For support agents, there are few things more stressful than an in inbox overflowing with support tickets.
Managing the queue can be brutal. Just when you think you’re done, you see others waiting in the ticket line. There are the tickets no one wants to touch because they are too difficult, and rogue tickets bounce back and forth between agents and departments.
The end result:
You get buried in support tickets, response times skyrocket, customers get pissed, and you start losing money.
To avoid this stress you need to get organized, and build a ticket queue management process that allows you to properly prioritize support tickets and speed up response and resolution times.
But, there are a lot of factors that come into play when deciding the order in which tickets are addressed - subject matter, technical difficulty, SLAs, helpdesk software capabilities and more.
Where do you start?
Here are 13 ways your team can better manage your company’s support queue.
Most of your customers expect help within 5 minutes.
For smaller teams, it’s generally a good idea to prioritize the tickets on a first-come, first-serve base. Start with the old ones first.
Thrive Themes is a company that uses this “Customer First Response Time” approach to ticket queue management:
This method helps keep things simple with a top-to-bottom approach, and usually results in faster response times. However, it doesn’t provide much flexibility when it comes to weighing support requests.
For example, important requests such as a large purchase orders might fall to the end of the ticket queue, while free accounts receive support before paid accounts.
Another approach is to use a “pick and choose” approach to ticket prioritization. This is used by teams to give more attention to customers with tougher problems, or meet stringent SLA agreements.
If you are going to pick and choose, here are some questions to help you prioritize:
Are all your customers created equal? Does the customer category (free vs. paid tier) dictate how support tickets are handled in the queue?
Are customers submitting a ticket for the first time given higher priority?
Do you have an SLA or internal policy in place that guarantees a maximum response time?
Should cases that have been re-opened, or have multiple responses, be handled first to avoid long resolution times and customer frustration?
Both approaches can work, but in general we recommend tackling tickets in the order they arrive. This will speed up response times, and help prevent tickets from falling through the cracks.
The same tickets, the same issues, showing up again and again. Sound familiar?
Responding to the same questions over and over again is a royal waste of time (and money).
One of the easiest ways to cut down your ticket queue is to empower your customers. Make it easy for them to find a resolution to common questions. In fact, 90% of consumers now expect a brand or organization to offer a self-service customer support portal (2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report).
Set up a searchable knowledge base.
Answer a question one time. Publish it to the knowledge base and never answer it again. It’s the simplest way to weed out unnecessary support tickets that are cluttering your dashboard and consuming precious resources.
To ensure tickets keep moving along the queue, keep status visible and up-to-date on the main dashboard. Here are some tips for setting ticket statuses:
New/ Open tickets need to be answered asap. Respond and let the customer know the case is being handled. Leave it open.
In-Progress tickets are already being handled by another rep. No need to jump in here unless it has been re-assigned to you. Instead, focus your attention on the next Open request.
Pending/ On-hold ticket status is assigned whenever you’re waiting for a reply or asking for more information.
Closed/Solved ticket status is pretty self-explanatory. A solution has already closed the case. Keep moving.
These are just a few basic status examples to model off. A solid support ticket system will allow you to customize the status your team decides to use.
Having a clear updated view of ticket status will prevent tickets getting lost in the shuffle, allow you to better set priorities (whether time based or otherwise), and move through the ticket line much faster.
Are all your customers created equal?
Big budget clients.
Sometimes it makes sense to roll out the red carpet and deliver the VIP treatment. In this case, you’ll want to assign a dedicated support agent to specific companies and allow these users to categorize and filter support tickets by company.
Workflow automation is not only about eliminating the tedious parts of your job. While it is important, there are other benefits when it comes to managing the ticket queue.
Automation rules allow you to stay on top of incoming requests, ensure tickets are assigned to the right person or category, while sending out notifications as soon as a ticket becomes overdue.
It minimizes human error.
Here are a few examples of workflow automation rules used by our customers to handle their support ticket queues.
Automation rules can also be set to notify administrators when SLAs or internal response schedules have been violated.
When ticket hasn’t been updated for 1 hour AND has priority “Critical” AND comes from Company ABC, send XYZ email alert to admin/technician the company is assigned to:
This type of automation gets support tickets in front of the right people, at the right time, increasing the chances of a fast resolution.
Whether you have a tiered support structure, or you’re a startup with all hands on deck, having a clearly defined support workflow can help increase your efficiency and reduce busy work.
