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Article 11 min read

5 steps to move from email to Zendesk

Learn how to migrate your shared inbox to a Zendesk account—and see why professional CX software is worth the investment.

By Sarah Olson, Staff Writer, @seolson5

Last updated December 15, 2022

Everyone has to start somewhere, and for many SMBs, that means managing customer service conversations with an email client like Outlook or Gmail.

This works for a while—when you have only a few customers. But as you expand your reach and introduce new products and services, you will inevitably bump up against some serious limitations with this approach.

Even some of the most basic functions of customer service software are difficult to achieve using email, such as:

  • Assigning an issue to an agent

  • Tracking issues to resolution

  • Monitoring agent KPIs like reply time or handle time

  • Collecting and measuring customer feedback

Maybe you’ve tried to fill the gap with a series of clunky workarounds and convoluted spreadsheets. We’ve all been there. But at some point, you have to say enough is enough.

Read on to learn how to transition from a shared inbox to professional CX software.

Challenges of using an email client for customer service

When you use an email client that’s not designed for customer service, it shows.

You can’t answer questions as quickly. You double up on a reply by mistake. You are constantly forwarding emails and repeating information. The process is time-consuming and inefficient.

61% of customers would switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience.

These pain points will only become more obvious as your customer base grows and emails start pouring in faster than you can reply.

More than half of customers would switch to a competitor after just one bad service experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022. So you need to get it right, and you need to be consistent.

Staying with a shared inbox is risky because:

  • It’s difficult to organize and track customer conversations across teams
    With an email client, you can quickly lose track of conversations. You can’t assign tasks to specific team members, which makes it harder to keep track of who is doing what. You may end up duplicating communications, or on the flip side, ignoring an important message from a customer.
  • You can’t automate customer service workflows
    Email clients don’t have the ability to do automatic routing or workflow automation. With a solution like Zendesk, you can build workflows that run automatically, like confirming receipt or escalating an issue to a specific individual or team. You can also use customer response templates with just one click.
  • It’s harder to embrace new channels, like social media or messaging
    Any other support channels you add will be siloed from your support team, which inevitably creates confusion. With a cloud-based platform, you can manage all your channels from a unified workspace, and you can talk to customers on any channel without losing track of the conversation.
  • You can’t easily retain customer conversation history and insights
    Emails will get buried, and you may lose sight of important customer context. Customers expect personalized service, and they get frustrated when they have to repeat basic information like their address or account information. Customer service software allows you to capture customer data and have it at the ready whenever a customer reaches out.
  • Making frequent mistakes send the wrong message to customers
    All the little inconveniences add up, and you may need to work harder to retain loyal customers. More than half of customers would switch to a competitor after one bad service experience, so you don’t have much wiggle room to get it right. But if you succeed, CX can set you apart from your competitors.
Young woman wearing overalls looking down at her cell phone

Why switch to a cloud-based customer service solution

As your business continues to grow, you’ll need to be able to handle many more requests in the same amount of time. You can achieve that by automating customer service workflows and making important customer details available in your workspace so agents can work more efficiently.

You can also bring multiple support channels—email, social media, live chat, SMS, etc.—under one roof so your team has a clear line of sight into everything that’s happening and nothing slips through the cracks.

High-performing teams are more than twice as likely to have adopted multiple support channels compared to underperforming ones.

One of the tenets of good customer service is meeting customers where they are, on the channels they prefer. With a cloud-based service solution, you can provide a seamless experience across multiple channels, and you can continue to expand your service offerings as your company reaches maturity.

Here are a few benefits of using CX software versus an email client:

  • Respond to customers faster
    Most customers expect a response in less than 12 hours for email, and even faster on social media and messaging apps. CX software gives you important details in the workspace and allows you to pre-save canned responses to common problems, so you jump into action quickly.
  • Give more specific, personalized responses
    You can also make existing customer data available in your workspace with apps like User Data or Customer 360. You can save the customer a few extra steps in the process, like having to repeat their account information, and your agents can offer more helpful advice based on their history.
  • Save time with workflow automations designed specifically for your team
    With more robust tools, you can build your own workflows based on your team’s needs. For example, you can automatically copy your Finance team on any accounting questions. You can also create automations for routine tasks, like confirming receipt or following up on a thread that’s gone cold.
  • Keep a record of every interaction and the steps to resolution
    CX software keeps a record of everything in one place, and it’s much easier to search and filter using tags. When you successfully solve a problem, all the steps will be outlined for future reference. You can even publish these answers as articles in your help center using the Knowledge Capture app in Zendesk.
  • Capture data and analytics you can feed back into your business
    Customer support data contains valuable insight. For example, if customers repeatedly ask for a new feature, you can share this information with your product team to inform their development roadmap. You can also identify opportunities for upsells.
Woman working at a laptop celebrating with confetti falling all around her

5 steps to move from a shared inbox to Zendesk

You wouldn’t buy a car without driving it first, and the same is true for software. We highly recommend signing up for a two-week free trial so you can experience the Zendesk interface and its benefits for yourself.

