Ticket handling is one of the most vital functions of the IT organization. Through the ticket handling process, and typically with the support of a software-based ticket system, the IT organization provides customer service to the business in the areas of incident management and request fulfillment. 

IT service and support teams work closely with the IT organization's ticket handling software solution to resolve support tickets in the shortest period of time, typically in accordance with agreed target resolution times known as service-level agreements (SLAs). To support ticket handling best practices, IT support workers may also build and maintain a knowledge base to collect information about known IT issues and help reduce resolution times for similar tickets.

Why Is Ticket Handling Important?

Businesses are increasingly dependent on IT infrastructure and services to support business processes that drive revenue. Ticket creation happens when users encounter an IT issue or require a service that is provided by the IT service desk. From there, IT support staff engage with the ticket management system to optimize the customer experience during the resolution process while managing critical ticket handling key performance indicators (KPIs) like ticket response time and resolution times. 

Inefficient ticket handling processes can lead to SLA breaches where an unaddressed IT issue ends up causing unplanned service downtime that impacts customers of the business. Lost or mismanaged tickets and unnecessary escalations can also lead to excess costs that impact business profitability and the overall ROI of service desk operations. For these reasons, many IT organizations rely on an IT service desk software solution that supports a streamlined and effective ticket handling process.

The 20 Ticket Handling Best Practices for IT

1. Avoid Unnecessary Creation of Tickets for Issues That Have Approved Resolutions

Unnecessary creation of tickets can lead to overworked IT service desk operators. When an IT issue presents itself repeatedly, IT operators should develop an approved resolution and document it within the IT organization's knowledge base. Users should be encouraged to self-service their IT issues using approved resolutions from the knowledge base or a customized self-service portal. ITSM software tools can help connect users with approved resolutions before an unnecessary ticket is created.

2. Determine Which Tickets Get Handled First

Your IT service desk should determine how to organize and prioritize tickets. The optimal prioritization method is different for each company and depends on several factors. The most common models are:

  • First In, First Out (also referred to as first-come, first-served), where tickets are handled in chronological order according to when the ticket was received
  • Pick & Choose/VIP, where tickets are handled based on the urgency of the request 

Your organization may choose to stick to one model, or to change models when necessary based on business requirements. The focus of ticket prioritization should be to provide the most effective customer support for end-users.

3. Avoid Needless Waiting Time for a Change Authorization

For organizations that follow the ITIL framework and processes, authorization from a Change Manager is nearly always required to implement any major change. IT organizations should implement ITSM software tools that automatically inform Change Managers when their authorization is required. This ensures timely communication and coordination between change management and service desk, reducing resolution times for issues that require change implementation.

4. Always Set and Monitor Ticket Status

Service desk staff are responsible for accurately setting and monitoring the status of each ticket to prevent duplicated effort and ensure that prioritization is conducted accurately. Tickets should be categorized as one of:

  • New/Open
  • In Progress
  • On Hold
  • Closed

Team members at the service desk should develop consistent criteria for assigning each type of ticket status.

5. Grade Urgency Based on Ticket Information

IT service and support representatives should implement and enforce a standard ticket format that includes contact information for the user, a description of the IT issue, and an assessment of its impact on business processes. This information can be used to assess the urgency of each ticket, a necessity for service desk teams that respond to tickets based on their priority. 

The development of a standard method for assessing ticket urgency helps to ensure that service and support staff align their priorities with the needs of the business.

6. Move a Change Forward When the Assigned Change Manager Is Unavailable

What happens when the assigned Change Manager for a given change goes on vacation? What if there is a need to make an urgent change that requires approval from that person? In situations where an assigned Change Manager may be unavailable, the IT organization should assign an alternative person who can take responsibility for approving selected changes. 

IT organizations should avoid creating approval structures that grind to a halt when key personnel become temporarily unavailable.

7. Enable Self-Service

The cost of resolving a ticket is proportional to the escalation level it reaches. Data from Informa Tech indicates the following average costs for ticket resolutions in North America by escalation level:

  • Level 1 Ticket: $22
  • Level 2 Ticket: $91
  • Level 3 Ticket $195
  • Field Support: $416
  • Vendor Support: $1015

The same research found that resolving a ticket through customer self-service costs just two dollars! Enabling self-service is therefore one of the most important steps that IT organizations can take to reduce the overall burden on their ticketing system.

8. Prevent Junk Emails Getting into Your IT Help Desk

Manually filtering junk emails can be a major time sink for your IT help desk. In addition to eating away at their valuable productive time, excessive spam mail also increases the probability of overlooking actual tickets that require a timely response. To eliminate this task, IT managers should take the time to configure spam filters for the service desk inbox.

9. Avoid Costly IT Mistakes Arising from Partly Filled Service Requests

IT service desks handle incident resolution along with fulfilling service requests from the business. Incomplete or partially complete service requests can result in service delivery inefficiency, as support staff are left without the necessary information and details to accurately fulfill the request. 

