Whether your help desk supports 100 or 100,000 users, call-tracking software can improve your efficiency and help you provide better support. But before you dive into the evaluation process, it is important to develop a set of evaluation criteria based on call-tracking system features that are most important to your help desk. Having evaluated several call-tracking systems for my IT support organization, I can tell you that your criteria should focus on the following:

  • Your organization’s current practices and procedures
  • How your agents would use such a system
  • Call queuing, routing, and escalation
  • System integration points
  • Reporting, adaptability, and other considerations

Call-tracking software evaluation toolkit

To help you evaluate call-tracking software and choose the best product for your help desk, I’ve developed a simple needs analysis checklist and product comparison spreadsheet. You can download this call-tracking software evaluation toolkit by following this link or by clicking on the Downloads link in the navigation bar at the top of this page.
My call-tracking software evaluation toolkit contains both a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet. To increase download speed, we’ve zipped these two files together into one file. You will need an unzip utility such as WinZip or PKZIP to expand the zipped file. You will also need Microsoft Word and Excel.

Understand your organization
The call-tracking package you choose should work within your organization’s current practices and procedures. If this information is not currently documented, sit down and diagram a call for support from initiation to resolution. Include any possible branches, escalations, and service-level agreements. Once you complete this workflow diagram, you can begin the formal evaluation process keeping the following criteria in mind.

Agent use
Since help desk agents will use the new system most often, they must be included in the evaluation process. There are several things to consider from the agent’s perspective that can affect how well the system works for your organization, including:

  • Are calls easy to log?
  • Can information be entered on easily understandable screens that match general data collection processes?
  • Can agents view their current calls in a way that helps them manage their time effectively?

The caller’s help desk history should be readily available. This allows agents to check for reoccurring or currently open problems. The system should allow each action and any follow-up actions to be logged with the initial call.

The system should have an easily understandable and customizable system of grouping/categorizing calls. At a minimum this should include problem type, how the call came to the help desk, call priority, and any applicable service-level agreements (SLAs). Some systems reduce entry time through templates. This can reduce the time require to log common questions and improve the proper categorization of calls.

Another feature that can be useful is the ability to attach documents or other files to a call ticket for future reference. This allows system logs, screenshots, or other records to be stored directly with the issue.

Depending on your organization’s SLAs or policies, you may also need a way for agents to log the time spent on a call and other related costs.

Call queuing, routing, and escalation
Agents must be able to work with active call tickets in a manner that saves them time and effort. Besides personal queues, search capabilities should be comprehensive and allow you to review or drill down to detailed call information. Agents should be able to schedule follow-up actions or reminders for work to be done.

The help desk agent doesn’t work alone. It is important that all IT staff utilize the call-tracking system for support issues. How call tickets are routed and stored in workgroup queues is an important consideration in selecting a system. Call queues may be required if a dispatch agent handles incoming calls and assigns them to the appropriate work group. The system should allow queues to be sorted on a variety of characteristics, such as priority, call type, and user type.

All new call tickets should be automatically assigned to an agent. This requires that agents take ownership of calls and ensure that calls are not ignored. If agents work on each other’s calls, make sure the help desk software allows for the transferring of call tickets.

When call tickets are assigned to a workgroup or individual, automatic notification methods are useful. Some systems send an e-mail or text page to the appropriate agent. A hot list of issues assigned to each workgroup or individual at login is also a good notification tool.

Escalation tools should allow for the automatic notification of management if calls of a high priority are logged or too much time has elapsed since the call was last updated. These tools are an excellent way to monitor your organization’s fulfillment of SLAs.

System integration points
If your techs don’t sit at their desks all day, a Web-based interface can provide anytime/anywhere access and increase the usefulness of your call-tracking system. You may also wish to consider a Web-based interface through which end users can log and monitor their own call tickets. If you do opt for a Web-based end-user interface, make sure that the call-tracking software allows techs to mark information as either public or private. This is essential for protecting sensitive information.

If your end users report a significant number of problems via e-mail, you might want to consider a call-tracking system that automatically logs e-mail requests for support. But be sure any such feature is compatible with your e-mail system.

If your organization requires customer relationship management, asset tracking, training management, or a knowledge base, try to find a single system that fulfills all these needs. While such combined systems are usually more expensive than a system designed solely for tracking IT support call tickets, they are often cheaper than multiple, nonintegrated systems.

Reporting, adaptability, and other considerations
The system’s reporting feature should be easy to use, include graphs, allow for the export of data, and give details on performance measures important to your help desk. The system should provide canned reports and allow your help desk to create customized reports. Some systems can even generate reports and automatically e-mail them to help desk personnel.

It’s unlikely you will find a perfect call-tracking system that meets all of your needs completely, so you should evaluate each product’s adaptability. Can you add additional data fields to the call logging screens? Can screen layouts and colors be changed? Can system codes and drop-down menu choices be personalized? You’ll also want to ensure that any customizations you make do not preclude or increase the difficulty of future system upgrades. Just remember that the more customizations you perform, the longer installation and configuration are likely to take.

Finally, include client and server operating system requirements and hardware specifications in your evaluation. Review the vendors carefully for reputation, support agreements, and stability. Obtain clear quotes including number of licenses, whether licenses are per user, concurrent, or server-based, and first-year and ongoing annual maintenance costs.