Fog Creek

What’s the Best Workflow for Tackling your Customer Support Ticket Queue?

At Fog Creek, we strive to provide excellent customer service. Like many, we don’t just want to meet customer expectations, but go above and beyond them. This leads to a familiar, but nagging quandary – are you making the most of the support resources you have available or could you be more efficient? This applies to the workflows of individual support personnel too. I’ve worked in customer service for the last few years at a few different companies. During this time, I’ve experimented with a variety of workflow processes, aiming to maximize my own efficiency.

Here are the three primary ways I’ve tried to organize my case load and workflow, along with their pros and cons:

Organizing Your Case Load

Option 1: Work on “next due” request

Using the due date filter, you can handle cases based on soonest due, and work your way down from there.

Pros:

  • The filter does all the work for you. All you have to do is answer your cases from top to bottom.
  • This is especially practical for me because we have a policy here at a Fog Creek: all incoming emails must be answered within 1 business day. Answering cases by “next due” ensures I stay on top of things!

Cons:

  • There may be important requests – such as a large purchase order – that are in the bottom of the queue. Sometimes it’s best to answer a high profile customer first, versus someone using a free account, no matter what the due date says.

Option 2: Tackle tricky issues first

Alternatively, you can tackle the harder cases first. This might sound counterintuitive, but trust me – it works! When you deal with the most complicated issues right away, the rest of your day is a breeze.

Simply star or tag your tricky cases when first reviewing them. After delegating and purging, address these first before doing anything else.

Pros:

  • You’ll feel more productive earlier in the day, and you’ll have potentially more free time later.
  • You can reward yourself by coasting on auto-pilot afterwards. In other words, you’ll be able to easily handle simpler cases that don’t require much thought.

Cons:

  • It can be daunting to work out complicated issues when you’re just starting your day.
  • Your inbox will still appear full because minor cases will remain for the time being.

Option 3: Take it easy!

For those mornings when you’re feeling sluggish (out of coffee?!), you can always reply to the easy cases first. I wouldn’t recommend getting into the habit of doing this every day, but it’s a nice breather every now and then.

When you star or tag the tough cases during your first review at the beginning of the day, simply save them for last :).

Pros:

  • It’s a nice way to ease into your work day. Especially on Mondays :).

Cons:

  • It does nothing to hide the elephant in the room: your challenging, time-consuming requests. These will constantly lurk in the back of your mind. “You’ll have to deal with us later, there’s nowhere to hide,” they’ll say. Cue maniacal laughter.
  • Once you finally begin working on your complex cases, it might be too late in the day to finish them. They may turn out to take longer than expected.

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Deciding on the Best Workflow

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong option here, choose whichever works best for you. If you’re not sure, I recommend experimenting to see which method allows you to be the most efficient. They did this at Buffer for example, by prioritizing tickets which had been opened longest over newer submissions. They found that the volume of tickets handled didn’t change, but that response times overall were worse, so they reverted back.

If you’re thinking of experimenting, then consider the following factors and whether your workflow needs to take account of them:

  • Are all customers equal? Should the customer category the customer belongs to (e.g. VIP or free tier) alter the priority of their case?
  • How long has the customer been waiting for a response? You might have SLAs or internal policies about wait times that you need to hit. Also, consider whether a customer submitting a support request for the first time should be given the same priority as others? After all first impressions count.
  • What is the customer’s priority? If your customers have the option of indicating ticket priority, should this trump other considerations?
  • Should re-opened cases or those with a larger number of responses, indicating that the ticket has been bouncing back and forth (to the frustration of your customer), be handled first?

Often it’ll be a combination of factors between the state of your support inbox, as well as internal policies developed over time that will decide what’s best for you. What works for me is a combination of options 1 and 2 – finishing all of the cases due at the start of the day, before then tackling the most difficult issues that I had marked earlier. This way you can handle the most time-sensitive cases and still have time to get to the complex ones.