Gmail Logo

Google Groups Collaborative Inbox: Pros and Cons

When to use Google's free collaborative inbox feature (and when to skip it).
Guest Contributor
9 min read
9 min read

In a Nutshell

Google Workspace has a free shared inbox built in called the Google Groups Collaborative Inbox. Here's how to set it up and evaluate whether it's the right tool for your team.
Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

Table of Contents

All companies of many sizes and stripes have customer email enquiries that they need to respond to. At the outset of your business, you might be starting off using Gmail to manage the small number of enquiries you get per day.

When you begin to receive more customer emails and your support team expands, things can quickly turn to mayhem. What worked previously becomes woefully inadequate and you start shopping around. As your business grows, you may think about upgrading to a more sophisticated tool.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Google Groups Collaborative Inbox? Companies already using Gmail to manage their support emails might feel it’s natural to adopt the Collaborative Inbox, especially as this is a free tool.

In this post, we’ll discuss what the Collaborative Inbox is, some pros and cons, and an alternative solution.

What is a Collaborative Inbox in Google Groups?

The Google Groups Collaborative Inbox does what it says on the box. It enables teams of customer support agents to work together on customer emails, reading and responding to any email that is sent to the shared account. It doesn’t matter who responds to the customer email as the reply will always come from the shared email address.

For instance, you might give everyone in your support team access to the Collaborative Inbox for help @mycompany.com. This means that your whole team can now collaborate together on handling customer support enquiries. When a group member replies to the customer enquiry, it will send an email from help @mycompany.com.

The Google Collaborative Inbox was specifically designed with teamwork in mind. It has several features that enable your team to work better together, such as the capability to assign tasks to other group members. Your team can easily assign incoming customer enquiries to each other so they can share the burden equally.

How to create a Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

To create a Google Groups Collaborative Inbox you must first set up a Google Group.  You’ll need to be a Google Workspace administrator to proceed.

  1. Log into Google Groups at https://groups.google.com/.
  2. Select the “Create group” button on the top left-hand corner.
  3. Input your details, including group name, your group email address and your group description. Select “Next” to continue.
  4. Choose your privacy settings then select “Next”.
  5. Add your members using their email address. Finally, select “Create group”.

Once you’ve set up your Google Group, you can proceed with setting up your Collaborative Inbox.

  1. Log into your Google Groups account at https://groups.google.com.
  2. Select the name of your group.
  3. Select “Group settings” from the bottom of the left-hand navigation bar.
  4. Find the option to “Enable additional Google Groups features” and select “Collaborative inbox”.
  5. Save your changes. Voila! Your Collaborative Inbox is set up.

enable google groups collaborative inbox features

Benefits of using Google Groups as a Collaborative Inbox

Naturally, using Google Groups as a Collaborative Inbox has a number of benefits.

  • Google Groups Collaborative Inbox is a free tool. You won’t have to pay to use this feature, helping you keep costs low for your customer support team. You don’t have to agonize over whether you have the budget for an expensive new tool.
  • It’s part of Google Workspace. You can continue to benefit from the security and reliability of using Google’s products to manage your customer support enquiries. You can stick with a trusted vendor.
  • The setup is simple. Collaborative Inbox takes less than five minutes to set up, meaning you can get up and running straight away.
  • No more sharing login details. With Google Groups Collaborative Inbox, anyone you have added to the group can read and respond to emails using their own account. This setup is more secure than several people sharing the same login details to access the inbox.
  • It’s built for collaboration. Unlike a standard Gmail inbox, Collaborative Inbox comes with collaborative features such as the ability to assign tasks, update the status of emails, a shared inbox, and more.
  • More accountability. When you use a shared inbox like Google’s collaborative inbox, you can assign responsibility to different group members. Being able to assign conversations is really the primary benefit of a shared inbox.
  • Multiple team members have the ability to share your Collaborative Inbox. As long as your team members are part of your Google Group, they will be able to access your customer support inbox and manage incoming emails.

Downsides of using a Collaborative Inbox in Google Groups

There are some big downsides of using Google’s Collaborative Inbox.

No way of preventing duplicate replies

One of the biggest problems that customer support teams have to overcome is sending duplicate replies to customers. This happens when multiple members of your support team reply to or take the time to resolve the same customer support request. Each support rep participates in the customer support request because they don’t have any way of knowing that it has already been dealt with.

Not only does this create a negative impression of your brand in front of customers, but much time could be saved and productivity increased if you eliminated duplicate replies.

The Google Groups Collaborative Inbox has no way of stopping duplicate replies. This creates the risk of your support reps responding to a request that is already being worked on, or perhaps has already received a reply.

More: How Collision Detection Prevents Duplicate Replies

Agents can’t talk to each other

Despite the fact that this is a “collaboration” tool, the Collaborative Inbox offers limited opportunities for agents to talk to each other within the interface. When you assign an email to a particular team member, there is no way to leave an internal note alongside the thread explaining what you want them to do or providing crucial context.

