“Pending” status for support tickets might be useless

I’m moving ZOZI from Zendesk’s helpdesk software to UserVoice‘s (full disclosure: I used to work at UserVoice). As part of my due diligence there was one important thing I had to investigate: the “pending” status.

Zendesk has a few statuses for support tickets: new, open, pending, and solved. UserVoice goes the simple route with simply open & closed. ZOZI, like many companies, uses the “pending” status to indicate that we’re waiting to hear back from the customer. If we don’t hear from the customer after x days, we reach out and remind them that we’re waiting to hear from them. This is often folks whose problems we think we solved, but we want to verify.

(It’s worth noting that when we were developing UserVoice’s helpdesk we interviewed dozens of people who used Zendesk and found that, overwhelmingly, most folks used “pending” to represent tickets they needed to follow up on…but most of these people also admitted they never ended up following up on said tickets.)

My mission: to discover whether setting tickets to “pending” was a positive practice that results in more clarity for customers and higher satisfaction ratings for us…or a waste of our time. I looked at 20 tickets that had been “pending” and 20 tickets that were never set to “pending”.

screen shot of ticket When we sent follow-up emails to customers whose tickets were “pending”, only twice out of the 20 instances did the customer actually respond to the follow-up.

Both times they did respond, the customer was waiting on a third party (we work with vendors who actually run the fantastic experiences we sell). They appreciated the follow-up because they had not heard from the vendor.

There were no satisfaction scores given on any of the “pending” tickets that were followed up on. However, there were two (positive) satisfaction ratings to 20 random tickets that did not use the “pending” status.

My Conclusions:

  1. EXCEPTING cases where we’re waiting on a third party, users do not respond to pending follow-ups. If they didn’t respond before, they’re not going to respond now.
  2. Pending follow-ups do not increase customer satisfaction. Again, they were already done with us.
  3. Pending tickets are in fact less likely to get any sort of satisfaction ratings for the same reason.

Although I wouldn’t call this entirely scientific, it’s my conclusion that the “pending” status and process doesn’t actually benefit our users. Customers who don’t respond, won’t respond. Instead, it wastes agent time and may annoy the customer. We will likely be leaving tickets that are waiting on vendors “open” in UserVoice, as it seems clear that this is the one situation in which checking in is useful. But other than that, we’ll happily leave “pending” in the dust.


Photo courtesy of Delwin.

Updated 11/11 to disclose relationship to UserVoice. Updated 11/12 to provide information on UserVoice’s user research when developing our helpdesk product.

7 comments
jszotten
jszotten

I use Pending very differently. For me I leave cases pending when there's something I need to follow-up on myself as an agent. For example a bug that has been reported which is due to be fixed by our development team. For an iOS app which requires waiting for review etc I keep them in pending with an added label. This is more for myself to keep my ticket queue 'clean' without cases sticking around that might not need immediate action.

Say you've responded about a problem, saying it will be fixed and even though the user will see the new update to our app it's always nice to follow up saying it's available with 'their' fix included.

Sure - other scenarios include actions that needs to be taken by the user which could either be a reply OR it could be an action taken by the user which I can check myself. That way I'll keep it around as pending with a different label and can check back. Has the action been taken buy the user themselves then I'll see and can resolve the case - if not I can follow-up to make sure they understood our instructions or just forgot to take action.

I imagine it very much depends on how you'd like to keep your ticket queue and what you want to remain there and not. Also important if you do keep a separate pending queue is that you make sure you check back on it - make sure it's a part of your workflow.

jakeisonline
jakeisonline

Hey Evan,

Thanks for writing this up, it's a valuable insight into the way you're thinking, and the way you're using Zendesk. Full disclosure for others: I work for Zendesk.