It shouldn't be an encyclopedic manual that noone wants to read, but a repeatable process support agents can quickly work through every time a new ticket enters the queue.
Here is a screenshot of a basic checklist the support team at Process.st runs each time a new conversation comes through Intercom:
Having a clearly defined support workflow will help agents deliver a consistent customer service experience.
As your support team evolves tickets will need to be segmented according to the type of request and team that should be handling it.
Defining categories is the best way to segment your support queue. It not only allows you to assign the right people and departments to specific cases, every team member can search tickets faster and build custom reports to identify strengths/weaknesses across each category, and determine which areas of your business are generating the most support requests.
There are a number of different ways your team can segment support tickets - by problem type, by client, by product, by priority.
Here are a few examples of segmenting by problem type (most common) for a few different businesses:
Here is a breakdown of how Process.st is segmenting support cases:
Categorizing your support tickets will allow you to stay organized and gain greater visibility into which areas of your business are generating the most cases.
To resolve cases quickly, your agents need two things: knowledge and tools.
High performing support teams are 3.4x more likely to say their agents and completely empowered:
While correlation does not equal causation, it’s more than a coincidence that empowered support perform better.
Make sure your team has the tools they need to work smarter, not harder.
Agents should be able to log in and get a view of all key ticket information in one place, including:
The right tools will ensure all team members are working to trim the support queue instead of duplicating efforts, working on the wrong tickets or allowing high priority accounts to sit at the bottom of the pile.
An accurate view of the ticket history is only as valuable as the information provided.
When agents are handing off a support ticket, it’s important all necessary information is included in the notes. Things like address, phone numbers, order IDs, client IDs, and detailed issue descriptions will help eliminate wasted back-and-forth communications.
For example, if you’re dealing with an IT-related problem such as the forms not working at checkout, include a step-by-step walkthrough of how others agents can replicate the issue.
Your support team deals with a lot of different cases every day. Not all of those cases are created equal. Some require more expert knowledge to be solved than others.
One way to handle this is setting up ticket categories based on level of difficulty or expertise. Another option is to create a tiered support structure within your organization.
This can be set up in any number of ways. A basic example could look like this:
The first tier consists of agents who “pick up” the requests and escalate it to the right experts or department. For example, an expert who deals with technical ecommerce problems, or an expert who specializes in handling shipping and return issues. The structure will depend largely on the size and complexity of your support team and business.
Why is this important?
If tier one is made up of agents whose only responsibility is to respond and escalate, response times will go down and the right tickets will be assigned to the right tier two agents faster.
If tickets that require greater knowledge and credentials are immediately assigned to subject matter experts, difficult issues will be prioritized and resolved much faster.
It doesn’t make sense to have your most knowledgeable support agents assigning tasks and responding to general inquiries.
You will get tickets you can’t answer. And, that’s ok. What is not ok is the ticket being placed on hold for an extended period of time. These holding patterns back up the ticket queue and make your customers wonder what the hell is going on.
If you get a question you can’t answer, don’t start playing hot potato passing it onto the next available agent. Make sure you assign it to someone who will know how to tackle the issue.
Tip: A common reason support tickets go missing is because it was assigned to someone who has been out of the office. The person will probably have no idea they received a ticket and it’ll get buried under all the other cases piling in.
Make sure you are notifying the assignee via other channels like email or group chat services such as Slack.
If a ticket is assigned to a new person make sure they have an accurate view of the ticket history. Being able to see all updates and status changes is critical to acting quickly with minimal back-and-forth communication.
This might seem like a no-brainer.
80% of consumers say companies do not have the context of their last conversation. (Market Watch).
You can’t improve what you don’t measure.
It’s critical your company has a set of KPIs to track the performance of your support team, and identify areas for improvement.
What is your average handle time?
Which support categories absorb the most manpower?
What is your average response time?
How many unresolved tickets do you average each month?
What is your average resolution time?
How about your ticket close rate?
These are all questions you should be able to answer. It’ll help you identify opportunity gaps. You can leverage custom reports to get as granular as you like. Find out things like which specific days of the week have the highest ticket creation and close numbers.
Without the data, you’re flying blind.
If you find a specific department or ticket category has a slow response time or high number of unresolved tickets, you can allocate more resources.
There is no right or wrong way to manage your support queue. Each process you try comes with it’s own unique set of upsides and downsides. But, if you start implementing the 13 tips shown above, you’ll be well on your way to building a refined ticket management process.
by Robbie. head of marketing