Tracking help desk tickets: Policies and procedures

Your help desk gets a lot of requests, so how should you keep track of what's coming in and what gets the highest priority? Learn how to analyze data to create and implement a finely tuned help desk policy.

Stuart Galup
Stuart D. Galup

The first question you need to ask is "Do we operate a call center, a help desk or a service desk?" These terms are often used synonymously, but they mean different things.

Here is a brief explanation of each term:

  • A call center receives calls and records incidents. Each incident is then escalated to a service tower – for example, network support -- for action.

  • A help desk also receives and records incidents but it also attempts to resolve the incidents. Help desks are staffed with skilled technicians who can address simple issues such as login resets and can execute predefined procedures called workarounds. The result is quick restoration of service without having to escalate the incident to one of the service towers. This increases customer satisfaction and reduces the workload on the service towers.

  • A service desk does what a help desk does but also maintains contracts and software licenses and interfaces with many other IT service management processes like problem management. A service desk is the single point of contact for customers, and it owns each incident throughout its lifecycle.

Before you can analyze the performance of your service desk you need to establish guidelines for the metrics you will use to determine effectiveness and efficiency. First, review all Service Level Agreements to identify performance indicators. Second, identify those targets that you can actually measure. Third, establish a baseline. This gives you a starting point to determine if you are doing better or worse.

Finally, talk to your customers because awareness is critical to good customer relations. Awareness campaigns include one-on-one discussions between the service level manager and customers as well as promotional materials like emails and posters. Some organizations host quarterly technology awareness days. This kind of outreach leads to better customer satisfaction.

Some common metrics from ITIL

The information technology infrastructure library, or ITIL, recommends several common metrics that are useful when managing a service desk. These metrics are divided into daily, weekly, monthly and proactive.

Daily metrics reflect areas requiring escalation by group, possible service breaches, outstanding incidents and availability. Weekly reports expand to include availability, customer satisfaction, breaches of service, major and minor incidents, trends as well as known errors and required changes.

Monthly data is collected on overall performance as it relates to the service level agreements. It also relates to customer perceptions of service and availability. The proactive metrics take into consideration planned changes, major disruptions -- incidents, problems, changes -- unsatisfied customers and overall availability.

Using Microsoft's Operation Framework

Microsoft's Operation Framework, known as MOF, suggests that if your organization is using activity-based costing, it would help to add a field to the incident-logging process that records the department where the incident initiated from so you can assign the cost to the appropriate department.

MOF also recommends that you capture other key metrics, such as cost per minute of support or costs for each different type of support. And, if the service desk provides support using the telephone, MOF recommends that you monitor the amount of time the customer waits and the length of time it takes to resolve an incident.

Other service desk metrics might include the volume of calls, the arrival pattern, the number of incidents that are closed, the number of incidents that are open, the average time it takes to close an incident, the amount of resources spent on phone delivery, and electronically submitted requests and walk-up requests.

The data collected can be used to justify staff, training, alternative support models, and facilitate traditional cost-benefit analysis. The data can also provide operational information to the other IT service management processes to improve overall IT service.

All of the metrics relate to availability, which is the single most important measurement for the service desk. All of the measurements relate directly or indirectly to availability. And customer perception of the service desk and the IT organization is based solely on the availability of the IT services.

Align service desk needs with business goals

The service desk critical success factors as defined by ITIL are straightforward. It's critical to know the needs of the business and align the service desk with the goals and objectives of that business. It's also important to understand your customer's requirements. If your customers work 24 hours a day, then you need to staff the service desk accordingly. Of course, this must be delineated in your service level agreement.

Don't forget to train your staff and educate your customers. Finally, ensure that the Service levels are practical and everyone agrees because the benefits of the service desk should be understood by all. It is the job of the service-level manager to promote the service desk and to explain its activities and benefits.

Service desks are essential to the success of IT services and the business functions they support. When there is a good plan in place and a focus on quality, the result is an effective service desk. So take your time, and do it right.

Stuart D. Galup is an associate professor of computer information systems at Florida Atlantic University. He is a Certified Computing Professional and is certified in ITIL. He has held a number of senior information technology positions and holds a U.S. patent. Galup has written more than 45 academic publications and two books.

In just about every IT shop there is a function designated to receive and record information about incidents that cause disruptions to normal service operations. Is that function in your organization efficient and effective?

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