As many of my readers know, I used to work for a software company which is based near Madison, WI that makes a popular electronic health record (EHR). I won’t name the company to help protect their privacy. I practiced primary care pediatrics for many years before moving over the vendor side, so the ways of a large corporation were foreign to me in many aspects. While this might sound odd, what follows is a true story.
It was day three of my employment by this unnamed EHR vendor (ok, fine, it was Epic). Not only did I move from a two-doctor, self-owned pediatric practice to a large corporation, but further, that corporation was known to have some rather unusual ways, even for a software development shop. I had finished some training and made my way to the restroom. Upon the door, I saw a handwritten piece of paper affixed with tape that read: “Toilet overflowed. Helpdesk ticket submitted.” I looked at the paper a few times. Looked around to see if anyone was watching me (who remembers Candid Camera?) Then I looked at the paper again.
Was I supposed to believe that someone submitted a helpdesk ticket for a plugged-up toilet? I’ve submitted tickets for broken laptops and email clients that stopped working, but not for a non-tech issue like a toilet. That was crazy. I thought it was a prank, but it turned out to be standard operating procedure. If there was a pipe spewing water over the floor, you called someone immediately. But if it wasn’t something that was actively getting worse in front of you, you submitted a helpdesk ticket.
The ticketing system that we used back in the day when I was at Epic was homegrown. The company was founded in 1979, and it looked like the helpdesk ticket software dated from around that time. It was ugly. It didn’t follow any usability principles. It couldn’t be personalized at all. And . . . it was freaking awesome! Let me elaborate.
The helpdesk ticketing system let me enter as much or as little information as I wanted. There were a dozen or so categories from which to choose, but I could always select Miscellaneous. If I choose Hardware problem, I’d see a free-text box with instructions like this: “We’ve included the following questions that often will help us resolve your problem quickly. The more information you can give us now, the faster we may be able to resolve your problem. If you don’t know the answers to some or all of the questions, leave them blank. We’ll reach out to get the information we need.” I loved this!
Every helpdesk ticketing I’ve ever used has required fields (think stop signs) that must always be answered before you can move forward. If you don’t understand the question or don’t know the answer, you better choose something randomly or you’re not going anywhere. This follows the computer science principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). The user is forced to put garbage into the ticket, which is only going to confuse the person on the receiving end and cause unnecessary delays. I really appreciated being treated as a sentient being by the tech support folks at Epic: “Hey people! Help us help you. This is the information we need to fix most problems. It’s worth your time to try to give us the info, but if you don’t know where to find some of this, that’s cool. We’ll do our best, but we might have to contact you, and that’s going to delay resolution of your problem.”
Another feature of the helpdesk system that I loved was the ability to mess up, yet still move forward. Invariably, I would mis-categorize the problem. I’d say it was a laptop problem, but I should’ve noted it was an e-mail problem (e-mail is on my laptop, right?) Instead of getting the ticket sent back to me saying, “Doofus, this is not a laptop problem. Good luck. God bless,” the person on the receiving end simply re-categorized it and sent it on its way. If I couldn’t categorize it all and I choose the dreaded Miscellaneous issue, there was a smart person somewhere who figured out the right answer and nicely updated it for me. I know what you’re thinking right now. “Wait! Are you telling me that the company paid people to monitor the helpdesk ticket queues ensuring that things were moving along as efficiently and effortlessly as possible?” Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you.
The final piece of the helpdesk ticket puzzle was transparency. Every user could see all of his/her tickets, resolved and unresolved. You could follow the flow: I created it on this day, then this person recategorized it because I’m a doofus, and now it’s been sitting in this person’s queue for three days with no action. Might I give that person a call to see what’s up? Yes, I might!
Allow me to recap. If you want to create an amazing helpdesk ticketing system, remember these three concepts:
- Allow the user to give as much or as little information as possible. The onus to resolve the problem is on the receiving end, not the customer end.
- Build redundancy into your system so if the customer (aka user) messes up, someone is there to magically fix the problem and get it to the right person.
- Ensure there is transparency so that everyone sees where their tickets are and the folks on the receiving end aren’t thought of as a black box.
Of course, there is no need to write your own ticketing system. Just make sure to configure your purchased software to adhere to these recommendations.