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All you need to know before choosing a support ticket software
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Support ticket software, also sometimes known as helpdesk software or request management software, is an IT solution to enable your company to capture, manage and track the activities your staff performs every day in support of your business operations. While some activities within your support organization can be planned and scheduled (such as projects and releases), there are many activities more reactive in nature that your staff must address or are tasks too small to schedule. Support ticket software is intended to help your staff manage these requests in a consistent and structured manner to ensure all requests receive the right level of attention and follow-through.
“Support ticket” is a general term to describe the many types of requests a support organization may receive from employees, customers, suppliers and other requestors of their services. These may be questions, issues, problems, suggestions or simple requests. Most organizations lump these requests into a general category of “tickets” to manage them easier.
There are many small tasks required to keep all aspects of your company running smoothly: provisioning resources to users, answering questions about features and fixing IT systems; performing routine maintenance tasks; addressing exceptions to normal business processes; and attending business disruptions – even small organizations generate many support issues that must be addressed. Support ticket software ensures each request is logged and tracked to completion, so nothing is missed.
Support work often crosses teams and you can’t afford to “drop the ball” when the work moves from one team to another. Providing support to your company and your various stakeholders is a team effort. Support ticket software provides a means to transition requests, information and activities from one person to another consistently and helps ensure any relevant information is recorded and passed to the people tasked with resolving the issue.
Management must see the end-to-end big picture of support operations to make good decisions. The bigger your support organization, the more complex it becomes, with different teams or individuals addressing certain types of issues. You may have business rules, automation, and support workflows to help in routing issues and support service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure the proper level of responsiveness to requestors. Managing a support operation requires seeing both the big picture of how the operation is working and being able to examine the details of any areas that may need attention, quickly and effectively. Support ticket software provides a core set of operational data and telemetry that helps support managers do their jobs effectively.
Requestors don’t care about your internal complexities. Support ticket software enables you to provide a consistent support experience. Your company may require sophisticated business processes, structured workflows, business rules, vendor contracts, specialized job roles and complex organizational structures to provide an effective level of support services your business requires. The people requesting support don’t actually care about that complexity (nor should they). Support ticket software enables you to mask your internal complexities from your clients and provide them with a simple and consistent support experience (regardless of whatever chaos may be happening behind the scenes)
The users of support ticket software will vary, depending on your organization and the type of support being provided. In some organizations, employees directly tasked with providing support only have access to support ticket software. In other organizations, certain features may be made available to the requesters or end-users in the form of self-service support capabilities. Many organizations also make the data from their support tickets available to business leaders and analysts as a source of insights to drive continuous improvement.
The most common job roles that can benefit from using support ticket software include:
Helpdesk agents – The people tasked with responding to in-person requests.
Call center staff – The people responding to requests via phone, email or chat capabilities.
Support resources – The many people involved in resolving issues.
Field engineers – The people tasked with responding to service calls and providing on-site support.
Infrastructure operations – The people who manage your facilities and IT systems.
Support vendors – External partners contracted to support parts of your business or IT environment.
Managers of these roles also heavily use support ticket software to understand the performance of their employees and assigned business processes as well as the level of support provided to the people requesting service. It enables managers to see across a broad organization, identify areas for improvement and manage the cost/quality of delivery.
There are many places within your organization that perform different types of support, including internal service desks in functions, such as IT, HR, Legal, Finance, and Employee Benefits, and externally facing service desks and call centers addressing customer service and supply chain issues. While some companies have one service desk that supports everything (an enterprise service desk), this is rare. Most companies have multiple service desk and support functions focused on specific parts of their business or a certain stakeholder audience.
The types of “support tickets” a team might handle will be unique to the subjects they support. For example, an HR support team might address more routine activities associated with hiring, promotions, employee movements between departments and restructurings. A facilities support team, in comparison, might address more reactive issues, such as broken or faulty equipment, rekeying an office door lock, setting-up for an event or performing routine maintenance on an HVAC system. While the activities themselves are very different, they can all be managed in a similar way in the form of a “support ticket.” Some common types of issues for which support ticket software can be used include:
Requests – The user needs a task performed, an issue addressed, etc.
Incidents – A specific occurrence requires a response.
Questions – Someone requires information.
Maintenance Requests – A system, facility or piece of equipment needs to be examined to determine why it is not functioning properly.
Repair Orders – A system or piece of equipment is broken and must be fixed.
Feature Requests – Someone has a need or suggestion for new equipment, process, service, etc.
Provisioning – Someone needs a device or an account or access to resources.
Depending on the nature of your support operations, the requestor is contacting you for support and/or the systems that need attention may be internal or external to your company. Support ticket software can enable your team to provide services to a broad audience.
There are many support ticket software packages available for companies to use, ranging from simple tools designed for small teams to large-scale helpdesk management systems and ITSM systems global enterprises use. Some are offered as enterprise applications that you purchase and run in your company’s data center, while others are SaaS offerings that a vendor or another third party manages and you pay a subscription fee for their use.
