How to choose the right help desk ticket management system

Help desk ticket solutions offer many benefits to businesses, including centralization and accountability. These guidelines will help you home in on the features that make sense for your organization.

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The typical activities of a growing business--hiring new employees, engaging new customers, deploying new hardware and software, and building the information technology infrastructure needed to accommodate all of it--will inevitably result in a much more complicated set of applications, interactions, and transactions. Employees, customers, and vendors operating in such an environment are going to run into IT-related problems that interfere with their normal workflow--problems that require expert technical help and a system to support it.

By deploying the right help desk ticket management system, successful growing businesses can document, manage, and solve technical problems for employees and customers systematically and efficiently. In this paradigm, a "ticket" represents documentation describing the problem, assigning the correct personnel to address it, prioritizing its status based on organizational policies, and eventually suggesting fixes or workarounds. The system allows stakeholders to view the status of a ticket at any time during the resolution process.

Finding the help desk ticket management software or system that best fits your business needs requires a thorough examination of exactly which features your system must provide. Starting with established business policies, your decision makers should consider how tickets will be tracked as they flow through the system, how they will be prioritized, how they will be assigned, and where they will be stored. A systematic approach to the decision-making process could go a long way toward eliminating future frustrations.

The following guidelines will help you evaluate solution criteria and find, document, and deploy the best solution for your business.

Note: Our premium sister site, Tech Pro Research, offers this article as a PDF download, along with a tool to help you document your research.

The benefits of help desk ticket management software and services

When a business is small, technical help for the entire operation may be provided by a single person working in an office down the hall. However, as a business grows, information technology grows with it, and the management of those services becomes dispersed across many individuals, departments, and possibly locations. Getting appropriate and useful technical help with any efficiency requires a more sophisticated system.

Help desk ticket management software and services provide several benefits to businesses trying to maintain a productive work environment, including:

  • Automation. This lets you stabilize a systematic procedure to handle ticket flow, prioritization, personnel assignment, and alerts.
  • Centralization. All help ticket information is housed in a single location where it can be readily accessed.
  • Customer experience. Depending on the system, a business may be able to establish FAQs, knowledge bases, and other self-service information.
  • Prioritization. By properly categorizing problems, businesses can choose to fix them with the most impact on productivity first.
  • Accountability. IT employees and help desk personnel have a clear understanding of their assignments and their responsibilities.
  • Reporting. Analysis of help desk tickets may reveal patterns of behavior, needs for specific application training, and potential security vulnerabilities.

SEE: How to get users on board with essential security measures (free TechRepublic PDF)

Questions to consider during the decision-making process

Before you can begin assessing help desk ticket management systems from vendors, your decision makers must assess your overall business needs, strategies, and policies. A thorough analysis of what you expect a potential help desk ticket management system to do will provide the necessary foundation for your vendor selection.

When choosing which help desk ticket management solution to deploy in your business, you should consider several key questions:

  • Will your help desk management system be required to handle internal tickets only? External only? Perhaps a combination of both?
  • Will the system have to be robust enough to distinguish between tickets falling under a service level agreement (SLA) and those that don't?
  • Will the help desk ticketing system reside on an internal on-premises server? Will the IT department oversee maintenance? Will the system be deployed as a cloud service? Will it be provided under a SaaS model?
  • How much customization will be required? Will you need to customize the tickets themselves? Will you need the ability to have attachments? Code snippets? Will your business need time tracking, asset management, a knowledge base, live chat apps, etc.?
  • If your business will attach help desk tickets to products and product returns, will the system need to integrate seamlessly into an existing inventory management system?
  • Should your choice of help desk ticket management software or services be able to deflect received ticket requests to knowledge bases, FAQs, keyword searches, or other self-service solutions automatically?
  • Will your employees need to be able to file, process, and track help desk tickets via mobile devices? Which mobile devices? Which operating systems need to be supported?

SEE: Telephone interview cheat sheet: Support technician (Tech Pro Research)

Features

With a documented assessment of current business needs for a help desk ticket management system in place, your decision makers can proceed to narrow potential choices based on the quality of available features, including:

Ticket automation

While ticket automation is an obvious and necessary feature of any help desk ticket management system, the quality of the available automation will vary from vendor to vendor. Decision makers should look for automation features that are easy to use and fit with the existing procedures, personnel, and culture of the business.

SLA status

In general, an SLA is a contract requiring certain behaviors and outcomes. Failure to meet those requirements could result in substantial penalties impacting an organization's bottom line. If your business has SLA requirements, your choice of help desk ticket management software or service must have this capability.

Ticket categorization

Not all problems are the same and not all tickets will have the same level of importance. A good help desk ticket management system should have mechanisms for categorizing tickets as they arrive. Categories will determine priority, help with assignments, and identify patterns that may suggest a common systemic problem.

Customizable templates

Supporting the concept of ticket categorization are features that allow you to customize templates for specific user groups based on various factors, including department, application, personnel, customer, product, and service.

Customizable queues and flows

Another aspect of categorization that may come into play is the ability to customize queues to tickets to specific departments or individuals. Your business may require certain individuals or departments to be assigned to handle specific tickets. Your help desk ticket management software or service should be able to direct ticket flow accordingly.

Customizable status options

Related to customizable queues and templates is the ability to customize the status of a ticket to match your business nomenclature. This can be important for employee buy-in for a new system.

SEE: How to improve security without treating your users like criminals (TechRepublic)

Public and private actions

Depending on the nature of the problem described by a ticket, your business may require that certain actions be kept confidential or private. If this is the case, your choice of help desk ticket management software or service should have this capability.

