Help Me Helpdesk Redux
October 20, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Last week I AskMe'd, thinking software was our problem with becoming a productive tech-support company. Apparently most all of the software acts the same, so the problem seems to be in the management side: how does the physical process of using help-ticket software, and helping people, from the IT Helpdesk end work, and what resources can help teach us to do it right?

One of the most confusing things I've run into is the godlike devotion to email; email support is a small fraction of the work we do -- most support calls come in via phone -- but every ticketing program requires an email address to even create a ticket from the admin side, and most documents I've read about streamlining and responsiveness only talk about email ticket requests. Do helpdesks really stop you when you call and ask for your email address?

Also, all of the helpdesk software I reviewed (thanks to everyone's recommendations last week) it still seems like many calls will be shorter than the time it will take to properly document the call in the help ticket software. It's a good two minutes by the time you fill in all the categories - and that all-powerful required email address - and document the problem and assign it to yourself and close the ticket, so I know for a fact the time to create a ticket right is one thing discouraging adoption of the ticketing system, and errors is the reason users don't trust it (so many "first name @ customer not a real email address" in the email blank) . Is this a "that's the way it is, just do it right" or is there some guidelines for improving speed, or a minimum call time to warrant entering it into the ticketing software?

If all this can be found in a book, I'd be happy to get recommendations, as long as it's not focused on the bells-and-whistles ("take helpdesk requests through twitter! Chat systems with bots for canned responses!" is not productive for us) and more focused on the bare-bones management of help desk support and ticketing systems to document contact.

(One last low-priority question: of the recommended software last week, much of it was 'cloud' software -- doesn't that seem low-rent when an expensive service contract tells you to go to MyITCompany.ZenDesk.Com?)
posted by AzraelBrown to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Do helpdesks really stop you when you call and ask for your email address?

Invariably, usually to send me a survey later.
posted by jeather at 12:42 PM on October 20, 2014


Maybe look more into solutions that are targeted at "call centers" than "help desks"? I don't know much about call centers, but it sounds like that's the kind of problem you're facing, rather than what most IT support organizations these days do.

Do helpdesks really stop you when you call and ask for your email address?

Yes, or your account number, or some other identifying information. I don't think I've ever encountered an IT help desk that didn't want to know who I was when I was calling, if for no other reason than to be able to look up my account details, follow up if the issue takes longer than one call, etc. How are you operating without knowing who you're dealing with?
posted by primethyme at 12:47 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


primethyme : How are you operating without knowing who you're dealing with?

The caller usually identifies themselves, "Hi, this is Name from Customer X, and..." -- but their individual email address doesn't come up organically in conversation. Our customer is the business, individuals within the company aren't generally tracked in our customer database.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:59 PM on October 20, 2014


Do helpdesks really stop you when you call and ask for your email address?

Sort of. Almost all helpdesks will ask for a unique customer identifier, whether that's name, address, account number, account username or, yes, email address.

I'm actually not aware of any helpdesk software that actually mandates using an email address, although I naturally haven't used everything. However, yes, many helpdesk packages are designed for it, as it is a unique identifier most people have, and many helpdesk organizations would like to provide status via email after the original contact.

Is this a "that's the way it is, just do it right" or is there some guidelines for improving speed, or a minimum call time to warrant entering it into the ticketing software?

It's the way it is. Documentation takes time, and documentation will increase the amount of time each agent needs to spend on each call.

Think about it this way: a doctor's diagnosis of symptoms may take seconds, but documenting it - for the patient, on the chart for the nurses, and with adequate information for the insurance company - will take at least several minutes.

A police officer can stop you and notify you that you're speeding in virtually no time. But the time to look up your license and write up the ticket, again, takes minutes.

So why do we all do all of this documentation, when clearly there's a high time-related cost? Because it saves money down the road. If you have documentation of the customer's problem, when the customer calls back to speak to another representative, that representative quickly knows the score. You have a record of when changes are made to accounts, and verification that those changes were requested, aiding with the billing or troubleshooting process. You can quickly see what issues are still open and not resolved, or what reps are resolving tickets and which ones don't end up closing them, leading to better customer service and staffing considerations.

So here's the question: what database do you already have your customer information stored in? You will want to select a ticketing system that can interoperate with that, so that you can search based on an existing field using that unique identifier I mentioned above and most of the fields will already be filled out.

And if you don't have that database, and everything's on paper, well, yes, you're going to need to spend a lot of time at the outset documenting calls and adding that information - but you'll quickly find that database can be used for marketing, surveys and other forms of customer contact that will bring more money into the business.

