Ticket Triage: How to Reduce Reply Time & Boost Well-Being

Sharad Khandelwal
Sharad Khandelwal
CEO & Co-founder at SentiSum, Expert in AI Analytics
A bi-weekly "little gem" for CX & support leaders

We’ve seen a huge increase in interest for our AI-ticket triage tool over the past year.

More than ever, customer service teams are looking for ways to improve customer experience, tackle urgent issues faster, while freeing up agent headspace from manual, repetitive issues. 

For that, automated ticket triage is a perfect candidate.

In this article, we'll run you through the basics of how triage works, its value, and how two companies have implemented triage.

  • What is ticket triage?
  • Why is ticket triage important?
  • How James Villas Used Ticket Triage to Reduce Response Time
  • How GoCardless Use Ticket Triage to Scale Their Customer Support Function
  • How To Set Up Your Ticket Triage Process

What is ticket triage? And should you automate it?

What is ticket triage?

Triage is the process of evaluating and assigning the inbound customer support requests to an individual, team or queue location.

(To save you from confusion, many customer teams also call this process ticket routing.)

The evaluation stage involves looking at the topic of the request and, manually or automatically, giving the request a topic tag.

The tag triggers that request to be routed or triaged to the right help desk queue, where it’s hopefully handled with the appropriate speed and urgency.

To keep it simple: New ticket → Evaluation → Tagging → Routing to location → Ticket handled

This brings up a couple of important questions:

1. Why am I triaging tickets in the first place? What criteria routes tickets to which team?

We’ll deep dive this later ut in short, most customer service teams triage in order to prioritize them.

Gone are the days of first come; first serve in customer service. With smart triage, you can prioritize requests in a way that makes sense for both the customer and company.

Perhaps some requests are full of angry sentiment, or perhaps they’re about a topic you want to handle really quickly—e.g. A customer is at the airport right now and needs something urgently. These criteria, paired with a dedicated ‘urgent’ inbox that is handled first, could have a huge impact on customer satisfaction.

2. Who is evaluating the tickets?

Especially if you’re a large B2C company, at this point you might be thinking, “we have thousands of requests a day, who’s gonna evaluate all those tickets?”

Well, there are a few ways customer service teams tackle this problem.

  1. They pay two agents full-time to review each and every request. It’s time-consuming and boring, but the benefits are seen as worth it.
  2. They have the customer self-tag their request with a topic or urgency, based on this information the ticket is routed automatically. This is less time-consuming but is largely inaccurate and only allows triage based on topic. Zendesk has a guide on setting up automated triage in their platform here—but the feedback we hear again and again is how awful it is at the job (“inaccurate, inconsistent, painful”).
  3. They’ve automated ticket triage and prioritization with AI. AI works in real-time to identify sentiment, intent and granular topics in incoming requests, which routes the ticket to any individual or team you’d like.
AI automation for triage

As an extremely repetitive, yet important task, we highly recommend automating the process with an AI triage tool for the most accurate, consistent and speedy results.

We also tackle the who in more depth later in this article.

Why Is Ticket Triage Valuable and Important?

Having a ticket triage process in place can lead to seriously valuable impact. It depends on the severity of the issue you’re currently facing and/ or how you choose to leverage ticket triage to drive results.

There are several high impact ways to prioritize your support requests with triage. They include:

  • Prioritizing customers currently in the process of purchasing your product. Grab ‘em before they abandon the basket.
  • Prioritizing customer requests that contain ‘danger topics’ like a customer with food poisoning (for Uber Eats). Get to these before they become a PR story.
  • Prioritizing particularly angry customer requests. Negative sentiment will be dampened by a fast response, or heightened by a slow one. Get to these before they become a bad review.
Why ticket triage is valuable expert quote

On the other hand, you could want to build a customer service team that specializes in certain product areas or issues. Triaging tickets to the right team gives every customer a faster and more skilled resolution.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of triage having an impact.

How James Villas Used Ticket Triage to Reduce Response Time

In this interview, Johannes from James Villas. James Villas is a holiday rental company with thousands of hotels all over the world.

James Villas used AI-based ticket triage automation to handle a specific issue their customers were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hear from Johannes directly:

“Due to Covid-19 the travel industry had an influx in support tickets that made the management of our support operations extremely challenging. The team struggled with customers reaching out due to uncertainty, frustration, as well as necessary cancellations and travel date changes.
‍The challenge was to prioritize tickets in a way, so that urgent cases were handled as quick as possible so that our customers could travel at ease.
‍Unfortunately that was not always possible due to the sheer ticket volume, as well as complexity of the cases.”