The size of your organization and the type of support you provide will influence what support ticket software package is best for your unique needs. Despite all the options available, there is a core set of features that a modern support ticket software package should have. They include:
Providing support to your organization is a process and, depending on your size and scale, it may be a complex process. Workflow-orchestration capabilities enable you to define your processes to ensure the right person receives each request to be addressed. Workflow orchestration can also help you balance workloads across teams, implement “follow-the-sun” support processes and enable multiple tiers of support depending on the needs of your business.
Like most operational processes, your support workflow will involve many rules that must be managed. From routing rules and escalation triggers to communications and SLAs, your support ticketing software must give you the tools to capture and manage your rules and execute them where needed within your support processes.
Your support tickets are likely to contain sensitive information that could present a risk to your company if the wrong person accessed it, or was used in an unauthorized way. Many people in your organization are likely to access your support ticketing software, so controlling security, data permissions and access is important. Access management at the individual user level isn’t practical for most organizations, so your support ticket software should provide tools for role-based security. Permissions are given to generic roles and then individual users inherit the permissions based on their assigned roles. User administration, therefore, is much easier.
Service Level Agreements are the contracts and expectations with both requesters and support suppliers about how individual support tickets should be addressed. They are intended to provide a consistent set of guidelines and targets for response time and how quickly a ticket will be resolved, for example. Your support ticket software and the workflows you define will serve as the primary bases for managing SLAs, measuring performance against targets and providing summary metrics to management.
Just as access permissions and security levels will vary by job roles, the information a support agent will require to do his or her job effectively will be different depending on what he or she is supporting and the complexity of the data he or she needs to resolve requests. Support ticket software should provide capabilities for creating customized views for different groups of agents – customized to the specific information they need to do their jobs. Some tools will even allow individuals to customize their views further for greater personalization.
Providing support is a type of operations, just like running a manufacturing process or an IT data center. Dashboards that track operational performance indicators, provide insight into the flow of work and alert management to potential issues are essential tools to ensure support operations run smoothly. Your support ticketing software should provide dashboard-type interfaces for the various parts of your support operations. Helpdesks, call-centers and other functions will require specialized dashboards, as will any support vendor engagements your company may have. Dashboards provide the team-level views and real-time data needed to manage day-to-day activities.
Support managers, executives, and business analysts don’t necessarily need real-time data about what is happening with operations; however, they do need information to understand trends and aggregate snapshots of how well support operations are performing, so they can make informed decisions about resourcing, cost management, risks and improvement opportunities. Your support ticket software should provide a set of curated management reports to give these stakeholders the information they need while keeping them at arms-length from daily operations.
Making an investment in support ticket software isn’t a decision your company should take lightly. This is an important toolset that can improve the productivity of your workforce and the continuity of your business processes. Justifying the investment in a ticketing platform shouldn’t be difficult as the benefits to your organization are clear.
With all your support data in one place, you will be able to control it (to avoid unauthorized access), manage it (as an organizational asset) and analyze it (to make operational decisions). If your data is spread across multiple systems (or worse, not captured at all), then you are missing a valuable resource.
Coordinate the activities across teams and route requests to the right resources to avoid delays and confusion. Well-managed workflows demonstrate to users that your support organization is dependable, professional and will reliably address their needs.
Requestors just want their problems solved. They don’t care about your internal processes, organizational structures or supplier relationships. Support ticket software enables you to hide the complexity and offer requestors a positive and efficient support experience.
Workflow optimization and automation of routine tasks can enable your team to find the underlying cause of an issue quicker and act just as quickly to resolve support requests. Each time a user seeks support, he or she is engaging with you instead of doing his or her normal job. Support ticket software can help you minimize the disruption to your business operations.
Every support interaction has the potential to generate knowledge or insights that can be used to solve other future problems. Your support ticketing software helps you capture support knowledge, organize it and share it across your team, so others can benefit.
More than one person can work on a support ticket simultaneously. Because there is a common record of the issue, team members can collaborate and work together to share information and resolve issues quicker. Complex technical issues may require an entire team of experts to resolve them. Without a support ticketing system, managing collaborative support can be quite difficult.
Management doesn’t need to be actively involved in the day-to-day operations of providing support. Managers must have a clear view of the work being done, so they can observe, analyze and make decisions about, for example, staffing levels, process changes, organizational structures and support-related investments.
Consistent measurement is the key to establishing accountability for SLA compliance. If you can’t measure your processes, then there is no objective way to assert an SLA or contractual obligation was satisfied. Support ticketing software measures every step in your support process, so there is no question about how well your team performed relative to SLA commitments.
While support ticketing software provides considerable operational benefits, the reason many companies implement it has less to do with enabling individual support agents and more to do with enabling support management to oversee support operations more effectively. The functions that provide support often represent a large proportion of a company’s overhead operational costs. As a result, ensuring operations run efficiently can have a big impact on a company’s financial performance.
