Practical tips and information about running an efficient service desk. News and information about HelpMaster, PRD Software and the ITSM industry.
The current business climate may provide businesses with extra incentive / time / opportunity (or not) to do some tweaking of their HelpMaster configuration. As HelpMaster continues to evolve in terms of features, and options, there are always new opportunities to optimize your service desk configuration and operations.
Here's 7 ideas to get you started.
An oldie, but a goodie - when was the last time you upgraded to the latest version? HelpMaster is constantly released throughout the year. The latest release is always available for download from http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Support/Updates-and-Service-Packs. Upgrading gives you access to the latest features, increased stability, and compatibility with other systems. If you need assistance, we're here to help. Download the Upgrade Guide for further information.
The HelpMaster web portal allows clients and staff to log jobs, browse knowledge base articles and more from anywhere they have an internet connection. If you haven't installed and/or configured the HelpMaster web portal for use, now is the perfect opportunity. With many people working remotely, the web portal is vital.
The web portal requires some configuration in order to be functional. You will need to design and configure your "Request Catalogs", as well as the Job Templates that are used in the job logging process.
See this blog post for details about configuring the Request Catalogs.
For those with a VPN connection to the office, the Active Directory single-sign-on will work seamlessly - it just needs to be turned on, and configured for use.
If you're already using the HelpMaster web portal, here's some other ideas:
Review your job queue (or someone else's) for old, or stale jobs. Update them as required, or close jobs that are no longer needed. Use this time to "Spring-clean" your inbox/job queue. Look for opportunities to:
Saved Searches are such a time-saver. If you're not using Saved Searches in the Explorer screen, you're missing out. Learn about saved searches, and then make some. Here's a few ideas to get you started:
When was the last time you updated, created or even reviewed your outgoing email templates? This blog post has some great ideas on refreshing your email templates, and when to use email communication.
Also, if you haven't already done so, configure the HelpMaster Email Manager to automatically convert email into helpdesk tickets. You won't go back!
HelpMaster contains many built-in reports that can give you some interesting insights into your service desk analytics. Run some reports to understand how your business has been logging, closing and responding to service-desk tickets. HelpMaster has many built-in report, and it's easy enough to create your own, or tweak what's already there.
Better yet, install PowerBI and build a helpdesk dashboard. If you need a dashboard, contact PRD Software and we'll send you the HelpMaster PowerBI dashboard - complete with the animated fish-tank. Who's the big fish in your team?
Of course the HelpMaster team at PRD Software are always available for a chat, a remote demo, or anything else you need. Give us a call and we'd be happy to discuss and plan how we can get your HelpMaster installation/configuration going as best as it can. We can assist with:
When it comes to support ticketing, almost all customer support, regardless of industry revolves around a few basic concepts.
Depending on the nature of job, the life-cycle of a ticket will vary. Sometimes it’s just a simple open and close affair. Other times it requires a complex workflow and process to follow, and often it simply becomes an iterative matter of responding to client information and supplying information (see helpdesk tennis). This is where a generic support workflow loop can be handy.
The following workflow pattern can be used for a simple job that does not require any special workflow, or process, but just prompts the agent for the next step, giving a selection of common support options that are typical at any helpdesk.
Once the agent makes their selection and updates the ticket with the appropriate Action Templates, the workflow loops back to the multi-choice selection, ready for another round. The main part that prompts for agent input, and then initiates other workflow objects is the Multiple Choice item.
The options presented to the agent are:
The workflow system of HelpMaster is very powerful and very easy to use. It’s simply a matter of drag ‘n drop, setting some properties and connecting the objects together in a way that describes your process. There are currently over 50 workflow objects, with more being released with every version of HelpMaster. Here’s some ideas:
Add options for “Run a script” (SQL or Powershell). Scripts can be used to update databases, interact with Active Directory, perform file-based operations, reset password, or interact with other software/systems.
After selecting the option, and before imitating an Action Template, it may be appropriate to check some data first. Things like:
If you’re using version 19 of HelpMaster, you can download this sample workflow right now.
