Brief | Front, Shared Inbox Pioneer
Front is moving ahead with more channels of messaging, more integrations, and more automation
I have long been intrigued by the idea of shared inboxes for business teams. And in fact, companies do often try to make off-the-shelf tools like Gmail work in that way, using generic addresses like email@example.com. However, since email is actually based on a one-to-one, store-and-forward communication model, it doesn’t work as the sales team (or customer support, or marketing) might like.
A number of companies have attempted to build shared inbox capabilities into Gmail, such as Gmelius, Hiver, and others. I plan to take a look at those in other posts.
However, the cleanest way to build a shared inbox is the course that Front has taken, namely to design and build an email client from the ground up to support social affordances unavailable in the baseline concept of email.
Email and Chat: Operating at Two Tempos
The single most important idea in social email is that an email — for example, a request for information or a demo sent to firstname.lastname@example.org — is routed to the social inbox tool as an email object. The members of the sales team can view the email, and chat about the subject matter. As in the case below, where Anna Magnus has sent an email directly to email@example.com, but Emily is sharing that email with a team within Frontapp, and she @mentions Joe in a chat message.
When Joe opens his client he would see the email and the chat message: the whole discussion is in context without copying-and-pasting, forwarding emails or any of the normal mechanisms we use in conventional, non-social email systems.
Of course, Front also supports private email and private conversations in a private space, and you can share those with team members by @mentioning them, while retaining privacy in general.
Getting Fancy: Automation and Integrations
To scale up and automate a torrent of shared email, Front has invested in automation, such as routing messages to specific people based on attributes of the email. For example, all emails from a specific company could be routed to Joe, or those with a specific keyword in the subject line could be directed to Emily.
Front has integration with a long list of tools — like Salesforce, Intercom, and Hubspot — so that contact information and status can be automatically pulled into the context of the discussion.
Companies are increasingly likely to communicate with customers, partners, and prospects through messaging apps, like Whatsapp, as in this image, which shows a rule for automatically sending a response when a Whatsapp message arrives in the Support — Tier 1 inbox:
Front supports a short list of work management tools, like Asana, and Trello, so an email can lead to a task being created:
The Bottom Line
Email is the cockroach of communication tools: it’s been here since the beginning and will be here long after we have all retired. Many functions in companies are outward-facing, and need to communicate with customers, partners, and prospects in the lowest-common-denominator communication channel of email, and the shared inbox model is the smartest way to go.
Front is one of the pioneers in shared inbox, and its trajectory — supporting more messaging apps, more integrations, and more intuitive approaches to automation — show that they deserve to be considered as the market-defining tool in this category.