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Practices to keep your ticket tracking on point
Not every issue is an incident or an indicator that something is broken. Some issues are just part of normal day-to-day activities, but all issues have an impact on your business. They impact your customer’s perceptions of your company. They impact your staff productivity. They impact your operational resilience and vulnerability to risks. Issues aren’t free, they have a cost and left unresolved, even small issues can compound to have a big impact on your company.
Resolving issues in a timely manner requires being aware and observant of issues as they occur, capturing them and then managing them to resolution. Depending on the size of your company and the number of issues you must manage, you may have a few people involved or there could be multiple departments collaborating in the issue resolution process. Tracking issues through their lifecycle to ensure that everything receives the right level of attention and is resolved quickly and completely is essential. The following issue tracking best practices can help you manage issues more effectively – minimizing the impact of issues on your business operations and avoiding unnecessary costs.
You can’t resolve issues that you don’t know about. It is important to identify and capture issues as soon as they surface and not wait for someone to ask for help. There is typically a time delay of anywhere from a few hours to a few days from the time an issue first surfaces until someone reports it and asks for help – especially if technology is involved. People understand that technology has issues from time to time and they expect a certain amount of normal technology disruption. They will often wait to report issues until either the time is convenient for them or the impact of the issue has escalated to the point of becoming a significant disruption.
The time delay in issue reporting creates an excellent opportunity for support organizations to proactively resolve issues before users report them. Doing this requires using some support capabilities to capture issues when they occur. Some of the most common issue identification capabilities are:
Component, system, and service monitoring capabilities enable support teams to identify when services aren’t operating the way they are expected to. Degraded performance, connectivity issues, and system availability issues can all be captured by service monitors.
Most software that people use in both their business and personal activities include some sort of help function. Sometimes this is training documentation or troubleshooting steps, but most software can also be configured to alert support resources when a user accesses a help function or encounters an error. This enables support teams to start troubleshooting technical and data related issues more quickly
Not all errors and system issues are visible to end users. Resilient software architectures are designed to handle exceptions and certain errors automatically and maintain service availability. Just because the user didn’t see an error doesn’t mean that the service doesn’t have an issue. Error logging should include notification to support and/or development resources that an issue was encountered so they can work on resolving it.
When Identifying issues, there is some supporting information that should be captured at the onset to help inform the troubleshooting process. This information provides a picture of the context in which the issue was encountered. Often issues are symptoms of underlying root-causes and this data can help your staff understand any cause-and-effect relationships taking place
Very rarely do things spontaneously change from working to not working without some sort of triggering event. A triggering event is something that happened that started a chain reaction of other events and impacts. Triggering events can come from different sources but understanding them can help accelerate the speed of resolving issues.
Activities within business processes (such as a new sale, an employee changing work locations or onboarding of a supplier) can create issues and other disruptions to normal activities that require some sort of intervention. Issues aren’t just technology related, they can be an activity that needs to be performed, access that needs to be granted or some sort of provisioning task as well. Understanding any business process events that have taken place can help your staff both resolve issues more quickly and automate routine activities to prevent future issues.
Business and technology environments are complex with a lot of interdependencies. Events and issues with other people, processes and technology in the environment can cause widespread and sometimes hidden impacts. Determining what else may be going on in the environment can be helpful in identifying whether the reported issue is isolated or part of a larger situation.
Sometimes, the triggering event causing the issue to surface is related to something that happened with a system, that the user was trying to use to get their job done. Common system events include releases, change requests, outages, component failures, configuration changes, and load/usage spikes. Issues that are directly traceable to a system even are often easier to diagnose and resolve than environmental events.
Issues are often symptoms of underlying causes. Capturing issue dependencies is an essential tool in tracking down the root cause of issues. Dependencies can include technology components, data dependencies, business processes, physical infrastructure (such as networks and power systems), job roles, system access levels and subscriptions to cloud resources. Because business-technology environments are both complex and dynamic (change frequently), it is important to capture as much dependency information as possible when an issue is first identified.
Most issue tracking workflows and prioritization processes are driven by the impact the issue is having on the business operations or users. Is the issue impacting only one person or is an entire business function impaired? Is there a workaround available or is the issue causing a full work stoppage? Assessing impact often requires looking beyond what the issue requestor (the person reporting the issue) has stated. Requestors often don’t have full visibility to the extent of the impacts or experience in evaluating impact objectively. Some techniques for assessing impact include review dependencies, business processes, organizational structures, and overall system configurations to identify other people or processes that may be impacted by the issue.
