Updated Jun 8 2020 :: by Katie Joll

How did you operate a support or helpdesk environment in the early days of your business?

For many companies, starting out with a shared inbox is the norm. All helpdesk emails go to a common email address and multiple employees have access to that inbox.

This can work very well for a while, but companies often reach a point where they start to question whether they need to change their system. The choice is usually to go for a ticketing system - helpdesk software that has a few more features than what a shared inbox can offer.

It's always good to weigh up your options, so here we're doing a comparison between shared inboxes and ticketing systems. How do each stack up?

Download here: How to choose a ticketing system

Shared Inboxes

Shared inboxes are very easy to set up. If you're in a startup phase, setting up a free shared inbox can be a very attractive prospect. As it sounds, a shared inbox is an email account where multiple users can read and send email messages.

Some shared inbox accounts can also provide a common calendar, which means all users can view and schedule appointments if needed.

Shared inboxes provide a generic email address that all support emails go to. For companies that need their first employee support desk or customer helpdesk, they can be a quick solution.

The pros

Shared inboxes are easy to set up. They provide a basic, single point of contact for users which reduces any complexity for them.

For the service or helpdesk team, a shared inbox can be a simple, inexpensive solution that requires minimal configuration, especially if the team is small and request numbers are low. The support function can quite reasonably get started in this way, as long as people are still able to easily view and keep up with what is happening.

The cons

The issues for shared inboxes really start once the support team starts to grow or when support requests increase to less manageable levels. When this happens, the limitations of shared inboxes really start to show.

For starters, this is when you might see "agent collision." Imagine a scenario where an agent spots an email that hasn't been responded to yet and clicks on it to take action. Only, at exactly the same time, another agent has done the same thing. Both agents send a reply to the user. At best, it seems oddly redundant to the user that they got two messages. At worst, the messages are contradictory in nature leaving the customer wondering what is wrong with the support desk. In some cases, "collision" might occur between more than two agents at once, making the situation even worse.

Another disadvantage of shared inboxes is a lack of accountability or ownership, especially with more agents on the team. This is where you might start to see issues such as "orphaned" emails, where no one picks them up because they either assume someone else will, or they're deliberately avoiding it for whatever reason. This is another poor experience for the user, who doesn't get a response to their query.

There are many other challenges with shared inboxes that start to appear when you get busier. For example, it becomes harder to track cases, say, by assigning a ticket number. Alongside this, it's difficult to track against any SLAs you have set. How will you know whether your team is performing to your standards or not? It's also easy for messages to get lost in the void that is an overflowing shared inbox, meaning they're probably not hitting those SLAs anyway.

Most shared inboxes also don't have features such as allowing communications between support staff to be attached. They might want to add internal notes to cases so that any other agents can see them. This can become a real issue when those conversations are offline and undocumented. Important context can be lost or unavailable to anyone who wasn't part of the conversation originally.

In terms of workflows and ease of use, shared inboxes don't usually integrate with features such as knowledge bases, which can help to streamline the flow of information and ensure a consistent experience.

Shared inboxes are prone to "orphan tickets" and other support issues

Ticketing Systems

A ticketing system is a software package that is especially built for issue-tracking, particularly for the help or support role. The system basically helps companies to manage all service or support cases via a unique "ticket", or tracking number for each issue. It is an organized communication channel that allows for easy tracking of every case.

The pros

There are many pros of ticketing systems that eliminate many of the challenges usually associated with shared inboxes.

For starters, ticketing systems have clear ownership and accountability of each issue. Our JitBit email-based ticketing system allows you to assign categories and tags to tickets, as well as assign agents to specific tags or categories. Additionally, any duplicates can be merged so that customers are getting one consistent line of communication and threads can easily be reviewed. No more orphan tickets!

Agent collision is not an issue with ticketing systems because tickets are managed by the agent assigned. If they require escalating to anyone else, they can be reassigned so that ownership remains clear and you don't have multiple agents working on the same ticket.

Another major bonus is that user (or company) history can easily be reviewed via a ticketing system. This helps to provide context where it may be needed, also to check on what may have been promised to the customer previously. By contrast, a shared inbox system tends to involve digging around, hoping that old emails can still be found.

Most helpdesk ticketing systems also include some method for allowing communications between support staff to be attached to the ticket for easy reference. This is great for transparency and for ensuring that follow-through is completed.

An important feature of most ticketing systems is reporting and tracking, often with a clear dashboard for a simple overview. This is key for managing SLAs and tracking the performance of your support team. When data is provided at-a-glance, it saves the digging that would be required to get the same information from a shared inbox.

The cons

When compared to a shared inbox, the most glaring con of a ticketing system is that it will cost more to implement. Helpdesk software is generally sold as either self-hosted or SaaS (JitBit offers both).

Self-hosted software means you install it on your own system and you need to take care of things like updates on your own. However, you can essentially do what you like within the license of a self-hosted package. Technically, you could run it forever, so the price usually is higher than a SaaS-based system.

A SaaS software is hosted by the software company. It is cloud-based and the software company is responsible for deploying things like updates and maintenance. Most SaaS are sold on a subscription basis, either monthly or annually.

Besides that, there can be considerable variation between ticketing systems in terms of features and how they work. It might take a bit more homework to figure out the best system to use and setup is not quite as quick as a shared inbox.

Download our suggestions on how to choose a ticketing system here

Final thoughts

Ticketing systems have several advantages over a shared inbox, especially when it comes to accountability, tracking and making the helpdesk function manageable. However, this is especially apparent once the helpdesk gets busy - many companies start out with a shared inbox and this works out fine while they are small.

From our perspective, a ticketing system is a must-have for any company or organization that has more than a few support agents and handles multiple daily requests. The ability to monitor, ensure a good user experience, and track against metrics underpins a successful helpdesk.


'Shared Inbox vs. Ticketing System: The Pros and Cons' was written by Katie Joll
Katie Joll
Katie is our writer who specializes in technology and travel. When she's not writing, you'll probably find her on a trail, taking photos.


Subscribe comments

Brought to you by

Help desk software

Jitbit Helpdesk