Inventory management integration

If your business ties specific products or services to individual customers, you will probably want to associate any help desk tickets received from those customers with their product or service. This close association adds another level of categorization to your ticket flow.

Customer personalization

Likewise, depending on your business needs, customers may need to see and refer to an archive of their help desk tickets. If this is the case, your help desk ticket management system should be able to accommodate this requirement.

Ticket aggregation

Under certain conditions, dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of help desk tickets will enter a system all pertaining to the same problem. Help desk ticket management software and services that can automatically aggregate those numerous tickets into one could save time and expense.

Ticket deflection

Another important automation feature is the ability to deflect and redirect tickets referring to common problems toward common self-service solutions. Software or services that recognize tickets with readily available solutions residing in knowledge bases will save time, money, and personnel frustration.

Customizable submission forms

Closely related to customized templates is the ability to customize online submission forms to correspond to specific users. Customization of forms acts as the first step toward proper categorization.

SEE: Will smart vending machines replace the IT service desk? (ZDNet)

Self-service creation and management

While automatically deflecting tickets to existing solutions residing in knowledge bases sounds great, those knowledge bases still have to be created first. If self-service problem solving is going to play a key role in your business, you should look for software and services that can help you create and store them.

Customer access to flow

When customers file help desk tickets, they often expect near immediate results--something that is seldom possible. However, those same customers may be satisfied by the ability to see their ticket as if flows through the system.

Customer access to product information

If your business sells many products or services, it may be difficult for a customer to specify exactly what product or service they are filing a help desk ticket about. This can cause confusion for the customer, as well as for the employee trying to solve their problem. Giving customers access to pertinent product information while they are writing their help desk ticket can reduce this confusion.

Collaboration

Solving complicated problems often requires participation and collaboration with other employees. The best help desk ticket management software and services should have tools and features that facilitate active collaboration between individuals, departments, and different physical locations.

Search capabilities

Having an extensive knowledge base is all well and good, but such self-service solutions would work much better if there is an effective way to search them.

File attachments

The more pertinent information that can be filed with a help desk ticket, the more likely a workable solution can be found. The ability to attach files, code, images, and other documents to a ticket should be standard for just about every help desk ticket management system.

Live chat, bot chat

A relatively modern feature, the ability to live chat with a customer or user about a problem before they file a ticket can greatly reduce the overall workload of your help desk team. The ability to "talk" to a robot chat system can play an important part in your overall self-service deflection strategy.

Asset management

Internal help desk tickets often involve problems with current IT assets like workstations, printers, displays, etc. A help desk ticket management system that can integrate with your existing asset management system can prevent entry duplications and save your company time and money.

SEE: SMB best practices: Templates for creating estimates, invoices, and billing statements (Tech Pro Research)

Email integration

Part of the prioritization, categorization, and assignment process for any ticket is the ability to notify personnel that a ticket exists. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through email.

Time tracking

Under some circumstances, providing help desk services is a billable activity. Businesses in those situations must be able to track and document the time spent working on a help desk ticket. Your choice of software or service will need to have time-tracking features and tools you can incorporate into your business practices.

User permissions

As part of the categorization and prioritization process, not all help desk users may have permission to view and act on every help desk ticket that flows through the system. Your business may need to establish a user permission hierarchy, and your software or service should be able to accommodate that level of security.

Reporting

One underappreciated aspect of help desk ticket management solutions is the ability to draft and produce informative reports. Help desk ticket reports can reveal unrealized patterns, predict asset lifecycle failures, and suggest problem areas that need to be addressed before they lead to productivity disasters.

Analytics

Related to reporting features is the ability to perform analytic measurements on help desk ticket activity. Data visualization and other techniques may provide actionable insights into business operations and suggest operational opportunities.

Multilingual support

Many businesses, regardless of size, operate in an international marketplace. Giving a customer the ability to submit help desk tickets in their native language could eliminate confusion and facilitate a quick resolution to a problem.

Integration with third-party apps

The ability to integrate with any number of third-party applications could be crucial to your overall business strategy.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Modern sophisticated help desk ticket management solutions are increasingly using various forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning to help categorize, prioritize, and assign tickets. Vendors that can provide the framework for these features may be a priority for your business.

Community forums

Along with having a searchable knowledge base of solutions, your business may also need tools for creating an online community forum system. Depending on the sophistication of your customer base, forums could supplement your help desk efforts and save your business time and money.

Technical support

Just as your business offers technical support to its customers, your choice of help desk ticket management software and services should offer support to you. Any vendor offering anything less than responsive 24/7 technical support should be eliminated from consideration.

Pricing

The cost of help desk ticket management software and services varies widely. Some cloud services vendors offer free versions of their products in the hope that you will eventually upgrade to one of their paid subscription versions. Other vendors require you to get a quote from them and offer no indication of initial cost until you do. At the very least, a free trial should always be an option.

Relationships

With the wide variety of options available, choosing the best help desk ticket management service or software for your business may come down to the customer-client relationship. The ability to work with a vendor may be the most important determining factor in your ultimate choice of a service or piece of software.

Factors in this category include:

  • Technical support. Your ultimate choice of a help desk ticket management solution should include 24/7 technical support that is responsive and attentive. The manner in which a vendor handles its own help desk tickets could be enlightening for your decision-making process.
  • Expertise and experience. Established services with highly trained and experienced experts should be preferable to any cheaper fly-by-night operation.
  • Analytical reporting. While all the vendors promise informative analytical reporting, the quality of the actual reporting may vary. Reporting that makes sense to you and your business should take precedence over all others.
  • Ease of use. No matter how sophisticated the tools offered by your chosen service or software vendor, they will be effective only if your employees are willing and able to use them.

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