Friday, September 02, 2011

SOP Friday: Massaging the Service Board

In the field of statistical research, there's a term called "massaging the numbers" or massaging the data. You see, after you've collected the data, they just exist. And despite what news pundits and politicians want you to believe, the data do not speak for themselves. You have to coax the meaning out of them.

Your service board is the same way.

The service tickets and internal tasks in your service board need to be managed like a living entity. Tickets move from status to status, and from queue to queue. If you're not careful, things can get lost. One of the main reasons you have a ticketing system is so that things don't get lost. But that's not magic.

And so we have the term "Massaging the Service Board."

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Note: This post will synthesize a good deal of what we've been working up to in the last few months. Please forgive the references to earlier posts. I tried to keep these to a minimum. But you'll see that this is where all those PSA posts begin to come together. You'll also see that it takes some practice to keep all those procedures in your head at once.

To be honest, that's why we have a service manager or a service coordinator. Someone has to remember all this (or have a checklist). But you don't need every technician to be able to do all this. Let them do what they do best.
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- Overview -

First, how can things get "lost" in your service board? Well, there are several kinds of lost:
  • An item can sit in a waiting status (see Service Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them) and never be seen again. This is particularly true of Waiting on Client.
  • A ticket can be mis-handled by technicians. The most common example of this is when one tech opens a ticket, pokes around, and determines that he can't move it forward (or he's just too lazy to take on the task). He logs 15 minutes for doing nothing. Then another tech does the same thing. And another. And another. Then the first guy again. Soon you've got two hours of labor that's not real labor . . . and the ticket hasn't moved.
  • If the service manager or coordinator aren't familiar with the board, they may not know where to look for all the tickets. This is more of a danger if you have too many queues, too many statuses, too many work types, etc. (see previous SOP Friday posts, including this one on ticket statuses to use.)
  • Sometimes old tickets or even low priority tickets don't get the attention they deserve. Some clients fear that their low priority tickets will never be addressed, so you need to make sure you take care of these.
  • Some tickets are hidden by the system unless you are the assigned technician. Unless you have a very large shop, I don't recommend this. At any rate the service manager or coordinator needs to see everything.

The Basic Massage

Just like a good back rub, the basic massage will make your service board feel better right away. The basic massage consists of looking at all of the new tickets very quickly. Basically, you're going to do a quick check to verify that all the fields are right. See the earlier post Service Ticket Updates.

Next, you'll sort all open tickets from oldest to newest. How old is the oldest ticket? If it's one week, someone's deleting tickets and you need to find out who it is so you can fire them. :-)

Seriously, though. How many tickets are more than 30 days old? 60? 90? If you follow the advice I gave under Setting Job Priorities then you'll move these older ticket up in priority.

It is VERY important to track the average age of tickets.
- The average age of all tickets at time of closing.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority One.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Two.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Three.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Four.

PSA systems promise that you'll be able to do all kinds of reporting. But, as a rule, their reporting is clunky and difficult for things like this. If you generate reports for things like the age of a ticket, you're pretty safe. But it's always a good idea to go dig up the data and verify the math yourself for a few reports to make sure you're actually measuring what you want and that the system is giving you correct data.

. . . So back to the basic massage . . .

Your focus right now should be on the oldest tickets. Make sure that they are getting attention and that they don't languish. You might from time to time give a senior technician a couple of really old tickets and make sure they're handled ASAP.

Next, you'll sort the tickets by priority. How many Priority Ones are in the system? P2? P3? P4? Log this information so you can track it over time. You might want to enter these counts into an Excel spreadsheet on Friday at 5PM, or some other regular day.

Make sure the highest priority tickets are getting the most attention. That means schedule them, find out where they are, and re-arrange technicians to keep the focus on the highest priority tickets.

Remember, we work tickets from highest priority to lowest priority, from oldest to newest.

Finally, you want to look at all the tickets that had time entries OR were closed yesterday (the previous work day). Did the technician communicate with the client? Does the time look right? Does the client need a little note saying "Hey, hope everything's working great with that printer"? And so forth.

Massage the clients while you're massaging the board.

Deep Issue Massage

Just like a deep tissue massage, your board sometimes needs a Deep Issue Massage. You'll do the basic massage every day. It shouldn't take long. 30-60 minutes max . . . if you do it every day. The Deep Issue Massage takes a little longer. You might want to do it every week or so.

First, look at each queue or service board. Look at each ticket assigned to your Back Office (Zenith, Dove Help Desk, Third Tier, etc.). Are these tickets being addressed appropriately? Are they moving forward? Close anything that's completed but just sitting around for a long time waiting for someone to approve closing it.

