basis. At the same time basic steps can be taken, such as that those passwords should never be written down, and logging into systems using unsecured Wifi access should be prohibited. Different levels of access and varying the ability of different users to perform certain actions will also serve to protect systems and data. For more information, see our various articles on cybersecurity and the types of threats and their frequency of use.
• Inbox zero”: prompt responses and quick resolutions are a critical part of achieving “inbox zero”, the rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty or almost empty. We have a very popular feature within CompassAir called “Notifyme”. A user creates alerts in respect of important emails, thus, for example, as soon as a response is received they are made aware. Within our software users also have the ability to create discussions (see image below) around emails. This feature allows team members to make comments or observations or possibly co-ordinate next steps using only-internal comments attached to emails, thereby avoiding more emails going backwards and forwards between team members and increasing email “noise”.
• Reduced response times can be achieved through the use of automation. Message rules (see image below), for example can be created in order to allocate emails on arrival to particular team members. This allocation could be triggered by keywords appearing in the message body or title. Take the example of a Sale and Purchase Shipbroker – it may be that individual members of a team are interested in only a certain vessel. By setting up a rule such as if the name of that vessel appears in either the message title or message body, many options are then made available including the email being forwarded, colour coded, auto replied etc. In addition to the use of keywords, other examples would include the following:
• definition by customer type – filters can be applied depending on where a lead is in a sales cycle, for example
• by time – urgent emails can be forwarded to specific individuals
• by specialisation – certain emails on specific subjects can be routed automatically to specialists, general to others in the team, with the allocation possibly decided (delegated) by an office manager
• Sharing documents: as well as sharing access to messages, shared mailbox software often allows for team members to have common access to associated documents. With our own software this is available for example through integration with third party software such as Dropbox and Google Docs as well as through an internal, customisable filing system. Within CompassAir there are flexible structures for filing both emails and documents –allowing teams to share documents in this way, providing a means of common access, rather than being filed away in separate silos – this ability significantly improves productivity.
• Other ways for team productivity to be further enhanced include the use of email folders, such as in-progress, completed or possibly by classification according to topic.
• Colour coding messages: again an aspect of automation, the attention of team members can be brought to particular messages by the use of colour coding as soon as the message arrives in the inbox. This feature within our own CompassAir software is highly flexible and fully customisable. For example a message can be colour coded (in a wide range of colours) depending on such characteristics as who it is from, the subject matter, the use of keywords, whether it has attachments, as well as many more and any combination of the same. A very simple feature is the ability to flag messages. Within CompassAir messages can be flagged by individual users such that the flag is only visible to themselves or, alternatively, visible to everyone with access to that shared mailbox, in other words, the rest of the team.
• Message templates: many business emails are repetitive, having the same structure but with slightly different content each time. Whether for an individual user or a team, having easy access to customisable templates will avoid unnecessary work, thus releasing time for more valuable activities as well as avoiding errors in drafting.
• Customisable message views are a fundamental part of CompassAir software, the method by which an individual user sees the messages to which he has been granted access by the System Administrator. For example, in addition to Paul Smith having access to email@example.com, he can send and receive messages from firstname.lastname@example.org. Full customisation of views is available within CompassAir – he may want to see the two mailboxes separately in their entirety (incoming and outgoing), perhaps only those received, flagged, containing keyword etc – the number of variations is almost without limit and adaptable to his best suited way of working.