This means that whoever takes over the ticket will have to read through the whole email thread to understand what is going on, leading to lowered productivity for agents and longer wait times for customers. It’s much harder for agents to respond to customer emails and to escalate emails that need the attention of someone more senior.  This can lead to a messy situation where you are forwarding around emails to communicate.

The absence of the ability to add notes to conversations is a huge drawback of using the Collaborative Inbox.

More: Use Shared Notes to Collaborate on Support

No reporting or data on your team

Every company needs access to the right data to improve their customer service operations and understand performance. Sadly, Google Groups Collaborative Inbox offers no reporting capabilities so you’ll remain in the dark when it comes to customer support tickets.

There’s no way to find out how individual agents are performing or your team as a whole. It will be more difficult to figure out whether agents are coming up to standard in their role and whether any changes need to be made.

No one will have any oversight over the volume and kinds of tickets that your support inbox is receiving. You won’t know when it’s time to hire more agents or the particular types of topics that customers tend to get in touch about.

Without reporting and analytics, it’s impossible to make strategic improvements. Your customer service strategy will remain backed by guesswork and intuition.

More: See Keeping’s Advanced Reporting

No automation features to enhance productivity

There are certain tasks dealt with by the customer support team that are repetitive and time-consuming – but it doesn’t have to be this way. These tasks include assigning requests to the right person, flagging high-priority requests and deleting spam emails from the inbox.

For instance, whenever a new email comes into the Collaborative Inbox, the person managing the inbox will have to assign it to the right agent after reviewing its contents. Perhaps the inbox manager will assign it to another agent randomly.

But if the new email is part of an existing thread, the inbox manager might have to take a little time to work out which customer support rep is already handling that particular customer. This only takes a few moments, but the time spent organizing emails soon adds up into hours spent.

Google Groups Collaborative Inbox cannot solve these repetitive tasks, because it doesn’t come with automation features that could enhance your team’s productivity.

More: Use Workflows to Automate your Inbox

Can’t create templates for common replies

Customer service teams often receive many of the same enquiries that makes answering them repetitive. These enquiries could include:

  • What are your opening hours?
  • What’s your refund policy?
  • How much is shipping?

And more. Customer service reps could save so much time if they had access to canned response templates that would enable them to avoid typing out the same answers from scratch.

Unfortunately, Google Groups Collaborative Inbox doesn’t offer the ability to create and share email response templates. The only option is to copy and paste from a document or manually write out the answers to customer queries.

More: See How Templates Work

A simple, better alternative to using a Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

Did you know that a Collaborative Inbox isn’t your only option? If you were to settle for the Collaborative Inbox, you’d be struggling against its limited functionality and it wouldn’t really meet the needs of a busy customer support team.

There is a better way. Try Keeping, customer support help desk software that sits on top of Gmail. You keep all the features of Gmail that you love while being able to benefit from Keeping’s collaborative inbox.

Keeping's Team Reports Page

Here are some of the features of Keeping:

  • Lightning-fast set up – get going in three minutes by setting up a Keeping mailbox, forwarding your shared email address and inviting your team. There is no complicated software to configure, only clean, instant support.
  • Collaboration features – Keeping lets everyone in your team receive, respond to and assign support emails directly from within their own mailbox. All support emails get organized in a new section of your mailbox and are separated from your regular emails.
  • Reporting dashboard – Keeping’s advanced reporting gives you the data you need to understand how your team responds to customers. Track first response time, volume of requests, and how each of your team members responds.
  • Collision detection – Keeping tells you when someone is already responding to an email so you don’t duplicate your efforts. It locks the customer support request so someone else can’t start working on it.
  • Shared templates – Keeping gives you the ability to store frequently used replies as shared templates, which you can insert into customer emails with one click. You no longer have to answer the same questions repeatedly.
  • Shared notes – customer service agents can talk to each other inside Keeping by leaving shared notes on their email tickets to provide their co-workers with more context about the inquiry.
  • Automation – Use simple if/then logic to automatically assign tickets, prioritize important customers, or ignore spam and promotional emails. Stop spending so much time on repetitive, manual tasks.

More: See a Google Collaborative Inbox Demo Using Keeping

Summing up

A Google Groups Collaborative Inbox may be a sufficient solution for some teams out there, but most will find it ill-suited to their needs. Especially as your team grows, you will need to invest in software that lets you easily handle a burgeoning number of support requests.

We feel confident in recommending Keeping as a customer support solution that can meet your requirements. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is to set up and how easy it is to use, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it earlier.

Give your customers the experience they expect with the right software – Collaborative Inbox doesn’t quite make the cut.

See for yourself

Keeping is the fastest, simplest way to manage customer support right inside Gmail.

Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath
Catherine is a content writer and community builder for creative and ethical companies. She is often writing case studies, help documentation, and articles about customer support. Her writing has helped businesses to attract curious audiences and transform them into loyal advocates. You can find more of her work at https://awaywithwords.co.