The best thing about my job is that it gives me the opportunity to talk to customers. It’s an honor and pleasure to hear them speak about our products and services. At times it’s humbling and at other times it leaves me with a sense of pride. I could talk to customers all day long and not be tired!
The conversation gets doubly exciting when the customer has switched from Google Apps for Business to Office 365. We see more and more customers and partners recognizing their love for Outlook. These organizations listened to their employees and decided that Office 365 was the right choice to keep their organization productive and satisfied. As I talk to these customers, there are a number of capabilities that they callout as missing in Gmail. Here are a few reasons that come up consistently with users who prefer using Outlook over Gmail.
1. Integration across email, calendar and contacts — Email is the primary mode of communication at work today. Customers tell us they look at Outlook as one place to effectively communicate at work to get things done. Whether it is to setup meetings, find more information about a contact, dial into conference calls or jump onto online meetings, Outlook is their hub. They tell us how they love the consistent experience of the inbox since it gets them going on their task without much thinking. As they start Outlook each morning, this consistent look gets them going every day with minimal to no training. Gmail on the other hand frequently tries a new experience e.g. new compose or new inbox.
2. Offline access to email — A big topic in all our discussions is being able to work on email without worrying whether they are connected to Internet. Customers tell us when traveling on an airplane, their favorite work-related activity is to clear up their email backlog. Most of them work in Outlook during their journey. They can read and respond to email just like they would when they are at their desk connected to the Internet. As the Internet connection is re-established, the email is automatically sent. With Gmail offline, users have access to only past month’s email when there’s no Internet connection. Also, users can access their email offline on Chrome and Safari browsers only. By contrast, Outlook does not have these restrictions.
3. Organize email your way — Not all users work the same way. Some sort their folders alphabetically; others don’t. Some like to simply search for their email while others need the ability to look for their email in specific “bins”. As a result, they relate to folders in Outlook better. Users have limited ways to organize their email in Gmail. They are limited to only use labels to organize their email. Asking users to relearn their way of organizing email is simply unacceptable to them. As one user said, “it felt like trying to get work done with workarounds.”
4. Categorize email items to stay organized — With Outlook, users have the ability to assign categories to various items (e.g. message, calendar appointment, task etc.) An item can be assigned multiple categories to classify it in more than one way. And those who need visual cues have the ability to color-code the categories. At a glance, users can see how they spend their time across different areas by looking at the color coding of the events on the calendar. Those who use categories and color coding to keep their work organized cannot imagine doing without it. These customers had to restrict themselves as they tried to use the colors to differentiate items in their inbox, tasks etc. in Google. The inability to associate colors with different items in email rendered color coding meaningless for these customers.
5. Multiple ways to find email — Users need multiple ways to find their email. Using search to find email works mostly when users know what they’re looking for. But users insist “sometimes you just don’t know what to look for” and they have to rely on where they filed an email to go find it. The ability to sort email by date and size, to specify the timeframe, and to scope the places to look are all various ways to find the email when you don’t know how to describe your search. Outlook provides multiple ways to track down what users are looking for, whether its search, folders, categories, sort emails in inbox, search folders, etc. With Gmail, users do not have a way to sort email by size, date or sender and are stuck with just one thing – search!
6. Flags, changing importance of email — Outlook makes it easy to flag email to grab quick attention. One customer described it as, “when I see a red exclamation marked email in my inbox, I know I have to get to it quickly.” The lack of the “red exclamation mark” in Gmail leaves users confused as to what email is more important than others. Because they cannot set the “red exclamation mark” while composing email, they are unable to get the right priority of attention to their email from their recipients. By contrast, Outlook makes it easy to not only include a “red exclamation mark” but also flag email for rapid follow-up or change the importance of an email to “low” to indicate lack of urgency. Customers tell us these seemingly little capabilities make users far more productive on daily basis than using Gmail without these.