Once it has been downloaded, open the workflow.txt file in notepad and copy the contents to the clipboard. Then, log into HelpMaster, open a job, or a job template, click on the workflow tab, and paste the workflow. You will need to update the Action Template links to something suitable (double-click), or to adjust them to existing templates. If you get stuck, contact PRD Software for help.
Learn more about HelpMaster workflow in our formal HelpMaster training events. See Professional Services for details
Skillgroups are a core concept in HelpMaster. A skillgroup is a grouping of staff members that share a common work focus. A skillgroup might represent an organizational group, a specific work-area, or some other grouping where staff members share common skills.
A skillgroup is fundamental to the way jobs within HelpMaster are assigned, updated and closed. Everytime a job is updated/actioned, the skillgroup that the job is currently assigned to (or re-assigned to), is involved, and recorded in the action log.
Creating and configuring Skillgroups for use is relatively easy. You create the group, set its security options, and then link staff to it. Once you've done this, you're ready to assign jobs to the groups, or to staff members that belong to that group.
Removing Skillgroups is a little more involved. Use the steps below to remove a skillgroups that is no longer used.
Before a skillgroup can be removed, it needs to be empty of all open jobs. Use the Explorer screen to close and/or reassign jobs that are currently assigned to the skillgroup. Once the Explorer screen is open, use the "Skill Groups" section and close/reassign all jobs in the skillgroup as appropriate.
Before a skillgroup is removed, all template references to it must be removed.
Update all Action Templates that are assigning jobs to this skillgroup, or to staff members in this skillgroup. To find these templates, use the Action Template search screen, and sort by the "Assign To Skillgroup" column (Use the Field Chooser if this column is not displayed).
There are 2 possible actions to take here:
Now it's time to remove all staff members from the skillgroup.
Open the skillgroup to be deleted. On the Staff members tab, select a staff member and click the Remove button.
Note! Each staff member must belong to at least 1 skillgroup. If this is the only skillgroup that they belong to, HelpMaster will not let you remove them at this time. If this is the case, double-click the staff member to open their Client Details screen, and click on the Staff tab.
Remove the skillgroup from the staff member, and add them to another skillgroup. Each staff member must belong to at least 1 skillgroup.
Once the skillgroup has:
… it's time to remove the group itself.
Select the Skillgroup from the Skillgroups Search screen and click the Delete button.
No job history is lost. Like all entities in HelpMaster that are deleted, they are only "soft-deleted", that is, only marked as deleted. This means that all job history, action log history and everything else is preserved. For further information about this, refer to this Helpfile topic.
ITIL 4 introduces the concepts of Service value System, Service value chains and Service value streams.
That's a lot of value!
It's also causing a bit of confusion about the difference between Systems, Streams and Chains.
To cut through the jargon and try to explain this in practical terms, and specifically how a product like HelpMaster might assist with this, let's use the example of on-boarding a new employee.
The service value system is a high-level analysis of all of the components, principles and practices that provide the benefit/value of having a dedicated process for this important business operation. It would consider the organizational requirements, the legal/governance requirements, the personnel requirements and would also consider how such a system could be continually improved.
Everyone wins when an employee is on-boarded correctly - the employer, the employee, the business, the legislators, the financiers, the trainers... Everyone. Think about all the good things that can come out of doing on-boarding the right-way.
The "output" of such a system is value. On-boarding goodness.
The actual steps in performing on-boarding is a whole different beast. This is where the service value chain, and service value streams take effect. We're now moving into a more practical, hands-on part of the service delivery.
When on-boarding a new employee, multiple teams are almost always involved, sometimes other vendors/organizations. There's often different paperwork, various on-line forms, banking details to collect, payment details to record, security checks to conduct, health and safety processes to adhere to. Inductions and training is to be scheduled and performed. There are physical walk-arounds / orientation, information technology accounts to be setup and configured - Active Directory, email, passwords and access to systems. There's physical building matters to attend to - access to physical lockers, keys to cabinets/doors, carpark access….and the list goes on.
There are a lot of moving parts in the on-boarding process.
