Does Open Ticketing Solve Communication Problems?

That’s one of the recommendations Doug Cornelius makes in various discussions around the blogosphere about poor communication between “geeks” and “users”. (Start here at 3 geeks and a Law Blog, which links to Jenn Steele’s original post and read the comments on both for the background.)

Doug’s claim that the problem with help desk tickets is that no one ever knows what happens and where they go, so opening it up so that he, as a user can log in and see what has been happening to resolve his issues, would solve the communication problem. I’m going to disagree.

Not because Doug’s idea is a bad one, in fact I think that should be a requirement of any ticketing system. It certainly would help ease some of that black hole feeling, but I don’t think it would put much of a dent in the real communication problem.

That’s because, in my view, the lack of communication has little to do with users not being able to follow up for themselves, and everything to do with the fact that geeks are not given any reason to really communicate with users. Think about it, IT heads and organization’s management teams demand those automated systems that allow a help desk tech to either fix the problem, or assign it to someone to fix, without ever leaving their desk. They connect remotely to a user’s machine, make a small change, disconnect and call the ticket closed. There’s no time spend building relationships with users, learning about what work they are trying to accomplish, talking to them about how they are working, looking for teachable moments where the tech could maybe help a user find a simpler way to do something etc. Those are the kinds of things that increase communication back and forth, not yet another piece of technology.

If you work at a help desk though, why woud you spend the time to do this? On one hand, you’re probably working short staffed due to cutbacks, supporting a couple of hundred users with 1 or 2 front line techs, and what are you being evaluated on? The quality of relationships you’ve built, the follow up calls/visits to a user to make sure a fix is working, or how much you understand what your users are trying to do and how they could use technology to be more efficient? No, you’re being evaluated on how many tickets you close.

Managers, remember you get the behavior you measure. If you measure closing tickets quickly and in large numbers, you’ll get tickets closed quickly and in great quantity. When that results in poor communication between techs and users who don’t know each other at all, I guess you better find a way to measure, and reward, behavior that improves those relationships. If you continue to only look at the bottom line expense of tech support, you’ll get the bottom of tech support.

Tags: TechSupport, Communication

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  1. Mike –

    I agree that creating transparency in the help desk system is not going to solve the communications problem. But I think it will help.

    Communications is always a problem when you try to bridge from different groups in the organization. IT does not understand what the lawyers do and the lawyers have no idea what is going on in the server rooms.

    I had many discussion with my old CIO about increasing communications so that IT would not be thought of merely as “plumbers.” We want IT to be the kitchen designers, giving the front line employees a rich working environment. (Of course you still need water running through the pipes.) You need to understand what the front line employees need if you want to build a nice kitchen.

  2. Doug, of course it will help, any more communication will be an improvement! I’m going to post some more thoughts about bridging those gaps between groups, possibly this weekend. My experiences point to that being the real problem, and one management doesn’t really know how to fix because it’s difficult to measure performance. I’ve got some ideas on how that can improve though.

  3. My organization has an open ticket system and as an end-user I still don’t get a lot of good information.

    Our tickets are user-generated. It poses a problem because we don’t always know what to ask for. It’s one thing to send the “need printer supplies” ticket but we’re also expected to create tickets following meetings with IT staffers about big projects. Inevitably we are going to improperly use jargon and instead of coming back to us for clarification or remembering what we just talked about in meeting, they’re going to go by the ticket only. Then when we don’t get exactly what we’re looking for, we get dinged for poor communication when we weren’t qualified to write the specs in the first place.

    Even on the simple tickets, most of what’s being done is not communicated with me via the ticket or any other method. I also know of outstanding open tickets that originated MONTHS ago. If you have an open ticket system and as head of IT you’re not looking for those things you can’t be doing your job.

  4. Anon, that only goes to prove another thing I’ve been saying for a while now. If you have a people problem, throwing another system at it isn’t going to solve it. In your case, if you have techs with poor communication skills, poor documentation and a manager with poor tracking skills, the system really doesn’t matter that much.

    It’s sort of like giving someone with no interest in being social a twitter account. Twitter’s great for people who want to connect and network with folks, if they have no interest in doing that, and have never worked at developing those kind of people skills, having a Twitter account won’t suddenly change that. It’s still a people problem, the solution is personnel related, not technology.

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