7. Rules to minimize email clutter — Customers tell us how much they love Outlook, and yet they continue to push us to help them better manage the clutter in their inbox. We continue to make progress on that front every day. Some users use rules to move items to various folders and assign categories to stay organized. This helps them remove unwanted email and minimize the clutter in their inboxes. Gmail has filter capability, but the actions you can take after you filter these emails is limited in nature. Customers tell us it is easier to setup rules in Outlook to flag important email based on the sender.
8. Rich contact information — It’s great to hear users describe how they’re able to find someone’s office by looking at their contact card. Contact card in Outlook provides rich information about the user. The photo in the contact card enables users to associate faces with names. “Presence” information shows the status of the user, for example, whether they’re busy, offline, etc. Users can quickly and easily start a chat conversation with the contact, schedule an appointment, make a quick phone call, or start an online conference. And unlike Gmail, the contact card in Outlook also includes each person’s job title, department and location information.
9. Scheduling meeting rooms — Outlook lets users schedule resources like meeting rooms, projectors, etc simply by adding them as a resource to your meeting. The resource then functions just like any attendee, including the ability to auto-respond to the meeting invite as well as the ability to see the free/busy schedule. Users who want to do this easily with Gmail end up frustrated as the experience of scheduling meeting resources with Gmail is a cumbersome, multiple-step process involving primary and secondary calendars.
10. Mail tips — How many of you have inadvertently sent an email to a long distribution list instead of the one person that you intended to? I am sure many of you can relate to this scenario, just like I have embarrassed myself! For users like me, mail tips in Outlook is a savior. As you begin composing email, a message pops up to indicate that you might be sending mail to a large distribution list. It’s a good warning sign if it wasn’t the intention of your email. This is a great example of enabling you to make the right decisions, while continuing to help you be productive.This capability pops even more when the recipient of your email is on vacation or has their automatic responses turned on. As you begin composing the email, the automatic response message for the recipient shows up within the message, thus saving you the headache of waiting for the vacation response to plan the appropriate next follow-up action. Customers who have switched from Gmail love it when the mail tip pops up in Outlook telling them the urgent message might be headed for someone who is unavailable for a few days.
11. Ignore conversations — Some conversations are worth ignoring. Often such conversations are an outcome of someone’s oversight or “who has the last say” attitude. Outlook has a very simple way to ignore such conversations. With a simple click, all existing and new emails in this conversation are moved to deleted Items folder, thus removing clutter from your inbox to help you focus on more important tasks at hand. Users also like the clean up option, where only the latest email thread with all comments is kept intact, while the rest of the emails are moved to the deleted items folder. All unique forked conversations are also kept intact to ensure all comments are still available in one place. With Gmail, users have a way to mute the conversation, but this capability is not easily discoverable and it does not work if the recipient gets added back on the To line of the email.
12. Sharing and delegating calendars — Administrative assistants who are responsible for managing multiple calendars tell us that working with Google Calendar was one of the most painful experiences for them. With Google, they claim that they had a “calendar mess” to deal with, leading some to use paper-based calendars to keep things in check! With Google Calendar, you get the option to either share all details on the calendar or just the free/busy schedule. It does not have the ability to share the free/busy with just the subject of the events. It lacks the level of control as to what details to share. After switching back from Gmail to Outlook, customers have much better control over managing calendars. For example, users can decide whether to share each person’s “free/busy” status along with the subject for the meeting. They can also choose to share full details about each meeting including the subject, attendees, the location, etc. Once the calendar is delegated, administrative assistants can easily manage the delegated calendar alongside their own calendar in a simple side-by-side view and minimize the confusion of making changes to the wrong calendar!
Having spoken to so many customers who have switched from Google Apps during the past year, I can safely conclude that not everyone used Outlook the same way. Based on their role and organization, they missed Outlook for a variety of reasons. The core of what Outlook gives them is the ability to use it in a way that makes them more productive in their job, whether it is an administrative assistant helping the leader to be more successful or an executive sending a high importance email to the team. The choice and flexibility is what they missed the most about Outlook.
Please click through this slideshow to see some of the differences for yourself: