If there is one thing I have learned while working in IT, it is that almost everyone else’s problems are your most important problems. Many of these problems will happen simultaneously. So instead of a to-do list of say, 10 things, listed 1 through 10 in order of priority, I often have a list of 10 things listed in order of 1 through 1. Sound familiar? As IT people, we are constantly in a state of managing communication and expectations with our end users. They often have no idea what is on our plate, and we typically do not know what is on theirs. So when an issue comes across our desk, we have to quickly gain insight into the context of the problem. Here are a few things I have learned to keep in mind when prioritizing service tasks or tickets.
When people are coming to you for help, there are often two issues to fix. One is the technical issue, the other is the distress of the user. They are likely frustrated, and their trust and confidence have taken a hit. It could be in their technology, the IT department, or even you specifically. In any case, start by showing empathy through acknowledging there is an issue, seeking alignment and assuring them that you will be working toward a resolution.
Start asking questions. How many people are affected by this issue? Remember that even one machine can have a massive impact on an organization. If the machine belongs to the sole HR person on payroll approval day, that could impact an entire business full of employees and their families. Knowing this, don’t make the mistake of assuming every issue has the user on fire. I have made the mistake many times of assuming an issue was a priority, only to push everything else aside and find the user did not need an issue solved for another few days. It was my fault because I didn’t ask the proper questions. Try to avoid being in a position where you are guessing. You can ask questions like:
- Who is impacted by this issue?
- Can you and others do most of your job functions?
- Do you have a workaround currently in place?
- When do you need this resolved by?
These are all great questions to gain insight into the impact the user is facing. Be careful not to assume that they are wrong with any of their answers. Show empathy and build the relationship- this is key to having a smooth support experience.
Now it is time to set expectations with the user. Just as we do not want to be guessing, we do not want to leave the user guessing either. Expectations should be set during the onboarding process, but regardless of timing, here are a few things to ensure that you are on the same page with your client:
Define Your Priority Levels
Typically, requests are routed to three priority levels based on the severity of the issue. Explain to the client how your department ranks requests. For example, a Priority 1 at Worksighted is that multiple users are affected and unable to do their normal job function whereas a Priority 3 is something that the user would like to be fixed but they are still able to function prior to a resolution.
Share the SLA for each priority level
In the managed services IT industry, our agreed upon time to resolution goal is referred to as a Service Level Agreements or SLA. a. Share a realistic expectation with the customer on when they can expect their issue to resolve. Ideally, the client already knows this information from your onboarding process, but they will likely need a reminder.
Before ending the call, remind your client of the next steps that you have agreed on. Let them know that you will follow up if anything might come in the way of achieving that timeline and that you are available if anything comes up.
Wondering what this could look like? Here are some examples:
“Ok Sara, I think we have a good gauge on the issue. I should be able to start working on this in the next two hours. I will keep you updated on resolution status. Will that work for you?”
“It sounds like this is an inconvenience for you. The good news is that you have a workaround in place! I can get to work on this in the next 8 business hours. I will try and hit it this afternoon, but it might end up being tomorrow morning. Will that work for you?”
If you have expressed empathy and honesty with the end-user, they most often will be honest and willing to work with you. If this step starts to go sour, get creative! More on that in a later blog post…
The fact is that IT can be a high pressure and high steaks game. The more ability you have to prioritize your tickets and tasks, the more successful and less stressed you will be.