How to structure your business email addresses

Choosing your email may not seem like a crucial decision but will the structure work as your start-up grows? And how does it reflect your branding? Find out more here…

On the face of it, email is a supremely simple communications medium. If your business has registered a domain name and created its own website, the chances are that you provide at least one email address to enable existing and potential customers to get in touch with you quickly and easily.

But while it’s straightforward to set up an email address, deciding how to structure your business email is not quite as simple. Think for a moment about the diverse range of people who contact your business each and every day. Some might be potential customers who have browsed your site and now want more information on specific products. Others may be long-standing clients who have built up a well-established relationship with key members of the sales team. Equally, you might also be receiving queries from suppliers chasing payment on invoices or potential partners taking the first step in floating a business proposition.

So, the chances are that as the business grows, you will not just want one or two but many email addresses. Some will be assigned to Bill or Kate in sales or Tom and Sue in accounts. Others will be so-called generic emails, such as ‘info’ or ‘accounts’@your-company-brand.com.

In other words, you’ll be managing a portfolio of email addresses, usually all with the same domain name but with individual prefixes relating to members of staff or specific departments or functions.

Structuring your portfolio of internal email addresses certainly can’t be described as rocket science, but it does require thought. So let’s have a closer look at the options.

Shared inboxes

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether to use a generic pre-fix such as ‘sales’ or ‘info’ as a first point of contact with customers.

Neil Westwood, managing director of Magic Whiteboard, says addresses of this kind provide a good means to capture relevant emails in specific categories. “The advantage of using a sales@ address is that we don’t miss any emails,” he says. “All staff can see the same emails and none go missing. One of us will action it.”

If you use generic addresses – which might be seen by everyone in the sales team or indeed all members of staff – it is absolutely vital that they are acted upon. In the case of Magic Whiteboard, once an incoming mail arrives in a shared inbox, the company follows a set process to ensure that it is dealt with.

“We flag emails and colour code them when they have been actioned, or we delete them,” says Westwood. “We manage emails with the 4 Ds, namely do it, don’t do it, delay it – to ask for advice – or delete it.”

One advantage of handling emails in this way is that managers can see everything that is happening in terms of incoming orders and questions as everything goes into a shared pool. “I like to see all the orders and web enquiries so I get a feel for what customers are asking,” adds Westwood.

Getting personal

As Hedley Smith, CTO of online property platform Settled points out, emails coming in via the sales@ or info@ route can also be sent to personal mailboxes within the company. “You can ‘alias’ additional addresses like sales@your-company-brand.com, tech@your-company-brand.com to personal emails for the time being,” he says.

It works like this. In a small company, the sales director – let’s call her Anna Smith might have her own personal mailbox, which receives all messages addressed to her. In addition, she can set up an additional ‘alias’ such as a sales@ address which will also direct messages to her personal mailbox. This ensures that Anna takes responsibility for incoming sales-related messages. As the business changes, traffic from the ‘sales’ address can be redirected to other members of staff.

A break from the norm

Shared inboxes and generic addresses don’t have to conform to prescriptive categories. For instance, if you’re contacting Jayne Moore Media for the first time, you may well be addressing your message with the prefix itsneverdull@. “We thought info@ was too boring,” says Gemma Ray, account director at the Liverpool-based PR and reputation management company.

It’s a reminder that the humble email address can play an important part in the branding of your business. If you work in PR, media or the creative industries, you might want to go for something just a little bit wacky to set yourself apart from the crowd. If you work in management consultancy, finance or accountancy, then you might conclude that sobriety is the order of the day. It’s also important to think about your target customers and their expectations.

Personal email protocols

Most of us have probably had the experience of sending a message via, say, an info@ address only to receive a reply from a named individual – say John.Smith@your-company-brand.com. And from that point onwards your contact with the company tends to be direct with John.

Most businesses have a set email protocol that applies to all members of staff. This may be first name (John) followed by the @ and domain name. Or it could be first name dot second name (John.Smith) or even a surname followed by the initial of the first name. The advantage of a fixed protocol – aside from the neatness that comes with consistency – is that once a customer knows the name of a member of staff they can easily work out the email address of others should they need to get in touch.

Some companies – and Magic Whiteboard is a case in point – opt for a simple first name prefix. “We are a small business and wanted it to feel more personal,” says Westwood.

However, this can cause problems as the company grows. What happens if you have more than one John or Kate? As Bradley McLoughlin, managing partner at accountancy firm Braant points out, if you’re planning to expand rapidly, a combination of first and second names is probably more flexible. “We’re extremely ambitious and knew we’d end up employing a large number of bookkeepers and accountants, so we knew the format such as joe@ wouldn’t work as it would be likely that we’d have two Joes working for us,” he says. “So we opted for the format of joe.bloggs@. This also projects a professional and transparent approach which fits with our overall ethos.”

Most businesses of any size will have a mix of email addresses sitting in front of the company domain name. Some will be personal and others may be shared and accessible by all or some members of staff.

The key to successful management is to assign the correct people to receive messages going to shared accounts) and define the actions that should be taken. Equally businesses should think about when communications between the customer and generic address should be replaced by a more personal touch as according to a Verisign UK online survey from June 2016 78% of UK consumers trust a business email more if it came from a company-branded email address.

This article is a part of the ‘Getting Online’ series sponsored by Verisign.

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