Once an issue is identified, it needs to be categorized and classified to make it clear to anyone looking at the issue ticket what the issue relates to. The categorization data that is collected when an issue is captured will be used later in the issue management processes to direct workflows, determine priority of the issue so they can be directed to the right resources for resolution. Categorization also helps with analyzing issues as a part of your continuous improvement and knowledge management processes.
Issue tracking best practices suggest that categorization data cover a broad set of facets yet be limited to avoid redundancy and creating unnecessary overhead. Here are five of the most common issue categorization attributes that companies use:
A typical company will encounter all sorts of issues, from routine tasks like account requests to security threats to major incidents. Not all issues are equal in importance and deserve the same level of priority. Issue prioritization is one of the most important activities in the issue tracking process – looking at the full list of open issues and determining which ones need attention first. Issue tracking best practices give some suggestions on some key factors that you should take into consideration when assessing the priority given to each issue.
Business impact is a big factor in determining the importance of each issue. Issues that impact critical business processes, large groups of employees or causing work stoppages are typically given higher priority than those impacting a single person or where a workaround exists. Customer impacting issues are also typically given higher priority than internal issues. Components with many other systems or business processes depending on it may also encounter high impact issues.
Some issues that may not impact many people may require a high priority due to the time and circumstances when the issue occurred
Many organizations have defined service level agreements (SLAs) relating to their handling of issues. Issues that have been sitting around a while and are not yet resolved or are nearing (or past) their SLA targets may justify a higher priority than a new issue that was just reported. Even small issues can become big problems if they aren’t dealt with in a timely manner.
There is a special classification of issues called “major incidents” that are used to manage critical issues with a widespread impact on the company. Major incidents typically take precedence over all other issues with priority access to staff and other resources. These incidents are mission critical due to their impact on company reputation, operations, security or their financial impacts.
Prioritization is a portfolio management activity, comparing a list of issues together and ranking them. As new issues are identified, they should be inserted into the list based on their assessed priority to ensure the highest priority issues receive the most attention. Issue tracking best practices suggest that the prioritized list of issues be reviewed at the start of each shift to ensure high priority issues aren’t being overlooked
Prioritization is only part of the issue management picture. Resourcing also plays a big factor in determining how quickly issues impacting your business and your customers can be resolved. Issue tracking and issue management is a supply and demand puzzle with a constrained supply of skilled and knowledgeable support resources and a seemingly endless demand for their expertise and engagement. Solving this puzzle requires optimizing your prioritized issues against the available resources so you can maximize the overall value provided to the organization.
One of the biggest sources of inefficiency in issue tracking is delays in triaging (capturing, classifying and prioritizing) issues, causing them to remain un-assigned longer than they should be. The sooner issues can be assessed, prioritized and assigned to support resources, the sooner they can be resolved. Issue tracking software can help facilitate the triage activities with the use of business rules and automated workflows.
The issues your company handles incur two sets of direct costs that need to be factored into your resource assignments. First is the cost of support resources. Higher skilled and experienced agents will likely cost more than junior level agents. With the increased cost is an expectation that the higher skilled agents will be able to resolve issues and answer questions more quickly. The second cost is the productivity impact to business operations of the issue remaining unresolved. Issues causing complete work stoppages can incur high operational costs that far outweigh the cost of skilled support resources. Issue tracking best practices suggest matching high cost resources with the issues that have the highest business impact and use low cost resources for low impact issues.
Most support agents work a designated shift and you are paying them the same amount regardless of how busy they are. Idle resources are an unnecessary expense that should be avoided. Propper issue classification and categorization can enable you to load balance your work across your support team to ensure that all resources are fully utilized. The support queue capability within issue tracking software can help too – enabling a consistent pipeline of work for agents to draw from. The only instance where you would not want 100% utilization is if you are intentionally reserving resources to be available to address high priority issues as they arise without having to re-prioritize in-flight work.
Most likely, you will have some issues that can only be resolved by a subset of your agent community because of specialized skill needs or the level of issue difficulty. It is important to identify these special skill needs early to avoid routing the issue to an agent who is unable to solve it. Issue tracking best practices suggest that your triage activities and the routing rules in your issue tracking system should be configured to look for difficult issues, so they can be routed to the appropriate agent as soon as possible to maximize time available for troubleshooting.