In this example, Johannes took a topic that was particularly important—customers in high-frustration situations—and leveraged AI-tagging to automatically identify them in the queue, pull them out, and send them to the priority queue.

The result? James Villas reduced reply time to urgent requests by 46% points and increased CSAT +11%. 

Another benefit mentioned by Johannes was that this freed up his customer service agents time to focus on what they do best: being human and empathising with customers.

How GoCardless Use Ticket Triage to Scale Their Customer Support Function

In a recent interview with Dimple Pattani, Head of EMEA Customer Support at GoCardless, she detailed how they managed to scale the support function alongside the rapid growth of GoCardless.

One of her key strategies was setting up a ticket triage function. As a company with 30,000+ customers, Dimple’s team deals with thousands of requests a day from customers.

They leverage ticket classification and automated triage to prioritize customer experience above all else.

At GoCardless, all support tickets come to one central location. A duo of dedicated agents then assesses and classifies each ticket to determine severity levels, applying the tags:

  • B1: If the severity (or difficulty level) is such that the customer must be guided by a human agent.
  • B2: If a knowledgebase article will likely solve the problem, but some hand holding might be needed.
  • B3: If no human intervention is needed, simply sending the right article will solve the problem.

Based on these classifications, support tickets are triaged to different severity queues. The benefits are felt on both sides.

For the company, automation can handle the repetitive, easy to resolve requests through self-serve. Agents are unlocked to focus on more interesting, complex requests.

For customers, a fast response is delivered by the appropriate mechanism. No more irrelevant automated links to an article.

Dimple’s team could take this entire process one step further by automating the severity classification process—saving the time of two full-time employees.

Content upgrade

How To Set Up Your Ticket Triage Process

We’ve already given a ton of advice and examples for which criteria you’re going to triage tickets, your ‘why’.

This is your first step—identify a problem to fix or goal to achieve through your triage process. 

The first question to ask yourself is who do you want to prioritize? Is it your customer, agent or company? Your answer will lead you down the route of automation, time-saving, money-making or sentiment improvement.

While many goals have an element of all three, we suggest starting small, proving the value and then expanding the triage experiment.

After goal setting around what to prioritise, you’ll need to look at your mechanism for how to triage.

If you have a handful of tickets, consider dedicating this task to one agent per session. They’ll read and assign new issues as they come in, so the rest of your team knows where to focus.

One thing we recommend you don’t do is ask customers to assign their own severity level. Even if you have them self-assign a topic and then trigger severity from that, we hear time and again that it leads to mistakes and just creates new work.

I asked our Head of Product, Kirsty Pinner, about this. Here’s what she had to say:

“One of the things most companies get wrong in their customer service analytics system is letting customer's self-report issues on forms. It causes inherent distrust in any subsequent analysis—support managers hesitate to share insights, other teams question the validity of them, and the self-tagging is too broad or inaccurate to be used to automate other processes like triage.”

We’re biased, of course. But the answer to setting up impactful triage on any criteria (intent, sentiment, topic, etc.) is to bring in an artificial intelligence tool like SentiSum. Not only can our team guide on best practice, but we’ll bring you the most accurate tagging engine to deliver across granular CX insights and intelligent triage.

I imagine you might be thinking, “the AI I’ve seen in the past is usually inaccurate, especially on any complex customer request” or “that sounds complicated, I’ll just do a simple project and use Zendesk.”

The system we’ve built tackles both of these. The AI is built fully customised for you—it’s trained for accuracy on your historical logs. And, we do it all for you. The hard work is on your side, and once you’ve got it in place it unlocks lots of use cases for your team to drive impact.

On the other hand, if you have a small number of support tickets then we don’t recommend investing in AI. It requires a reasonable amount of monthly volume to be trained.

After deciding on your how to triage, it’s time to focus on results. The final stage of your ticket triage process is measurement and reporting.

Let’s face it, your company is going to be impressed. Take a look at your goal and see what progress you’ve made towards it—have you reduced response time to angry customers? Have you increased CSAT? Have you helped 1000 customers to check out faster?

We recommend linking your outcomes to financial impact to really bring the power of triage home.

Actionable strategies and tactics for creating wonderful customer experiences

🤝 A "little gem" for CX & Support Leaders
📈 A new podcast & insight article each week
💕 1,783 industry professionals