The Service Value Chain is a set of activities that address the various aspects of designing, delivering, planning, building and improving the delivery of the value. This is where the operational parts of achieving the system value (good on-boarding) are discussed, designed and improved.
The Service Value Stream delivers this value in practical ways. It is the working arm of the System and Chain, and in order to realise this value, you need to do some work. Think of a service value stream as the actual tasks you have to perform as part of the process. In order to perform an employee on-boarding, a service stream will reflect and reference the various outputs that were identified in the Service Chain in the outworking of its value. They're all connected!
This is where the HelpMaster workflow engine kicks in. With the process designer, you can build a flexible and powerful workflow that can assist in each step of the on-boarding process.
The workflow designer has an assortment of workflow objects that can be configured for different tasks. Think of each of these workflow objects as "programmable workflow Lego pieces".
Simply find the right piece, set its properties, and join it to another piece of workflow Lego to build your workflow….
workflow objects for employee on-boarding process design
…and just like Lego, we're always releasing new workflow objects with new powers and purpose.
Using a combination of the workflow objects, you build your workflow to support your on-boarding process.
Behold, a Service Value Stream for an employee on-boarding service!
Notice how the stream flows, bends, and branches according to different factors in the on-boarding process.
Building such a workflow requires that you've previously mapped out all of the moving parts, and considered the key activities and components of the ITIL v4 Service Value System, the Service Value Chain and possible Service Value Streams.
Workflow and process design may include:
Building process and workflow at this level, requires deep understanding of the business, the process, the governance and corporate culture, to name only a few factors.
It's a deeply rewarding endeavour and a fascinating journey through the intricacies and particulars of a business. Many people are involved in such a task, so good communication skill is essential, as is a solid grasp of not only business architecture and analysis, but also being about to configure and tweak software as part of the tool implementation.
ITIL v4 provides the framework for considering, designing and improving these things
HelpMaster provides the tool for logging, managing, building and executing these things
Remember that ITIL v4 provides common-sense, standard business concepts that provide some guidance around service delivery. Focus on creating value, and continually work at improving the process and delivery chain that delivers that value.
Download an evaluation copy of HelpMaster here
If you're already a HelpMaster user and would like to learn more about this, please visit our Professional Services Page
Many support scenarios are similar to a game of tennis. Helpdesk tennis.
When it comes to who has the next action on a ticket, it's either in your court, or it's in theirs. The next move often oscillates between the team providing the support, and the customer/client responding to that support.
And similar to a point in tennis, this cycle continues as long as the helpdesk ticket / incident / task is active. When it's resolved and closed, the point is over.
With this in mind, here are a few configuration ideas that may assist using the Job State field.
Use the "Set as awaiting client response" checkbox
This checkbox on the Action screen marks the update as expecting a client response. Use this for when you have provided some information, a work-around, asked a question, or some other input where you are expecting a response from the customer. The ball is in their court so to speak.
Checking this box triggers a number of things.
Firstly, it changes the job state to indicate that a client response is expected. This field is searchable and is displayed in various part of HelpMaster, for example the Explorer.
The job state is also presented on the web portal, where the converse also applies. If a customer/client updates their job, the state will now swing the other way. The ball is now in the technician's court.
Here's some uses of the job state field:
#1 - Create Saved Searches for better queue management
Use saved searches that target the job state field, and work from these. This way you could split you time between "receiving" and "serving"… to extend the tennis metaphor a bit further.
#2 - Create automation profiles that will prompt/remind clients and staff of an overdue expected response
Use the Priority Manager, or Triggered Events automation to create automations that will send email, escalate jobs, or re-assign (or something else) based on the job state. Combine other factors about the job to really target specific clients, sites, issues, priorities etc.
Once a job has the "Awaiting client response" option, you could configure different Priority Manager profiles that will send a reminder email based at different time intervals based on the priority of the job. There are lots of options here.
# 3 - Run reports that target this field
Use the Saved Searches in #2 above as the report filter, and then run any of the job-based reports.
PRD Software recently exhibited at the annual CeBIT in Sydney to showcase our IT helpdesk software product, HelpMaster.
