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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Opening Pandora's box by scoring support tickets

If you start attaching scores to things, some people will find a way to game it. It's completely ridiculous, but they will get away with it if nobody else can prove it's happening. I saw this happening with support tickets and a scoring scheme. This is what happened.

It all started innocently. Someone who worked with some of the managers in our support area came to me with a request for a tool. I had recently started poking around our read-only reporting database. It was just a snapshot taken the day before, and it had all of the comments, status changes, and other things that go with tickets.

His request was for something which would "pull the closed tickets by tech". I figured this was possible and started working on it. While this was going on, one of the other managers heard about it and got concerned. Apparently they were worried about people who would just pick off the easy ones and leave the "hosers" (our term for difficult tickets) for someone else.

I decided to call this tool "Pandora", since once it was out there, there would be no going back. We wound up going ahead with it anyway, and started attaching scores to events. Then it started getting crazy.

Adding a "private" comment that only other employees could see was worth half a point. Adding a "public" comment which went out to the customer was worth a full point. Finally, closing a ticket (which meant having it assigned to you when it went dormant) was worth two points.

There was a web page. People could see their scores. Then they started giving away lucite slabs as trophies, and started inviting the top 10 from each month to things like dinner and gaming at Dave and Busters.

That's when the "point fives" started creeping in.

As mentioned previously, the ticketing system had the notion of private comments. These were supposed to be used for sending notes around of relatively low priority to check on something, or add some context, or whatever. Once they picked up actual value, people started abusing them.

Here's the sort of thing which started happening:

---- [ Customer comment ]
* From: Customer
Please drop TTLs to 300s on all domains on my account.
---- [ Private comment ]
* From: loser tech
Good morning IP admins,
Please drop TTLs to 300 seconds on all domains on this account.  
Loser Tech
---- [ Queue change ]
Loser Tech moved ticket to queue: IP Administrators

That's right, these people would actually repeat exactly what the customer had said in order to have something to say. They couldn't even claim they "had to do it to change queues", since that was a lie.

That particular ticketing system had two ways to change queues. You could do it while adding a comment, which is what they were doing, and it involved quite a lot of clicks and typing, since you *had* to add a comment.

The other way was just to click "queue", then "IP administrators", and "submit", and it would just go. Three clicks, no typing, but, no .5 either. Those of us with actual work to do used this method since it got the dumb "empty calorie" tickets out of the way so we could get to the real problems.

The people with no souls went the long way to do their bottom-feeding .5 thing on as many tickets as possible.

My response was to write more tools which would expose this sort of thing. I'll talk about those another time.