Great question. If you've been reading for long, you know that I don't answer my phone and recommend you don't either. I also don't want clients sending me email, text messages, or tweets to get service.
Our preferred method is that clients use our ticketing system. There are three things we do to encourage/enforce this.
First, we train clients on our expectations. When clients sign up with our service - and from time to time thereafter - we give them a handout that describes how to enter a service ticket. See the illustration. We use the MAX Service Desk, but every system we've used has had a similar system. We have set it up so that it's very clear what to do: Click - Submit Ticket.
We also have a support email address that creates a ticket. Some clients love that. But see the note below. You need to enforce this.
We also give clients a description of what High, Medium, and Low priority tickets mean so they can decide which to use. And we encourage them to give meaningful titles to their tickets. "Larry's Computer" is not useful. "Larry can't access the public calendars" is useful.
Second, respond right away. The reason some clients don't like a ticketing system is that they don't feel heard. On the phone or with a quick email response they can feel that their request is getting some attention - even if it's not. So we've set the Service Desk to send us an email when a new ticket is entered. I then forward this ticket to the client with enough of a response that they know I got it.
Some clients complain that they don't think the ticketing system is working because they didn't get a human response. Sometimes they don't even notice that their system has already been fixed! But it doesn't matter. They need this communication piece so they get a sense that the system works. After you do this quick turn-around response a few times, then they believe.
Note: Responding is not the same as working the ticket. You might simply say, "Thanks for entering a ticket. I'll be working on this in the next 72 hours." (Then you better do it!)
Third, you have to be willing to enforce your process. Don't respond to emails sent as service requests. Instead, enter a ticket and be sure it's sent to notify the user. They'll see that you entered a ticket.
Phones are the same way. Your voicemail prompt should say, "For fastest service, please submit a ticket through our service desk or email firstname.lastname@example.org."
Do not respond to direct emails. Instead, create a ticket and make sure they are notified. BUT don't do it immediately. If you get a direct email instead of an email to support@, you need to wait at least 30 minutes before you enter that ticket. NOTE: This is much easier if you keep Outlook closed instead of open. That way you legitimately will not be interrupted by new email. Check your email once an hour and create tickets for clients who need it.
If you have someone who answers the phone, they are authorized to create tickets for clients. But they should not work the ticket right away! In fact, the best person to answer the phone is a non-technical person. When the client starts into a description of their problem, the appropriate response is, "Would you like to create a ticket for that or would you like me to?" Also, this person needs to make clear that the ticket will be worked "soon" but that all tickets are sorted from highest to lowest priority and from oldest to newest.
This person should also ask the question, "How urgent is this?" You'll be amazed at how often clients will say that it's not urgent at all. But it does need to be fixed.
So, here's the summary:
1) Educate the client on expectations and the system
2) Use the system so they see that they get excellent service
3) Enforce the system
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Side Note on "Rules"
All these rules exist for a reason. It's not to be arbitrary. And your clients need to understand this.
With managed service, most problems are prevented. So you're no longer running around putting out fires. To be honest, virtually all problems are caused by clients doing things they shouldn't. So they're pretty understanding.
Also, when you talk to clients about these processes, 99% of them will say Okay. That's because they're reasonable people and these are reasonable processes. WE have decided for years that clients expect instant response no matter how small the problem is. In the past clients called because that's what we taught them to do.
Now we need to teach them something else.
The over-riding principles here are:
1) All work must be done from a service ticket. That means the ticket has to exist before work can begin.
2) All tickets are worked from highest to lowest priority and from oldest to newest priority. So oldest to newst Priority One; oldest to newest Priorty Two, etc.
3) You must track all of your time in order to verify the profitability of clients and contracts.
4) You should not have a system based on constant interruptions. The service board exists to help you create order and avoid chaos. Use it!
5) You have a duty to run a profitable business. Over-serving clients who didn't ask for it and don't pay for it is not a good strategy.
"The system" is designed to maximize client support and make money. That's a beautiful combination.