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All I.T teams have different levels of support staff with a range of different skill sets and qualifications. Ticket escalations are necessary for incident management and to allow for a constant flow of incidents and service requests through to closure. Tickets, when not escalated can become stagnant and often result in a violation of the SLA assigned to the ticket. It’s important that the process of ticket escalation is managed correctly. This ensures that the customer is informed with all the necessary updates and the ticket is escalated to the correct person or department that is equipped to deal with it..

Defining Escalations

In the world of ITIL and ITSM, there are two escalation types.

Functional escalations. 

A functional escalation typically occurs if either your service desk agents are unable to resolve a ticket or SLA violation occurs on the ticket. If the ticket can not be resolved it will then be escalated to next level of support staff. These are the type of tickets that require further support resource/skills but there isn’t any need to engage management.

Hierarchical escalations. 

A hierarchical escalation is an escalation that requires either managerial attention or approval. These escalations are usually more complex, possibly sensitive in nature, or they might highlight areas in the incident management process.

Tips for ticket escalation

Evaluate if escalations are necessary

A common issue with functional escalations is that tickets sometimes get sent on to second-level and third-level support without much thought or insufficient troubleshooting or communication to the client. The lower level technical engineers are vital to the escalation process to allow for the correct information to be passed up to assist the higher levels of technicians. The same actually goes for the information that is passed in the opposite direction. If the Higher level technician feels that certain tickets can be resolved at a lower level then the solution should be passed down.Another potential issue is that one or more service desk agents are using the escalation process to lighten their workload and/or manipulate performance metrics. Monitoring the level of escalations will allow you to identify and fix this issue when appropriate.

Create clear authorisation processes

Its important to ensure that management are aware of what tickets are being escalated. You may have some high level technicians who are employed to focus on important project work. Tickets that are escalated to these technicians should be approved with the correct authorisation from management. A good service desk manager will know how to protect high-level engineers from unnecessary escalation and be able to identify when special attention needs to be paid to an incident. A clear authorisation process gives the team the information needed to allow them to make sure the best decisions are made as a support ticket is escalated.

Communication is the key

Communication is the key when it comes to handling ticket escalations. One of the worst things you can do to your end users is to leave them “in the dark” when they have an urgent ticket sitting in one of your queues. Ensure that you keep the customer informed of the latest updates on the progress of their ticket and an expected resolution time. Even if you do not have any updates, by making contact with the customer opens the opportunity for them to provide more information on the issue.

In my experience, customers are generally very understanding when escalated tickets are delayed – as long as they are kept informed. The majority of angry complaints come from end users who logged their ticket and then had no idea what was being done with it. I guarantee that once your escalation process is updated to include regular customer communication, the number of complaints will reduce significantly.

Prevent “Cherry Picking” Tickets

Cherry picking will often occur within all I.T departments. It can be tough for your service desk agents to tackle escalations when they’re faced with a queue of similar tickets, all with the same priority. When managemant staff see reports at the end of each month, they see numbers like how many tickets each agent has closed and whether or not they are meeting SLAs. They do not see who is necessarily handling the more difficult tickets. Agents that cherry-pick the queue, deal with the easier tickets that they know how to tackle and can show better numbers to their manager. Not only is this unfair to the other agents but it usually results in an increase in the backlog of your aged tickets. It’s important to put in measures to prevent IT support staff from doing this.

To avoid cherry picking, your service desk team should have a process in place to arrange the ticket queue in the order that they are to be dealt with. The managers of the responsible resolver groups should be involved in this process too. This helps to place similar escalations in the order of your organisation’s priority and prevents service desk agents from only picking up the tickets they want to handle.

Build a knowledge base

If you haven’t got a knowledge base in place then its an idea to start thinking about it. There are many reasons why a knowledge base can benefit your team. In the case of escalated tickets, your knowledge base can help your support staff to decide in which scenarios they need to escalate a ticket. The knowledge base can also be used as an area to document fixes that have been passed on from second-level or third-level teams to help front line support personnel (i.e. knowledge sharing), such that related incidents can instead be handled by the 1st level agents. Your knowledge base can also prevent tickets even reaching the service desk. By including common fixes that end users can perform themselves might result in a reduction in ticket numbers overall and therefore less escalations.

Assess and report on ticket escalations

It is important to regularly assess and report on your escalated tickets to help you to identify repeating escalations and to understand how they may be prevented in the future. You might find that there are certain areas your team need training on, or a particular agent might stand out as a poor performer. If an agent is regularly escalating tickets, then they may not be following your heuristics and guidelines, or they simply just lack the skills to solve certain issues. Checking escalated tickets can also help you to identify where your ticket processes might be breaking down.

Ticket escalation isn’t a fun process for anyone involved, but it can be optimised. Set your standards and strategies with an SLA. Then, use that SLA to streamline your more redundant tasks. Ultimately, having the correct escalation processes in place will help your IT service desk to successfully handle incoming ticket escalations and, rather than bringing your service desk to its knees, your organisation will be better able to deliver exceptional customer service and meet its SLAs with ease.

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