fighting the lack of good ideas

what should an “ideal” support ticketing system provide?

If you were going to create a support ticketing system from scratch – what would you put in it?

My initial list of needs (some of which derive from my book, Debugging and Supporting Software Systems, and other from my experiences in ticket smashes):

  • “long” title support (HP truncates at 80 characters – give me at least 255)
  • “long” field update support (HP truncates at 4k characters – that’s not enough for some stack traces)
  • clear contact fields for both filer and support case owner
  • allow updates to be made via email or web ui
  • allow attachments (for log files, screenshots, etc)
  • have “private” updates visible only to support personnel
  • clear date/time stamps for updates
  • ability to turn case “result” into a KB article
  • clear resolution field
  • web ui should be highly responsive – and run usably on any modern browser (mobile, desktop, tablet, etc)
  • ability to cross-link to other cases filed by same customer
  • clear indication of who has made updates (maybe alternating colors for customer vs support updates?)
  • as few hoops as possible to open new cases & to update existing ones
  • simple way to close a case if you’re the opener
  • easy means to transfer ownership of a case – both for the customer and for the support technician
  • ability to search previous cases – both for customers and engineers

What else would you add? What would you change?

always use verbose output when troubleshooting

In my eBook, Debugging and Supporting Software Systems, I wrote about several aspects of submitting good bug reports and support ticket, how to communicate, and more.

If you’re ever troubleshooting a problem, it is universally helpful to enable the most verbose output possible in logging (stdout, stderr, and log files). You may not want it on all the time – but when there are issues, it’s vital.

It’s especially helpful if, as a group, you are involved in a ticket smash.

Verbose output saved me just this week in seeing that a bind mount I thought was working properly was not (and causing an entire install to fail).
Thanks, –verbose 🙂

the pros and cons of “gamification”

Slashdot has a post on gamification in the workplace today.

One of the myriad replies was from a poster, gomoX, who was pushing his company’s gamified tech support tool ( I’m all for product placement and pushing when it’s relevant (and here it most certainly was), but I don’t like the general concepts in that particular tool.

gomoX started well, too:

Bad system:
* 10 points for solving a ticket
* 1 point por replying to a ticket
* 4 points for chipping into another tech’s tickets (allegedly to help out)
* -20 points for reopened ticket
* -100 points for SLA missed

but then goes into describing (and then having shredded by many responders) their “Good system”:

* 1 point for solving a ticket
* 15, 10, 0, -10, -20 points for 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1-star customer ratings on those tickets
* -100 points for SLA missed
* 200 points bonus for doing 10 5-star tickets in a row
* 1000 points bonus for doing those 10 5-star tickets in a row in less than one hour

It even starts to become fun! And if you plug gamification throughout the whole system, even this (taken from a “Knowledge Week” quest that lasted through a specific week in an InvGate Service Desk instance):
* 10 points for creating a Knowledge Base article
* 15, 10, 0, -10, -20 points for 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1-star customer ratings on those articles
* 20 points for having the article you created used by other techs to solve a ticket
* 50 points for having the article you created used by customers to figure out the ticket themselves

I’ve written in the past about support organizations, and have a guide on effective support cases available, too. And I stand by my previous assertions that “gaming” and the metrics mindset are a Bad Thingâ„¢ – when they’re the BASIS of management reviews, promotions, etc.

The big problem with the InvGate concept is stated so cheerfully, I had to read it twice:

You get a performance metric in the amount of points an agent gathered during a period of X … It even has a “ka-ching” sound effect when you get points!

Seriously? a ‘”ka-ching” sound effect’? Who does this encourage? Certainly not any of the professionals I’ve ever worked with!

Maybe there are groups for which this would work – but none that I would want to deal with over anything important or business critical.

There are ways in which gentle, informal “competition” can be a Good Thingâ„¢ … but those are few and far between in the professional environment of support work.

A friend of mine pointed me at a [potentially] NSFW site with “badges” you can earn that was pretty funny (excluding the cussing).