As usual, CeBIT was busy and had a good cross-section of delegates and visitors. The HelpMaster team were doing non-stop product demos for 3 days straight. Each year, the face-to-face interaction with people from the IT support industry reveals something new. This year was particularly interesting.
Here are some key points.
Hooray!!!....at last!! What a refreshing change!
In previous years, ITIL was a frequent discussion point. As a vendor, it was frustrating trying to answer ITIL-based questions, whilst at the same time trying to correct/educate people on their mis-application and/or understanding of what ITIL is and is not. In previous years, it was obvious to spot those who had just done an ITIL foundation course, or who were part of a team/business unit that was undergoing some sort of ITIL transformation (whatever that is). What a relief it was not to hear the question "Is it ITIL compliant?"
There was an increased number of MSP representatives visiting the booth this year. Young ones, old ones, and a good diversity from Australia and beyond. Almost all of them already had some sort of ticketing solution in place (mainly Autotask, ConnectWise, SalesForce, ManageEngine), but almost all of them were dissatisfied with the software.
Naturally, we pressed them to speak of their pain-points. Common complaints were:
• Too expensive, with long-term contacts that they are stuck with
• Their hosted data was not fully available to them (for custom reports, exports, analysis etc.)
• Limited functionality, or missing functionality - particularly around time, billing and integration with accounting apps.
• Limited reporting and/or exporting abilities.
• Perhaps the biggest complaint was the performance of the hosted app. Almost everyone commented on how slow their application was, and how unreliable it was. Compounding this was the inability to quickly and effectively speak to someone on the provider-side to address the situation.
MSPs are tech-savvy, no-nonsense users of this style of software. They know what they want, and they know what doesn't work. Speaking with representatives from the MSP market is always enlightening. HelpMaster is already used by quite a few MSPs, but this is a market that we're definitely developing for. Stay tuned!
As usual, the HelpMaster stand was displaying our "Australian Made" banner. We also went with the simple "Helpdesk Software" fascia, rather than "ITSM", the company name, or some such acronym that means nothing to most. This approach stopped a lot of people in their tracks. We were encouraged by the number of people that were pleasantly surprised by the combination of these "Australian-made", and "Helpdesk Software". Now you know! There is Australian made Helpdesk Software out there. It was great to connect with IT workers and consultants that were impressed and interested to find us.
Many people using foreign-made ITSM software were dismayed by the lack of product support outside of sales channels. Again, the face-to-face communication that CeBIT offers us provides valuable insight.
There is still a market for on-premise software, and it was reassuring to meet many who preferred their helpdesk and business data to be fully controlled by them, on-site, using their infrastructure. It seems the SAAS market has burned quite a few service-desk operations with limited reporting AND a lack of in-app reporting. This can be a deadly combination for SAAS vendors.
A very common question we faced this year was "What is the licensing and cost for this product?" We actually ran out of our licensing and pricing brochure because of this (note for next year). The perpetual licensing model of HelpMaster also means that you can buy the software once, and use it forever. No more vendor-lock-in with monthly fees, and holding your data. It was interesting to see the positive reaction of people when they enquired about our licensing model, and they loved the fact that we were upfront about all costs, no jumping through hoops or vague answers.
As usual, we also met a number of businesses that are using Outlook as a support and helpdesk system. For start-ups and small business, this is a natural occurrence, however this year we met more than a few mid-sized, well established businesses (household name businesses) that are still colour-coding email, sorting into customer folders and tagging email for various staff to respond to.
If you are a business that is still running your customer support operations entirely out of email, please know that there is a much better way that will yield a massive increase in productivity, transparency, efficiency and overall customer satisfaction. Check out http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Product/Features/Email-to-ticket-conversion Contact us for a demo and let us show you! The HelpMaster Email Manager is one of the most popular and powerful components of HelpMaster.
Trade-shows are a highlight of the year for us. It's great to get out of the office, mix it up and meet people face-to-face. It gives us an opportunity to test our software against the reality of a "give me a 2 minute demo". It's like an elevator pitch for software demos. Most importantly, it gives us the chance meet with existing clients, meet new people, connect with old acquaintances and strengthen the bonds of business friendships once again.
