Make Customers Smile in 7 Easy Steps with OTRS - Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced you to OTRS and guided you through the process of installing and configuring oTRS on your system. At the end of Part 1, you were able to log in to the OTRS Dashboard, which serves as the central point for all OTRS operations.

In Part 2, you'll learn a little more about how OTRS works and you'll also understand the concepts of agents, queues and customers. These concepts are essential to working with OTRS in a production environment. You'll also learn how to create your own OTRS theme, to customize OTRS to your corporate environment.

Step 2: Add Agents

Now that you've got all the pieces installed and configured, it's time to take OTRS out for a spin and see how it works. To begin, assume for a moment that you run a Web hosting service named Dizzy Domains, selling customers the bandwidth and disk space they need to host their Web sites and email. As a small, service-oriented business, you've always tried to support your customers by responding to problems quickly and efficiently. Word has spread about the good service you offer, and you're signing up more and more customers every day. The natural consequence of more customers is, of course, more support requests and so, you've decided to install OTRS to help your three-man support team cope with the increasing workload.

OTRS defines two main types of users: agents and customers. Customers generate support tickets; agents receive and resolve them. Therefore, as a necessary first step, you must create agent accounts for each of your support personnel, to enable them to log in to OTRS and begin dealing with customer requests. To do this, use the Dashboard -> Admin -> Users -> User Management -> Add User command and create accounts for each of your agents. Figure 8 has an example of what the account creation form looks like:

Figure 8: Agent account creation

You will need to enter each agent's first and last name, login username, password, preferred language, together with notification preferences for different OTRS events. Once these details are submitted, you'll be asked to specify the agent's privileges. By default, OTRS comes with three groups - "users", "admin" and "stats" - and allows you to customize the privileges each agent has with respect to tickets in each group. It's generally a good idea to ensure that your agents have full privileges for the "users" group, as this allows them to move, merge, create, add notes to and set priorities for tickets in most queues. Figure 9 has an example of how you can configure this:

Figure 9: Agent privilege mapping

To get things rolling, go ahead and create three example accounts, as shown below (replace the example email addresses with real ones if you'd like to receive OTRS email notifications):

Name Username Email Address Password Groups
Gilda Goat gilda gilda users
Harry Hippo harry harry users, admin
Thomas Turtle thomas thomas users, stats

Assigning agents to the "admin" group gives them administrative privileges, and assigning them to the "stats" group gives them access to report generation functions. You may also wish to create other groups - for example, based on department or role - and customize each agent's privileges for these groups. New groups can be created in the Dashboard -> Admin -> Groups section, while user/group privilege mappings can be further fine-tuned with the Dashboard -> Admin -> Users<->Groups section.

Step 3: Define Support Queues

Next up, queues. In OTRS-speak, queues are simply categories, making it easy to group together tickets of a similar nature. By default, OTRS comes with a single pre-defined queue, the "Raw" queue, into which all incoming tickets are placed. However, it's quite easy to define new queues, and to manually or automatically filter tickets into these queues for resolution by specialized teams or individuals.

To illustrate, go ahead and add a new queue for email-related problems, by using the Dashboard -> Admin -> Queue -> Queue Management command. Enter a name for the queue, such as "Email Services", specify which group it should belong to (the "users" group is usually best), and select the email address, salutation and signature that should be used for the automatic email confirmation that goes to customers when they open a new ticket. Figure 10 has an example of how a queue can be configured.

Figure 10: Queue configuration

You'll notice, from Figure 10, that each queue also includes some fields related to something called "escalation". What's that all about, you say? Well, it's actually quite interesting. You see, OTRS automatically tracks each ticket, from the moment it is created to the moment it is closed, and can automatically flag ("escalate") tickets for special attention if they are left untouched for a certain period of time. Tickets can be escalated based on the time taken for an initial response, for an update or for a solution.

This automatic monitoring system is extremely useful, especially for organizations that have to handle many thousands of support requests, because it ensures that not even a single ticket falls through the cracks or is left unanswered. The actual time period for each type of escalation can, of course, be configured on a per-queue basis. For a Web hosting company like Dizzy Domains, 8 hours for a first response, 24 hours for an update and 36 hours for a final solution would probably be reasonable values to use.

With all this information at hand, go ahead and create some queues for Dizzy Domains, as shown below:

Queue Name Group First Response Time (min.) Update Time (min.) Solution Time (min.)
Email Services users 480 1440 2160
DNS and Hosting Services users 480 1440 2160
FTP Services users 480 1440 2160
MySQL Database Services users 480 1440 2160
SSH Services users 480 1440 2160
Billing Issues users 1440 2880 4320

Agents can also "watch" particular queues them by adding those queues to their "My Queues" list. This list is a convenient way for the agent to quickly see relevant tickets as soon as he or she logs in. Agents can configure their "My Queues" list through the Dashboard -> Preferences -> My Queues screen after logging in (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Favorite queue selection

In case you're wondering about the "Raw", "Junk" and "Postmaster" queues, don't worry too much about them. These are the default queues that are automatically bundled with each OTRS installation. The "Raw" queue is a stream of all incoming tickets; the "Postmaster" queue references Postmaster-related issues; and the "Junk" queue, as the name suggests, is where agents can transfer invalid tickets.

Step 4: Configure Customer Accounts

Every customer who wishes to submit a ticket through OTRS must have an OTRS account. These accounts can be created in two ways: by an administrator, through manual entry of a customer's details, or by the customer through a self-registration process.

OTRS comes with a basic self-service portal, which allows customers to register themselves with their email address, as a necessary prelude to creating new tickets. You can see this portal for yourself by visiting http://localhost/otrs/, which should produce something like Figure 12:

Figure 12: OTRS customer self-service portal

Before you can actually turn your system live, you might want to adjust this interface to better reflect your company name and branding. This is actually quite easy to do. To begin, navigate to your OTRS installation directory, and find the $OTRS/Kernel/Output/HTML folder. Within this folder, you'll see sub-folders for OTRS' default themes, named "Standard" and "Lite" (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Directory structure for OTRS themes

Create a new folder for your custom theme - say, $OTRS/Kernel/Output/HTML/Dizzy - and copy the files $OTRS/Kernel/Output/HTML/Standard/CustomerHeader.dtl and $OTRS/Kernel/Output/HTML/Standard/CustomerFooter.dtl. These template files control the customer portal's header and footer sections, and you should now customize them to reflect your site's own branding, colors and special attributes (more information here)

Once you're done, save your changes, and then navigate to the OTRS configuration screens, at Dashboard -> Admin -> Sysconfig. Search for the Core group and enter the name of your custom theme in the field named "DefaultTheme" (Figure 14). Save your changes, and go back to the customer portal, where you should see your new theme in all its glory (Figure 15).

Figure 14: Theme configuration

Figure 15: Customized OTRS customer self-service portal

At this point, you have set up an example OTRS installation. All that's left is to introduce some unhappy customers. Part 3 discusses the ticket resolution workflow in detail.

Copyright OTRS Group, 2010. All rights reserved.

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