Best of luck.
posted by eschatfische at 1:33 PM on October 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


doesn't that seem low-rent when an expensive service contract tells you to go to MyITCompany.ZenDesk.Com

Starting with the $25 plan, you can use a custom (i.e. your own) domain.
posted by rada at 1:52 PM on October 20, 2014


eschatfische: I'm actually not aware of any helpdesk software that actually mandates using an email address

If you know of any that don't, please let me know -- everything I've tried, both found on my own and researched last week, the email address is mandatory when creating a ticket. Even more frustrating are the ones where the help-requester has to create a user account to request help, making support-created tickets even more complicated by requiring the tech to not only create a ticket, but also a user profile for the person who called. ZenDesk apparently has a way to create tickets without an email address, but only if done a very specific way.

(sorry for threadsitting)
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:03 PM on October 20, 2014


You absolutely should 100% be tracking who you are supporting, for the simple reason that you want to know if people are pirating your software, and you don't want to support people that are doing so. You also need to track all interactions with your customers so you know which help desk technicians are actually doing their jobs. You'd be surprised how many people just don't answer the phone. You also, btw, should be tracking who answers calls, and so on.

You want to create a script for when you answer the phone. It should go like this.

"Hi, thank you for calling XYZ, can I please have your name?"

"Hi, *name*, what can I help you with."

"Sure, i can help you with that, but first I'm going to need either your customer id or your work email address."

"You don't have that available? I can look it up from your company name, etc..."

All of that is 100% normal and expected when calling any sort of customer support line.

It's extremely important that you get all of the necessary information for the ticket *before helping the customer*.

I'd recommend signing a few people up for a Help Desk Institute bootcamp. It's probably not that useful if you've worked in a help desk environment before, but it sounds like you guys are starting from scratch, so it should really help you get your bearings. I took one for analysts about ten years ago, and it covered stuff like basic troubleshooting, handling problem customers, and the importance of metrics.
posted by empath at 2:20 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Even more frustrating are the ones where the help-requester has to create a user account to request help, making support-created tickets even more complicated by requiring the tech to not only create a ticket, but also a user profile for the person who called.

You should be able to import a customer list into most CRMs so you don't have to do this. It sucks starting a CRM, but once you have the information in there, it makes things a *lot* easier later, it can pay off because you know what your customers are doing, and who is spending money and who is wasting your time and money, and so on.
posted by empath at 2:25 PM on October 20, 2014


I've primarily used Request Tracker and Redmine in my professional career, and neither stictly require an email address for the customer (although, as above, it can be very beneficial for status and client notification).

I took a look at the other packages recommended to you. I have a small amount of experience with Zendesk, which as you mentioned does not require an email address although you need to open tickets in a particular way, Salesforce, which did not require a customer email address at the time I used it, and Remedy, which also did not when I've used it. I also quickly looked at JIRA, which I have not used, and it doesn't appear to require an email either.

All of the above do strongly encourage email addresses and will have them in various default templates so as to provide email-based followup or search, and given that many support organizations use both phone and email and the high prevalence of email. However, I don't think any of the above require email, and allow the email address field to be optional. Virtually all helpdesk applications allow you to toggle various fields between required and optional - this is something that you, the administrator configures in the helpdesk package itself.
posted by eschatfische at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2014


Also, all of the helpdesk software I reviewed (thanks to everyone's recommendations last week) it still seems like many calls will be shorter than the time it will take to properly document the call in the help ticket software. It's a good two minutes by the time you fill in all the categories - and that all-powerful required email address - and document the problem and assign it to yourself and close the ticket

Indeed, I've seen some pretty terribad helpdesk software; management loves them categorization, but honestly, management dictated classification schemes are 90 percent garbage, designed to track shit you give zero fucks about like time to acknowledgement, subcategories, and time to escalation. Enterprise call center shit that's overkill for a one person helpdesk.

I'm most familiar with RequestTracker. RT is as light or as heavy as you make it. You don't have to take tickets, and you don't even have to assign a requestor. If you're ultra lazy, you don't even have to describe what the call was about, or what the resolution was. But at that point you might as well just use call logs to your phone as a data collection platform.

It is heavily email oriented (in part because the early adopters were often serving internal clients) to the point that users are identified by their email address. Beyond notifications and tracking, there's another reason email is valuable. If you ever need to escalate a call, the tier 3 support rotation team often needs some time to investigate and resolve the issue. Callback numbers are nice, but it's kind of a PITA for all parties. They give you a cell phone number as a callback, and when you call two hours later to ask them to verify resolution, they're not at a computer anymore. Or you leave voicemail and it becomes an annoying game of phone tag. Or you just email the person, close the ticket and they either reply back / call back saying you're wrong if it's not fixed, and the ticket stays closed otherwise.
posted by pwnguin at 12:38 AM on October 21, 2014


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