Separating the Noise from the Signal. Or How to Deal with Huge Support Traffic Volumes.

April 13, 2010

Signal from Noise We see more and more customers that experience frequent spikes in their support traffic, going from a few hundred requests a day to many thousands. This can occur as your service grows, or as more and more of your customers start using your support channels. While you obviously want to give attention to all your customers when they need it, often there are questions that don’t need your attention – either because they can easily be handled in your user community or by searching your knowledge base, or because it’s not really a question, but a customer reaching out prematurely because they can (You might be surprised by how many non sequitur “How come you won’t open the door?” sort of questions help desks get).

To avoid an unbearable backlog of tens of thousands of tickets (and an equal amount of upset customers/users) while at the same time keeping your support team as lean as you can, we encourage customers who are experiencing or anticipating such spikes take measures to divert most of the noise from the critical requests.

Concretely, we recommend thinking about your tickets as one of three types:

  1. Tickets that you will probably never resolve (i.e. the non-sequiturs) and/or where people are better off looking for info in your knowledge base or forum.
  2. Tickets that may be relevant at the time, but probably won’t be at the time you get to them.
  3. Tickets that probably require your input regardless of timeframe (unless, of course, people find a solution themselves).

With these categories in mind, build out your ticket form fields, email addresses and business rules to create a funnel whereby tickets are identified as being in one of the three. So, for instance, perhaps you could create a few dropdowns on your ticket request form that identify how urgent the ticket is to the customer and what type of question it is. If it’s marked as something like “irritation” rather than a “bug” about some basic aspect of your service, maybe you put that in Category 1 (it’s low priority and they can check the knowledgebase).

Then, once you’ve set up your incoming request rules to identify the ticket’s category, create the following workflow via Triggers:

For Category 1 Tickets

Set the ticket to “Closed” right away. Send a receipt to the requester (via a trigger) explaining that you’re receiving X thousands tickets a day and therefore won’t be able to answer all of them in a satisfactory way, but that you keep them all on file for reporting et al. Give them a few suggestions to where they can find relevant information (based on the field on the ticket submit page) and suggest them to post a comment in a forum or community to get feedback from other customers/users. If they’re still completely lost and feel their issue is critical give them a (secret) email address where they can resubmit their request, but prepare them for a longer response time.

For Category 2 Tickets

Set the ticket to “Solved” right away. And basically give them the same story as above, but a little more encouraging. Explain them that if they despite these other options of retrieving information and solutions, and despite of the expected long resolution time, insists on keeping their ticket open, they should respond to the ticket within X days to reopen it, and if they’re able to provide additional to-the-point info, it will help the ticket processing (hint hint – help us help you).

For Category 3 Tickets

Basically follow your standard procedure, but explain to folks (in your ticket receipt auto-response) that you have these long resolution times currently and anything they can do themselves to self-investigate is much appreciated. And explain people how to set the ticket to resolved if it’s no longer relevant.

It all comes down to expectation setting. When you expect delays, be upfront with your customers, and use the opportunity to help them help themselves. The last thing you want is a huge backlog of unsolved tickets. It will affect performance long term. Zendesk is a powerful workflow machine and inserting relevant and timely links and information in your ticket receipts and other email communication is a superior method of keeping your customers informed and up to speed.