  1. Take Zendesk for a test drive
  2. Forward your customer support emails to Zendesk
  3. Turn on Agent Workspace in Zendesk
  4. Start responding to customers in Zendesk
  5. Measure agent performance and track KPIs

1. Take Zendesk for a test drive

Once you verify your trial account, you can take a self-guided walkthrough of Zendesk basics. We’ll explain how a ticketing system works and show you how you can get even more mileage out of Zendesk with branded help centers, messaging, and AI chatbots. (When you’re ready, of course.)

There are also free on-demand training videos that everyone on your team can use to get familiar with Zendesk and see what it can do. Your team can even obtain Zendesk certifications to uplevel their skills and add them their LinkedIn profiles.

When you’re ready to buy, simply click the “Buy Zendesk” button in the upper right corner of your trial instance. Someone on our team will jump for joy when you do.

2. Forward your existing customer support email address to your Zendesk account

Update the settings in your current email client to forward incoming emails to the new Zendesk address that you created.

You can use host mapping to change the domain name from to a domain name that you own, so your customer support interactions can be completely branded.

If you want to retain past customer conversations, you can use the Help Desk Migration app to transfer data from Gmail, Outlook, Freshdesk, and others.

You’ll manage all your customer conversations from the Agent Workspace, where incoming messages can be tagged based on priority, product line, or type of issue.

For example, you may want to identify technical issues that require input from IT versus issues that could be handled by your customer-facing team.

What’s the difference between an email and a ticket?

Unlike an email, a customer support ticket is a data-rich container that enables you to categorize and contextualize customer requests, such as:

  • Assigning tickets to specific agents or agent groups

  • Setting status and priority

  • Adding tags based on product or issue type

  • Capturing notes for future reference

Email systems don’t provide this level of detail.

With a ticketing system, you create metadata that can be used to better understand your customers’ biggest challenges and pain points. These insights can inform every part of your business from sales and CX to product development and engineering.

3. Turn on Agent Workspace in Zendesk

Another benefit of using customer service software is that your workspace is highly customizable. It can also be overwhelming when you’re coming from an email client where everything is very prescriptive, so we have a few recommendations for how to set up your Agent Workspace.

  • Organize tickets by creating inbox Views
    Zendesk Support provides a number of essential default Views, but you can create Views to organize your support requests any way that you’d like. You can think of Views as multiple shared inboxes for your support tickets—they can be set up for different types of requests or for agents who handle a certain issue.
  • Set up macros to save time on commonly asked questions
    You may already have a list of pre-approved responses for FAQs, in which case, this step will be pretty easy. Once you add your macros in Zendesk, then your agents can auto-fill responses with just one click. Plus, you can update macros once and they will automatically be applied for all agents, so you don’t have to worry about someone not getting the memo.
  • Create business rules (triggers and automations) to automate repetitive tasks
    Zendesk comes with a set of default business rules already in place. Do not deactivate all triggers to start. Triggers are the mechanism that delivers email notifications of ticket updates to end-users and agents. If all triggers are deactivated, email notifications about ticket activity will not be sent. Once you’re more comfortable with the ins and outs of Zendesk, you can tweak the workflows to your liking.

Watch this quick tutorial on how to turn on Agent Workspace in your Zendesk account.

4. Start responding to customers in Zendesk

When a customer sends you a request, they’ll receive an automatic reply saying that their request has been received and someone will be reaching out to them soon. This provides peace of mind for the customer and keeps them from spamming you until they hear an answer.

You can add any appropriate tags, and then assign the ticket to the appropriate team member. Or maybe that’s you, in which case, you can start responding.

Once the customer’s issue is resolved, you can close the ticket, trusting that all the important information about the interaction will be retained.

You can also set up automatic customer satisfaction surveys in Zendesk. When you close a ticket, the customer will automatically receive a message asking them how satisfied they are with the service they received, with the option to provide written feedback on their experience.

Having data-backed results is critical, and with automatic surveys in Zendesk, you can collect data continuously without having to lift a finger.

5. Measure agent performance and track KPIs

Everything needs to be data-driven these days, and customer service is no exception. We built a reporting dashboard directly in Zendesk Support, so it’s easy to stay on top of KPIs and measure the impact of your efforts.

Image showing return on investment stats of companies who harness anayltics in Zendesk

Zendesk also allows you to monitor agent performance analytics, so you can track KPIs and identify areas of improvement for individuals and teams.

You’ll probably want to look at help desk metrics like:

  • First reply time: How long does it take before an agent responds to a ticket?
  • Average handle time: How much time does it take from first contact to resolution?
  • One-touch resolution: What percentage of requests can be solved with just a single reply?

Watch our analytics demo video to see how it works:

Customer service analytics can be shared out across your organization to inform sales, product development, marketing, and more. You can demonstrate the value of customer service to company leaders, and you’ll be able to make the case for strategic CX investments like adding more service channels or building a help center.

You deserve an upgrade

Stop the madness of shared inboxes and spreadsheets, and upgrade to a customer service solution that will do the heavy lifting for you. You deserve a better experience, and more importantly, so do your customers.

Start your free two-week trial of Zendesk.

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