Some issues you encounter may require localized support. This can be either the need for a physical agent to visit the requestor in person, localized language support or specialized knowledge relating to local policies, processes and regulations. Most localization needs can be identified at the time an issue is captured through effective classification. Often localized resources are more constrained than shared global resources, so identifying localization needs early is important for resource planning.
Over the past 10 years, there has been an increased focus on providing self-service support capabilities to customers, employees and suppliers. Self-service support provides users the ability to resolve simple issues themselves through easy to use tools and access to information. The obvious benefit of user self-service is that the company doesn’t incur the cost of support agents to resolve the issues. It is important to keep in mind, however, that issues resolved through self-service still have a cost to the company in the form of lost productivity.
It is important to capture a record of issues resolved through self-service, so you can optimize the experience for your users. The data you capture about self-resolved issues should be fed to your knowledge management, problem management and financial management processes so you can use it to make informed decisions about service improvement and service support capabilities.
Your self-service issues should be kept separate from your normal agent workflows to provide a clear differentiation between those issues resolved by users and those requiring agent involvement. Important pieces of self-service data to capture include search terms used, the path users traverse to find information, knowledge articles accessed, and any diagnostic data captured.
The purpose of self-service support functionality is to make issue resolution faster and easier for the end user. If the requestor becomes frustrated or chooses to engage an agent for support, they should be given easy to use methods to initiate an issue ticket and contact an agent for help. Any data captured as a part of the self-service experience should be transferred to the agent as part of the issue ticket, so the agent knows what steps the user has already taken – avoiding duplication.
Many issues that users encounter can’t be resolved fully by support teams and must be routed to more technical solution development teams or 3rd party suppliers for resolution. These situations can cause some complications in the issue tracking process that require special consideration. Issue tracking best practices suggest the following aspects of external routing be addressed to avoid confusion in issue ticket handling:
When you transfer issues outside of your support organizations to development teams or 3rd parties, you risk losing control over the resolution timeline commitments made to the end-users. It is important to have clearly defined SLAs with suppliers and development teams about how quickly issues will be addressed to reset expectations with users.
It is often necessary for development teams to reference data from the issue tracking system as part of their diagnosis and fix development activities. Best practices suggest that the engineering systems or project management tools used by development teams be integrated to your issue tracking system – enabling users to see the status of development work underway and enabling technical resources to see the issue ticket history.
When issues are transferred to another team, they go into a new queue and are re-prioritized based on the receiving team’s prioritization rules. This is important because a high priority issue for support teams may be a low priority issue for a development team to address. Best practices suggest that support team managers should maintain strong relationships with development team project managers as a means of influencing prioritization decisions and advocating on behalf of their organization and end-users.
This is a policy/process decision for your company. Many support organizations choose to keep issue records open in a pending status while 3rd party development activities are underway. This approach works well if there are automated integrations to update the issue and trigger workflow steps when activities take place on the development request. If you do not have an automated way to sync data between issue tracking and development systems, best practices suggest that the issue should be closed, and the end-user should be directed to the 3rd party or development team for further updates and tracking the progress of their issue resolution.
When transitioning issues to development teams, it is important to communicate with end-users and help them understand why their issue can’t be resolved immediately and where they should go for further updates on status. Best practices suggest that the support agent should remain engaged and communicating with the user until someone from the development team has initiated contact to provide a continuous interaction during the handoff.
Each issue your employees, customers and suppliers encounter impact their productivity and disrupt day-to-day business activities. Your issue tracking processes are intended to minimize the frequency and impact of these issues to keep your operations running smoothly. Like any process, there is a wide range of maturity that issue tracking capabilities within your organization can exhibit. As you refine your operations and apply continuous improvement techniques, you will gain access to new levels of issue tracking maturity that will enable you to do more than react to issues that your users report. Here is a summary of the levels of issue tracking maturity (starting with the most basic)
All issues have an impact on your business, whether they are resolved automatically, through self-service capabilities or with the assistance of an agent. They impact your customer’s perceptions of how well your company is run (and the expected quality of your products and services). They impact your staff productivity by disrupting normal activities. Unresolved issues impact your operational resiliency and vulnerability to risks.
Issues aren’t free, they have a cost and left unresolved, even small issues can compound to have a big impact on your company. Resolving issues in a timely manner requires being aware and observant of issues as they occur, capturing them and then managing them to resolution. Issue tracking best practices can help you enhance your organization’s capabilities, so you can mature from responding to issues, to proactively addressing them and initiating preventative measures to avoid the issues occurring at all.
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