Thanks to everyone that stopped at the HelpMaster stand to say hi. We really appreciate it.
Having a web request portal for clients and staff to lodge requests, submit support tickets, and browse information is a part of the modern business. Service catalogs, web request portals, and self-help sites have come a long way in recent times, and are increasingly being used for the whole business, not just for IT related issues. Think enterprise service portal - not just IT helpdesk.
The web portal for the latest release of HelpMaster gives business a great platform to design and host a web request portal for staff and clients.
In order to help you get going, here's some brief information and tips on how to get started.
HelpMaster v17 introduced a number of new concepts and features that are used in building a web request portal.
Together these combine with the existing concept/feature of Job templates to create a flexible and powerful web self-service portal.
Request Catalogs are top-level web objects that are groupings of Job Templates. Think of a Request Catalog as a container of Job templates that are grouped together into business functionality.
Common Request Catalogs would be:
They represent different functional areas of the business.
Inside each Request Catalog is a number of relevant "Job Templates" that the user can select from. These job templates are used to capture relevant details about the job type, and contain all of the business logic and workflow that will be used for the job life-cycle. The new Control Sets may be used to create "forms" that are used to capture specific information for a given context.
Here's some screen-snaps of the web portal in action, and how the different HelpMaster objects link together to form a great web request experience for users.
The default job templates can quickly be improved by linking them with relevant "Control Sets". These are the "smart forms" that HelpMaster uses to capture user data. Add one or more "Control Sets" to each Job Template for a rich data-capture experience.
Here's an overview of these objects
In the next post, we'll look at practical ways to building a web request portal, and some of the best-practices involved. (hint - it's all about communication)
In the meantime, read about these features in the helpfile, post something here, or contact PRD Software for further information. Better yet - start designing your web portal and start thinking about service delivery with your team.
Email plays an important role at the service-desk, whether it be in-coming, out-going, or just internal communication with other members of your support team. Although other notification channels are available for service-oriented support, such as chat, web and a range of pop-up notifications alert mechanisms, email offers a rich medium for sharing content, attachments, and offers very good opportunities for automation.
It's not uncommon to see a lot of email being passed around at the helpdesk, with a lot of it generated from the service-desk tool being used. Here's a quick summary of some of the more common types of email that you'll typically see in a service-desk environment.
Typically 2 emails are sent for this event, and both serve to confirm and alert to the fact that a new incident has been logged. Both emails open the door to further email automation such (see below).
An incident is re-assigned
A client updates their job (via any means - email, calling the service desk, or updating via the web portal)
When an incident is closed
Email the client when their incident/ticket is closed. Tell them that it's closed, and any relevant resolution details. Invite feedback regarding their service experience via a survey link.
Checking on the status of a job
Another common practice in customer service is to follow-up on aging jobs, particularly if you haven't heard back from the customer in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially relevant when your service desk technician has replied to the client with a resolution, or has asked them for further information, yet no response has been forthcoming.
This style of email should be short, direct, and remind the client what the issue was, and the resolution/last update that was provided by the service desk team. It is not uncommon to automatically close the job if this email is not responded to within a reasonable amount of time.
Escalation / SLA approaching / SLA breach
The key elements in this style of email is information that clearly states what has happened, and all of the relevant time, date and SLA details. Provide a call-to-action that clearly states what should be done next as a matter of priority.
Don't be the helpdesk that just sends out plain text email.
Add some flair to your communications and show some class. A well-crafted email, with effective graphics, fonts and styling can say a lot about your support operations. Spend time on your design, and collaborate with team members to continually improve the quality of your communications via email.
Want to see some of these ideas in action?
Click the link below for to download some basic templates that have been created in Microsoft Word format. These documents can be used in any service management tool and are ready to be imported in HelpMaster, and contain relevant HelpMaster email tags. All you have to do is change the words and links and graphics to suit your style and you're ready to go.
Download now, modify, and use today!
Do these tips work for you? Have we missed something? Let us know what works for you.
