Better UX for support ticket systems

Solving customers’ problems with positive experiences

Ricardo Gerstl
EverestEngineering
Published in
7 min readFeb 26

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This article explores support ticket systems, their misconceptions, their goals, the frustrations that using them may cause, and how User Experience design can alleviate those frustrations.

As I mention “customers” and “service organizations” throughout the article, the concepts explained also apply to ticket systems of small organizations, internal systems, tickets related to HR or other departments, etc.

Got a problem? Raise a ticket!

The purpose of a support ticket is for customers to report issues or ask questions and receive a response from a customer service representative. For example, if they are having problems logging into their account, they can submit a support ticket for assistance.

The process behind creating support tickets is commonly misunderstood; it is initially perceived as similar to call centers, where customers’ requests are usually dealt with immediately on the phone or they are redirected to a physical location for solving. When this doomed customer's expectation of immediate action and personalized service are not met, tickets are considered dead ends. In many cases, the customer will attempt to contact the organization directly or, in severe cases, switch to a competitor service.

“Let’s have massive Call Centers then!”: Call centers are expensive to operate, and they can only provide a limited amount of customer support. Many call centers focus on solving common problems through protocols and are not able to offer the depth of products and services available. In an ever-evolving service industry, specialized technical experts are needed.

Support tickets are a necessary evil for organizations that deal with complex systems and serve a large number of users. The main benefit is providing assistance and connecting customers with the right person and ultimately to the right solution. While this is the north star of support tickets, the goals of ticket management teams (service desks) often interfere with it. The most common reason? SLAs.

Death by SLA

How service desks should function is defined by service level agreements (SLAs). It includes metrics that measure resolution times as well as the end-user experience, such as customer satisfaction and response times. Service desk teams can then adjust their service based on the impact it has on the end user.

It would be ideal if we could add customer satisfaction surveys and like magic know how the customer is doing. Nevertheless, they are considered annoying when they interfere, ignored by customers, and used mostly when there is a negative experience. On the other hand, ticket status changes and the speed of interactions can be accurately measured to the millisecond. This makes resolution and response times the easiest way to measure service desk performance. In most cases, it becomes the main factor of an SLA.

Assume that you are a service desk manager and ask yourself: What is the purpose of customer satisfaction? Do I really care about customer experience if time-related SLAs are met?

The SLA’s time goals have changed from “providing assistance and connecting customers with the right person” to “providing the fastest assistance (period)”

What can we do as designers of systems and organizations to reverse this trend?

Stickers were the ultimate feedback as 90s kids for a job well done

Positive experience: a wrinkle in time

Customers will benefit more from your service desk and offerings if they have a positive experience over a fast one. Organizations should take the high road and ask the user if they are satisfied with the resolution they received. In spite of organizations’ and often clients’ desire for speed, service desk employees need to consider end users’ happiness in order to achieve the most favorable outcome for their tickets. Not all tickets are resolved the same way. In some cases, users may not receive a satisfactory resolution if they are focused solely on time, affecting productivity.

How to create positive experiences

Throughout my involvement in a number of projects that involve the design or improvement of ticketing systems, the feedback I’ve gathered has covered the following topics:

1. Provide time for the best solution

Think about your customer using your service to become “more productive”. Raising a ticket signifies a break in productivity. When ticket resolution times are equivalent to productivity gains, customers will generally be willing to wait longer if the resolution is better in the long run. The loss of productivity may seem minimal with a quick resolution. However, if the resolution doesn’t meet their specific needs, they may not be able to return to maximum productivity.

UX Design opportunities:

  • Customer understanding is improved by explaining what happens behind the scenes. Status of activities like “Contacting specialists”, “Escalating Ticket ”, “Allocating support partner”, etc.
  • Understanding the number of tickets being worked on and time estimate “938 tickets are active— response time 30 mins”
  • License yourself to provide intermediary solutions. Labeling “Fast solution”, “Common solution”

2. Setting and managing expectations

There is no doubt that the service desk must prioritize tickets and that some issues will take more time to resolve. However, users do want a realistic timeline for their issues. Service desk analysts sometimes have to explain why a ticket has a lower priority than others and why a resolution will take a certain amount of time. In this way, users feel they received a better service because their expectations are managed.

UX Design opportunities:

  • Providing expected response time before the start
  • Create a matrix for priority, allocate, and explain why the ticket is being prioritized that way
  • When answers require escalation, re-assignment, or further research: update the wait time

Note: never share the ranking of support tickets directly with the customer. It can create the feeling of being undermined.

3. Communication that is open and transparent

There are numerous ways to deliver updates, but this is mainly the duty of a client-facing ticketing system: to keep clients posted about their tickets. Users want to stay informed about progress. Providing regular updates to users can provide reassurance that the issue is being addressed in a timely manner.

UX Design opportunities:

  • Changes in states, no matter how small, can make users feel cared for
  • Accountability of service provider: talking with a person and not with a robot
  • Changes in resources capability: “XXX is causing delays at the moment, and we appreciate your patience” or “Due to YYY, ticket resolution may take longer than usual.”

4. It feels good to be heard

An analyst’s greatest responsibility is listening (or reading attentively) to their customers. A service desk analyst who pays attention gets a much better understanding of the issue. In addition, this includes the circumstances surrounding the issue, customers’ attempts to resolve it, the significance of the issue to them, and the impact it has on their productivity. By analyzing all the information and prioritizing the ticket, an analyst can provide better guidance.

UX Design opportunities:

  • Set up fields that describe common characteristics of problems your service encounters. “Step in a process XXX, the device used, Connectivity ”
  • In order to get meaningful user input, it is essential to strike a balance between open text fields and too many specific fields. Open text fields allow users to express themselves more freely but could result in incomplete or incorrect information. The user can get overwhelmed when there are too many specific fields, which can result in incorrect or incomplete data. Therefore, striking a balance between these two factors is essential.
  • A balance between required and optional fields. This ensures that the service desk has enough information to understand what is required for the form but also provides some flexibility for the user to provide additional details if needed.
  • By monitoring and analyzing customer feedback, it is possible to identify patterns in the types of problems customers are experiencing. This can help identify underlying service issues and potential areas of improvement, as well as alert the team to any potential problems before they become too serious.

5. BONUS: Preventive UX design

The best tickets are the ones that don’t need to be created. Customers would rather not have any problems or be able to navigate them by themselves than have to reach out to the organization. To name a few things that will allow better User Experience without requiring to contact the organization with a ticket:

  • Explicit instructions on how to use the service: Video references, written instructions, integrated walkthroughs, explanatory labels, and descriptions, etc
  • Comprehensive error messages that allow the users to understand the problem and take the best actions by themselves
  • A common questions and answers section as part of the documentation will help people sort out the majority of the problems. Don’t fear redundancy of information, let customers find the information their own way.
  • Open forums: Answer questions openly with the customer community and allow them to help each other

Takeaway

Design a ticketing system that enables positive experiences. The ticket system should be designed so that service desk personnel have time to find the most suitable solution, expectations are set and managed, transparent communication happens, and the customer is heard.

👋 Hola! Let’s meet! You can connect with me on LinkedIn. As well as Medium, I’m on Everest Engineering for more User Experience content.

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