I wanted to comment on the pinnacle part of your post, your hypotheses, "My mission: to discover whether setting tickets to “pending” was a positive practice that results in more clarity for customers and higher satisfaction ratings for us…or a waste of our time"

That is not really the intention of a Pending status, perhaps with a very minor exception on "clarity for customers". To throw a little more clarity here, 

"Pending" forms part of a ticket lifecycle, joining 4 other keys statuses. For the most part, the status of a ticket matters most to agents and managers alike. Having to split this into paragraphs since Livefyre lacks bullets :(

"New" represents a ticket which hasn't been touched by an agent and/or is unassigned; no work has begun on the ticket. 

"Open" shows the ticket has been worked on, and still needs work.

"Pending" means that the ticket is currently waiting for a customer response, and when they do respond, the ticket goes back into "Open". 

Finally, "Solved" is a status where one or both parties believe the ticket is now resolved and needs no further work; it has reached the end of its useful life.

The use case for Pending is very simple: if a ticket is pending, for the most part agents can ignore the ticket as they know it can't go any further until the requester of the ticket responds. That's it. It's simply a mechanism for managing your ticket queues. It has nothing to do with customer satisfaction, nor have we claimed that's the case.

Going back to customer clarity, Pending does provide some value. Zendesk has self-service features, allowing customers to review and respond to tickets on a web interface rather than email. When a ticket is set to "Pending", the web interface should call this out to end-users rather clearly, "This ticket is awaiting your response".

We recognize our customers don't necessarily want to follow the point of Pending, or indeed follow any sort of ticket lifecycle. That's fine, that's the reason we don't build too much into specific Statuses.

Finally, very sad to hear you're moving over to Uservoice from Zendesk. As always, and if you're willing to spend the time, I'll happily sit down with you and chat about why we're not a good match.

evanhamilton
evanhamilton moderator

@jszotten Sounds like a good use of Pending! We don't have many situations like this, thankfully...so we tend to either get back to the customer right away or know "oh, that's the ticket where I'm waiting to hear from the devs". A single agent should only ever have one or two open tickets in their queue.

As mentioned, support organizations are as varied as pizza styles. I've heard a lot of folks say they use Pending as a way to check in with customers to make sure they're taken care of, and I feel I've debunked that. More power to you if Pending works for your org! :)

evanhamilton
evanhamilton moderator

@jakeisonline Appreciate the response. Two responses for you:

#1: I don't know of anyone that uses Pending that way. I'm not saying those people don't exist, but the general perception is that Pending is a way to make sure we follow up with customers who we want to hear from. If that's not the intention, you might work on the perception of this feature.

#2: Regardless, your response is predicated on Zendesk's self-help features. I'm extremely opposed to the self-help features in Zendesk because I feel that 90% of people don't want to have to manage their own support; they just want an answer. Most don't want or need to know they're IN a support tool. Again, the answer is the important thing. 

That's why UserVoice chose to go with open/closed, and why I think it's an ideal system. I'll be the first to admit that there are exceptions (which I did above), but at least for us this doesn't seem to be a valuable tool and causes a lot of frustration for my team.

Andy Lang
Andy Lang

@evanhamilton @jakeisonline  I don't use either of those systems, since my company's on Help Scout, but this is exactly how we use pending. We've started using it rather than closing cases where we need an answer back from a customer, exactly as Jake described. Just because your limited sample hasn't found people that use it that way doesn't mean people don't :-)

evanhamilton
evanhamilton moderator

@Andy Lang Although I admit it's not scientific, I'm pretty sure our limited example is pretty demonstrative of our experience (note I said our). I had already anecdotally heard that this wasn't as effective as expected from our team and many others, but many people continued to use it because "it was there". In fact, when we interviewed dozens of Zendesk users when creating UserVoice Helpdesk, we found that most folks who used "Pending" to represent tickets that needed follow-up didn't actually ever follow-up. :\ That's a waste of the system and damaging to metrics that are based on status.

As mentioned a lot on this page, I don't think Pending is wrong for everyone. But what I'm trying to get at is that most folks who have some sneaking suspicion that Pending is useless are probably right. If you feel it's a fantastic part of your process, then you're also probably right...you're just not the group I'm talking about. :)