Support management requires accurate and timely data – and much of it. Support ticketing software collects data about every ticket the support team handles – from the time the users creates it through the transaction’s workflow process until it is resolved and closed. Every activity, every re-assignment, and every communication is recorded as well as timestamps and information about who is involved in the support process.
Dashboards and management reports aggregate this data and curate it into views that help support managers see trends within their operations – what is working well, where there are problems and what each activity is costing (in time and resources). This information is essential to helping him or her manage effectively. Some of the key management insights support ticket software can provide include:
How much time is required for requests to be resolved? How much time must a requestor wait before an agent responds? How many times is the ticket handed to others internally before someone receives and can resolve it?
How many tickets is each agent resolving during a shift? Are some team members consistently handling more difficult tickets than others?
Are support resources fully utilized or do you have free capacity? Are there areas of resource constraint where training or process improvements could help?
How well is workload distributed across teams? Are there teams where additional staffing is needed to fulfill the demand for support services? How do ticket trends compare to global staffing? Do you need more resources in a certain region or time zone?
How much does it cost to resolve each ticket? Where could automation, outsourcing, training or self-service capabilities have the biggest impact?
How well are your agents addressing support issues? What is the frequency of escalations? Why are tickets being escalated? Are the right people being informed when an escalation occurs?
These are questions support managers should be asking to obtain a complete understanding of how well all aspects of your business are running, to identify opportunities for improvement and to allocate resources effectively. Support ticket software provides them with the data they need to monitor these things without having to disrupt the flow of work or be involved in day-to-day support operations.
There are many support ticket software options – and some are better than others. You can expect the software you choose will be a part of your company’s support operations for many years, so it is critical to select a good one that addresses your feature needs today and will also grow and evolve with you.
As your company grows, your support ticketing software must grow with you. You may start with a small support team of a few people, but as they are successful, the team will grow. Eventually, you are likely to have multiple support teams using your ticketing software. Each of them must be productive and have the tools and data to be successful, but providing unique capabilities for each support team shouldn’t fragment the support experience for your requestors. Scalability is an important consideration when making a tool selection.
Here are 8 features of good support ticketing platforms you should use to evaluate how well individual offerings will satisfy your company’s needs.
Easy to use by support staff with minimal training – A good user interface is essential. A few extra clicks multiplied by many tickets can have a big impact on your support costs. The user interface should be simple and intuitive. New users should be able to determine what they must do without much training. Intuitive interfaces mean agents can focus on solving the requestors’ problems instead of focusing on learning how to use their tools.
Integration with supplier ticketing systems – Very few support organizations perform 100% of their support activities internally. Support partners and suppliers are also important in the overall landscape for support operations. In most cases, suppliers will have their own ticketing systems their employees use. Your support ticketing software should be able to interface with supplier systems to manage support requests effectively across company boundaries.
Self-service portal – Many issues never require agent involvement. Requestors with the right tools and information can resolve their own issues – saving you support costs and returning them to work quickly. Support ticketing software should include some sort of self-service portal designed for requestors’ use. It should be integrated with the workflows your agents use, so if users aren’t able to solve their own problems, then they can easily request assistance.
Built-in knowledge management – Many older support ticketing systems approached knowledge management as a separate set of capabilities from the ticketing workflows. This led to knowledge capture and use being overlooked as tickets were being resolved. Your support ticketing system should have built-in knowledge management capabilities, making existing knowledge resources easy to access to resolve tickets and reduce the incremental effort to harvest new insights as tickets are being resolved.
Flexible workflows – Support workflows are the main tool that enables you to customize your ticketing system and business processes for peak performance. As your support team grows, workflows should be adaptable to include additional tiers of support, escalations and support-agent specialization.
Ready-made dashboards – You will need support dashboards to help teams manage their workload. Support ticketing systems should include pre-configured dashboards with the data agents and managers will need to perform basic operations. You will need to configure them to add any data unique to your organization, but ready-made dashboards is a great start.
Role-based permissions – If you plan to use your support ticketing system for more than a few users, then you must be able to manage permissions and access with roles instead of for individuals. Your ticketing system should include standard roles, such as requestors, administrators, support agents and escalation contacts. These will be a good start and you can customize from there.
Customizable to your company’s language, look and feel – Every company is unique. You have a unique brand, a unique language, and a unique culture. Your support ticketing system should be adaptable to integrate with your company culture, so users and requestors are able to find whatever they need, easily and intuitively. The self-service portal should be customizable to fit with your other websites for a seamless requestor experience.
Support ticket software is an essential part of enabling your support team members to be productive and effective when addressing the needs of the organization and its stakeholders. Every support request is a disruption to your company’s normal business activities, so resolving tickets quickly and correctly is important. Support ticket software provides a centralized place to manage the many requests you receive, workflows and rules to direct them to the people who can resolve them, and knowledge-management capabilities to help your support staff provide accurate and complete solutions. Management teams use the insights garnered from support ticket software to understand how well operations are running, where improvements are needed and how resources should be allocated for maximum impact.
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