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Bob Rizzo | June 25, 2020

4 Tips to Handle COVID-19 Service Desk Ticket Pile-Ups

Social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the buzzwords of the quarter, if not the year as a whole. Nearly every country and industry has been impacted in one way or another by COVID-19. For many in the service desk, that impact comes in the form of remote work and major technological challenges. Ultimately, this leads to one thing: a backlog of tickets awaiting resolution and fewer resources to address them.

According to Gartner: “I&O leaders are already looking to the long-term effects and changes brought about by social distancing and self-isolation. So far, we have examined the short-term effects and responses, but it is clear that things will not return to the same normal as before the coronavirus crisis. The economic outlook looks to be challenging as I&O budgets shrink. IT service desks will be dealing with the backlog of lower-priority incidents, requests and problems, putting longer-term pressure on the capacity to deal with the constant intake of issues.”

Although pandemic pandemonium may have set your team back and caused a heap of tickets that need to be resolved, all hope is not lost. Your team CAN still get ahead and prioritize, delegate, and resolve every ticket in the queue.

4 Tips to Help the Service Desk Catch Up

The reasons for ticket pile-up during the pandemic are plenty. Fewer agents are available as employees are working remotely, many also providing dependent care while on the clock which may temporarily slow their productivity.

Even more common: service desk employees may have been furloughed or laid off, while an increase in using new software (like Zoom or Teams for virtual meetings) may have generated additional tickets. There also may be new issues caused by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and software incompatibility. 

Additionally, a shrinking IT budget may create even more of a disparity as tickets accumulate, and the service desk is more and more overworked, leading to a more reactive than proactive department as a whole.

Altogether, these issues add up to create the perfect storm for the service desk team post-COVID. However, these four tips will help your team get back on track: 

Tip 1: Implement an ITSM Solution

The first step in getting accumulated tickets under control is to implement an ITSM solution. ITSM software will help prioritize and organize tickets, assign them to the proper agent, and provide live updates to both customers of the service desk and management.

There are several benefits to using a cloud based IT service management software. Aside from the obvious benefit of submitting and tracking tickets more easily, there is also a higher return on investment when tickets are being handled properly in one interaction. Benefits also include simultaneous accommodation of high ticket volumes, improved employee experience, fewer calls to the service desk, and effortless coordination for a remote or blended workforce (among several others).

I know what you are thinking: “Why would I want to worry about implementing something NEW when my team is still wading through a sea of tickets! I don’t have time to roll out something new right now!”  

Implementing an ITSM solution does not have to be complicated. In fact, one of the benefits of deploying an easy self-service ITSM solution is fairly simple configuration and a fast-track to implementation. With adequate planning and information, an ITSM solution can be launched at the same time that the team is handling tickets without losing important progress.

Tip 2: Change Work Allocation and Choose a Focus

Many service desks look to ITIL best practices to provide guidance on how to prioritize requests. However, while ITIL best practices can be incredibly useful, I think it is safe to say they were not created with a global crisis in mind and with potentially hundreds of backlogged tickets waiting to be handled.

Although your service desk may normally stick with ITIL best practices, you may need to temporarily change the workflow and work allocation process for service desk employees to ensure that as many requests are handled as possible. This will require analyzing which team members do best with specific requests, which agents can work quickly on smaller items, and which requests can be moved to self-service a'la shift-left.

The service desk may find it easier to start by choosing a focus and tackling that focus collectively. For example, your team may find it helpful to prioritize smaller requests first, saving the more high-level, long-term, complex issues for seasoned team members to handle once the workload has been divided and conquered. This is just one of many ways to temporarily shift priorities to resolve as many tickets in as short a time as possible. 

Tip 3: Embrace Automation and Self-Service  

Automation, chatbots, and self-service software can be used in a variety of ways to improve the service desk, pandemic or not. One of the major ways this technology helps overworked service desks during and after a pandemic is through automatic resolution of common service desk questions and 24/7 availability for all users. 

Automation and self-service availability reduces the number of new incoming tickets and ultimately supports a shift-left initiative, freeing up more time for agents to resolve tickets in the backlog. In fact, Salesforce’s State of Service Survey states that “64% of [service desk] agents with AI chatbots are able to spend most of their time solving complex problems, versus 50% of agents without AI chatbots.” 

Further, automation gives those with existing tickets the chance to attempt to resolve their own problem while they wait. Especially when used with a cloud based ITSM solution, automation can also prevent duplicate ticket requests and clean up existing duplicates, should the user attempt to report the same issue multiple times.

These platforms can be uncomplicated to manage and provide answers on anything from new meeting software for a blended or remote workforce, to walking users through troubleshooting common errors and creating a ticket with a log of what information was already read and tested by the user.  

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Tip 4: Encourage the Use of Knowledge Management and Peer Support Channels 

As mentioned before, to work through the tickets that have already accumulated, service desks will need to shift focus to prevent unnecessary or repeated tickets. This means eliminating repetitive, low-level service desk requests through the use of a knowledge management database and peer support channels.

Whether through the use of a peer-support Wiki, a more complex knowledge management database, or a fully functioning self-service portal, encouraging knowledge sharing can prevent a massive accumulation of tickets during future business disruptions. Encouraging self-education can ease some of the stress on the service desk as a whole, as they will move away from being the first line of defense against common, easy-to-solve problems. 

It should be noted that in order for employees to utilize a knowledge management database consistently, there must be a multi-level, people-focused initiative and roll-out. Although the goal is to reduce tickets and work through the ticket backlog, the team should be aware that ultimately, the goal is also to make their lives easier with this new technology, despite potential growing pains in the beginning. 

An IT self-service portal in combination with a knowledge management database and self-help technology can lead to an overall decrease in new tickets, calls, and costs.

Finding the New Normal

When these four tips are combined, the service desk can begin to make headway on working through the backlog of accumulated tickets resulting from COVID-19. Once these tickets have been dealt with, leaders can begin looking at what the new normal means for your service desk team.

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Bob Rizzo

Bob Rizzo is the Product Marketing Director at EasyVista. An accomplished sales and marketing professional focused on helping customers, he serves as the product evangelist, both internally and externally, for the Easy Vista Self Help product. Rizzo has vast experience working with customers and partners in the IT service management software industry and understanding the challenges they face. Outside of work, he is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing golf, billiards and soccer.