The service desk should customize templates for various types of requests to ensure that adequate information is provided when the request is initially made. An editor may be assigned to review service requests for completeness before they are forwarded to IT support staff.

10. Streamline IT Service Request Validation

Before fulfilling a service request, IT support staff must validate the request. Validation can have several components, including:

  • Ensuring that the person who made the request was authorized to do so
  • Ensuring that the service requested is genuinely required by the intended recipient of the service

For some organizations, it may be advisable to have one or more persons in the role of approving and validating service requests before they reach IT support staff. Department heads may be held responsible for validating service requests that come from their departments. Streamlining IT service request validation helps ensure that IT operators focus their efforts on servicing valid requests.

11. Avoid Long-Winded Email Conversations in Your Service Request Fulfillment Process

The best way to avoid lengthy email exchanges with customers that lengthen the incident management and request fulfillment processes is to collect necessary information at the time that the ticket is created. Ticket management software can be used to establish request templates that ask users the most important questions about each type of request before the ticket is created. 

Request templates should be customized as much as needed to minimize back-and-forth conversations with customers.

12. Promptly Notify Technicians of Critical Incidents

When critical incidents occur after hours or during holidays, technicians must be notified immediately to help prevent business outages that impact revenue. IT organizations should adopt a service desk solution that supports critical incident notification for technicians through the appropriate channels during off-hours.

13. Proactively Avoid Unnecessary Escalations of Tickets

Escalating a ticket to a higher support level means increasing the total cost of resolution, so it's important to only escalate when necessary. Escalations may be triggered automatically when a ticket is approaching SLA violation, meaning that IT support staff have taken too long to respond to or resolve the issue. 

IT managers can avoid unnecessary escalations of tickets by configuring alerts for tickets that are approaching SLA violation and treating them as high-priority before they result in an unnecessary escalation. This is especially useful in situations where a ticket may have been missed or incorrectly assigned and is now approaching SLA violation due to having been overlooked.

14. But Don't Be Afraid to Escalate Tickets If Needed

With that said, escalations should be encouraged and welcomed in situations where they are required, such as when an IT issue impacts critical revenue-generating business processes. IT support staff should willingly escalate tickets when additional support is required to support a positive business outcome or to avoid or mitigate a negative one.

15. Set Up a Tiered Support Structure

For larger IT organizations that deal with greater volumes of tickets, a tiered support structure ensures that the most qualified technicians are focused on the most demanding incident fixes while lower-tier technicians focus on simpler tasks like reviewing/approving/routing tickets and fulfilling basic requests. Establishing a tiered support structure optimizes how IT support staff use their time and reduces ticket management times at each level.

16. Create a Support Workflow (and Enforce It)

Systems produce predictable and consistent results. A support workflow is a system that describes, from a broad perspective, how IT support staff should manage new tickets as they enter the ticket handling system. A support workflow directs IT support staff to follow a predictable set of steps when resolving a ticket. It also helps manage customer expectations in regard to how support tickets will be handled.

17. Segment Your Support Tickets

Larger IT service desk teams depend on accurately segmented support tickets to consistently meet SLAs. Segmenting support tickets ensures that incident reports or service requests that pertain to a particular technology or stage of the customer journey are routed to the most qualified person that can resolve the issue as quickly as possible. 

This could mean routing tickets differently depending on the problem device (printer, server, desktop, etc.), or depending on the type of service inquiry (billing, shipping, returns, etc.). However you choose to segment, it’s clear that the ability to triage support requests efficiently with segmentation can decrease first response times and positively impact customer satisfaction.

18. Empower Your Support Staff

IT agents need access to the right knowledge and tools to effectively resolve customer issues. This means ensuring that they receive tickets with accurate and up-to-date information, correctly filled out by the customer. It also means maintaining a robust knowledge base where they can reference similar cases and make updates when they learn new information. The best way to empower support staff is with a ticket handling software system that helps them stay organized and reduces duplicated or misdirected effort.

19. Provide a Historical View

As a ticket moves through the service desk and through escalations, it may be handled by many different people. To provide the best possible experience for customers of the service desk, it is important that each new person handling a ticket can review the entire documented history of the ticket. This saves the customer from having to repeat and re-explain the issue to several IT support workers throughout the ticket handling process.

20. Follow the Data 

IT organizations that strive for IT service excellence must follow the data. The first step to improving IT ticket handling is the accurate measurement of critical service desk metrics, sometimes called KPIs. Service desks should strongly consider measuring at least the following KPIs:

  • Average response time
  • Average resolution time
  • Average overall ticket handling time
  • Ticket escalation rates
  • Self-service usage rates

*This post originally appeared on the Cherwell blog, prior to the acquisition by Ivanti.