HR in a COVID-19 world - a not so great ticket/service management use case

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer July 19, 2020
A service ticket tale provides some COVID-19 HR insight...

(Pixabay )

Service ticket technology is not new in IT circles but it has been moving into other functions like HR and Finance in recent years. The concept is that when anyone needs something done, they should complete a service request/ticket via an online system. These tickets are then prioritized by a system or person and then routed to an appropriate person to respond.  In theory, the tickets help an organization understand where their processes, technologies, etc. need permanent improvements.

While it’s not cool to say so, these products or their implementations can have issues. The time lost waiting for a ticket to get prioritized is wasteful and frustrating. Second, the person filling out the request may believe their matter is really urgent but the person setting priorities may not agree. Third, low priority items may never get attention – ever! Fourth, really tough, gnarly issues don’t get solved either because they would require budget/capital and possibly a project team to correct.

I get earfuls on the uselessness of these systems from, of all people, my children as their employers have implemented these products. My son won’t use his at work as his IT requests get shuffled all over the world until, weeks later, someone from a call center in India wants to know if they can mark the issue closed. My son’s team looks up solutions to their technical problems on Google so they can skip IT and the service tickets altogether. Ironically, his employer’s IT group thinks they’re doing a great job as the total number of service requests is declining (because employees quit using an ineffective solution) and because the closure rate is high. Ah, the tyranny of bad metrics!

When service ticket technology met COVID-19

I was speaking with an executive this week and she told a sad tale of what happened at her firm after it went all-in on service ticket technology in HR.

She related how she got a call from one of the countless workers her firm recently laid off. This former employee was trying to get his income tax return completed and couldn’t locate his W-2. He reached out to this executive because of a prior work relationship to see how he could get this done.

Well, this was a problem as the service ticket system does not allow non-employees to enter any service requests. Furthermore, the company removed the email addresses and phone numbers of all its departments from its websites so that people would use the service ticket solution exclusively.

The executive, like other people in the company, is now working from home, didn’t have a directory and suggested the former employee call the headquarters phone number on the website. Sadly, the headquarters receptionist is now working from home, too. No one was working the switchboard. No one could get him a direct number to someone in HR who could help him with his W-2 request.

The switchboard voice mail was full when he first called one afternoon but thankfully, someone cleared it the next morning. The former employee left a message and a real person did call him back in a few days.

So, why is this service ticket solution a hot mess? Here are some of the issues:

  • The system and its implementers didn’t consider other constituencies other than direct employees. It ignored contractors, alumni, customers, suppliers, job seekers, people with job offers, etc.
  • The system didn’t anticipate a lockout/shutdown. On the contrary, the people that implemented this assumed ceteris paribus (i.e., other things held constant). They never anticipated any kind of unusual circumstance like fire, tornado, mold, structural issues that make the building unusable, quarantines, pandemics, moves, etc.
  • Implementers did not create any contingencies, safeties, or fallback strategies for the system
  • The quest to capture ALL service requests meant that NO requests outside of the system were possible. This design element basically doomed any backup concept.
  • There was no mechanism for anyone to report a problem with the service ticket system itself (as that would require access to the inaccessible service ticket system)

It’s a shame that the only workable approach was for a determined ex-employee to find a phone number for the absent receptionist and pray someone would check the old school voice mail system messages.

Going forward

These systems are only as good as the people implementing them. The best implementations have a number of modelling workshops where different people with different issues play different roles in a variety of circumstances. The best workshops have people represent different constituents (e.g., regulators, external auditors, front-line workers, people being on-boarded, etc.) making requests in different locations (e.g., at an airport, without internet access, at a job fair, at a remote sales office, in the unemployment line, etc.). It’s through this effort one can spot:

  • How malleable the system is?
  • How many exception situations are/are not addressed?
  • What process and systems changes are needed?
  • Who is underserved?
  • Etc.

Those items test the basic functionality but may not deal with the kinds of items one finds in a force majeure clause in a contract. Here the team should assess how well the system works when there is no Internet access, electric power is lost, key people are inaccessible, etc.  While some of this is basic contingency planning stuff, it nonetheless is important, too.

And finally, there should be a fallback system. Growing up in hurricane country, we had all kinds of redundancy built into plans. I’ve equipped offices with dial-up modems in case we lost power but needed to get onto the Internet. We had generators to cover for downed power lines. And so, it goes. A service ticket system shouldn’t exist without a backup and everyone needs to know how to get access to the backup.

Click here to read the second instalment on HR and COVID-19.

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