Type or paste an address into the Address text box on the client or site screens and then client "Resolve" to perform an address lookup. Use this information to confirm details.
Use the HelpMaster Google Map AddIn to display a map of an address for a client or a site. Use the AddIn Manager to load the Google Map plug-in.
Click the "Web" button to open any hyperlink that is stored in the text details. HelpMaster will attempt to open any kind of "link" that you store here. http/www will open Web. .bat will open a Batch file etc. Get creative with this.
Use www.gravatar.com to store and retrieve images for your clients. Right-click the client profile picture and select "Get web Gravatar"
Send out a job satisfaction survey when you close a job (or whenever you like). Simply include the job survey tag in the outgoing email template, and then configure the survey to your preference.
Use the HelpMaster web interface! It's got full job functionality for both staff and clients. Web-enable knowledge base articles so that your customers can find information and resolve their own issues.
Use the HelpMaster API and Plug-In architecture to create whatever web service you like.
Microsoft Excel is an excellent report tool and it has a lot of power to deliver charts, graphs and other visualizations of your data.
When it comes to HelpMaster reporting, many people tend to run a built-in HelpMaster report (which uses the Crystal Reports reporting engine), then export the report to a CSV file (comma separated value), or an Excel file and then use Excel to manipulate the data and create graphs and other reports. Sound familiar?
That's the hard way.
Here's the easy(er) way. It's also a LOT more powerful and flexible.
Pivot tables and pivot charts are you friend here.
1. Open Microsoft Excel. The first step is to connect directly to your HelpMaster SQL Server database.
2. Enter your database connection credentials.
3. Select your HelpMaster database from the top drop-down box. Then select a reporting query (view). Any view that is prefixed by "rpt" has been designed to be consumed by a report.
Note! The screen shot below was taken from a HelpMaster v10 database. If you are using a newer version please be aware that the reporting views have changed. Refer to the following article for changes in names. http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Community/Blogs/EntryId/77/A-look-at-the-new-reports-and-reporting-structure-in-HelpMaster-v11.aspx
4. Give the data connection a name (optional) and click "Finish"
5. Now the important bit. Make sure you select "PivotChart and PivotTable Report" and click OK
6. A pivot table has 4 components to it. Scroll down the list of available fields until you find "JobNumber". Drag it into the "Values" section. This will be the field that will be the Pivot Table aggregation.
7. The default aggregation type is set to "Sum". You'll need to change this to "Count"
8. Now the fun part. Drag and drop different fields from the reporting view onto either the Axis Fields, or the Legend Field. You'll notice the pivot chart changing as you do this.
9. Experiment with different combinations. You can stack multiple fields on either axis for different statistical views.
10. Right-click the chart to change the chart type.
Note! This is important!!!
Please be aware that when you connect directly to your live HelpMaster database and use any of the default rpt views, you are pulling ALL OF YOUR DATA across your network. The views do not have a filter on them - they return everything! This means that your SQL Server database takes a bit hit, your network bandwidth takes a big hit and your local computer takes a big hit. Furthermore, everyone on your network and those connected to HelpMaster at the time of you doing this will experience a performance hit. (Try looking at your task manager for what this is doing to your computer).
Remember that the HelpMaster reporting views are unfiltered - this means that every job you've ever logged will be queried and returned back to the client machine.
To avoid this situation, consider doing one or more of the following:
Remember that all dates stored in the HelpMaster database are stored in UTC time. This means if you will need to transform every date to your local time to get an accurate. For further information about this, please refer to this discussion board post and knowledge base article:
If you wish to automatically update your chart/data at regular time intervals, you can adjust the data connection properties to do so. This is ideal if you are displaying your data on a monitor in a common area.
Download a sample Excel Report. In order to use it against your data, you will need to update the database connection string as shown above.
Download a sample report
Once you start using dynamic reporting of this nature, you can get a lot of insight into your data. Furthermore, you can save the Excel spreadsheet as a regular .xls file and open it at another time. You can create copies of the file, or even add more tabs, more PivotTables and/or charts to create an even better helpdesk dashboard effect.