Second, look at the billable tickets. These should all be scheduled, or at least have notes about when they can be scheduled. No matter what the priority, truly billable labor (as opposed to managed service labor) needs to be scheduled on a regular basis. We'll talk about this in a future posting.

Third, check out the internal admin tickets. This is where your employees log their time for straightening out their desk, checking email, sitting on webinars, and other activities you can't bill to a client. Yes, you need this. But these activities really need to be kept in check.

Our experience is that a handful of technicians will have really high "admin" time and others will have near zero. Guess which ones are better techs? But you need to check in on this in order to keep yourself informed. Make notes and have talks as needed.

Fourth, check your "escalated" tickets. That means the ones thrown to the most senior techs because 1) No one else can do it, 2) The problem is old or very difficult, or 3) a critical issue has been going on for some time and you're working with a third party support desk.

Escalated tickets can kill your profitability. If they drag on, you need to figure out what else you can do to fix the problem and move on. Don't harp on the tech every day, but do bring it up once a week.

This is also a great time to see if you've totally over-worked one tech with a bunch of crises. Manage the people part of your business as well.

Fifth, review special projects. This includes migrations, new installs, client on-boarding, and whatever else you've got going. Is all time being properly logged to these projects? If you follow my super-good project process, then you need to make sure that all time is logged to the appropriate tickets/tasks within the project.

Obviously, you want to make sure that the project is moving forward and looking successful. Again, a little client contact might be in order. Don't bug them every day, but make sure the actions and attitudes are all aligned for success at least once a week.

Make changes as needed to assign or re-assign technicians to keep all projects moving forward. Close tickets and project "stages" as appropriate. Massage the project. :-)

Sixth, review scheduled maintenance. That's your monthly maintenance, weekly maintenance, quarterly maintenance, etc. Anything that's scheduled and recurring.

Here, you want to make sure that things are being scheduled and executed in a timely fashion. If it's the 25th of the month, you better not be 1/3 of the way finished with monthly maintenance tickets! If you've skipped monthly maintenance at a client or two, that's a real danger sign.

For some reason (at least in our company) there always seem to be monthly maintenance tickets that remain open even when the work is done. Perhaps techs think the service coordinator should close them. Perhaps the tech was waiting on a report or a successful restore. For whatever reason, it appears that everything is complete, but the ticket's still open. Ping the tech and close the ticket. This will clean up your stats, too.

Seventh, look through the sales tickets (pre-sales, post sales, or whatever). Are your sales people getting the support they need from technicians? Are quotes going out to clients and prospects in a timely manner?

Note: We'll talk about this in another post, but here are two examples of "sales tickets" for us.

Example pre-sales ticket: Technician is on site and client says they want a quote for a new printer. The tech enters a ticket with a note that it should be assigned to sales. In our system, new tickets always go through the client access queue. From there, the person monitoring the board acknowledges the ticket, puts it in the right queue, assigns it, etc. See the post Service Ticket Updates.

Example post-sales ticket: After the client gets a quote and approves the quote, the ticket is moved to post-sales. The sales person still has to receive payment, then order the equipment. The ticket has statuses of waiting on client, waiting on vendor, or something similar. Once the equipment arrives, the ticket is moved to the status "Schedule This" and moved to the appropriate work queue or service board.

- Implementation Notes -

Final notes on the Deep Issue Massage:

This can be a half-day project when you first do it. It will go faster over time. In a perfect world, you will get in the groove of massaging the service board a little every day and that will make the big massage a lot faster.

Basically, you want to have someone be able to have a sense of how all the tickets in your company are flowing. It IS a lot of work at first, but becomes much easier if you do it every day.

The weekly Deep Issue Massage is also a great time to generate the statistics you need to calculate your backlog. If all the numbers are right in all the tickets, you should be able to calculate the total number of hours you need to close all the tickets, and the rate at which you are closing tickets. Of course new tickets will always enter the system, but the goal is to come up with a backlog number that's reasonable, sustainable, and profitable for you.

We'll do a post on backlog and managing the backlog, but for now, just start keeping those stats.

- Benefits -

The primary benefit of massaging your service board is that you keep it under control. You verify that your company is using the PSA system. You verify that you are meeting your promises to clients. You verify that you don't have a bunch of old tickets out there.

You guarantee that things are flowing . . . and profitable.

In the normal course of massaging the service board, you will close a number of tickets that should have been closed. You'll straighten out priorities. You'll schedule your technicians better. And you'll do some good client relationship management.

- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or binder.

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team be aware of the policy and support it.

It requires one or two people to have the skills to massage the board.

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Cash Flow: Getting Paid in Advance

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