Service Level Agreements – Basic Do’s And Don’ts

It may seem surprising that a hot topic like service level agreements (SLAs) is still so divisive, and not everyone who works in customer service understands why you need SLAs. In my opinion, both theoretical knowledge and life itself dictate the absolute necessity of SLAs when delivering services. Without these essential agreements, you can expect a lot of bad blood, unproductive blaming and just negative vibes in general.

The short story is: lacking an SLA is bad for business. Nobody wants spoiled relationships to turn into spoiled reputations. So in this post, we look at why you need SLAs and what the basic do’s and don’ts of writing them are.

Why-do-you-need-an-SLA

  1. SLAs are great for gaging service effectiveness objectively. An SLA is a great tool for objective analysis. Without it, you only rely on extremely subjective criteria such as user satisfaction, client satisfaction, quality of specialist training, quantity of tasks accomplished, and so on­.
  2. SLAs act as conflict-prevention tools. SLAs may help soften disputes or avoid them altogether because they help understand the needs and interests of each side. When conflicts arise, they are resolved in a more professional manner and are not taken personally.
  3. SLAs help ensure that both sides are utilizing the same terms to communicate and the same criteria to analyze and evaluate the quality of service.
  4. SLAs save a lot of time and effort that would be otherwise wasted on figuring out what is wrong, which side is responsible, and what to do about it all.
  5. SLAs help open up communications initially and sustain a solid relationship throughout the project.
  6. The very process of writing an SLA makes you think of aspects of the project that you have never thought of before.
  7. SLAs may help protect you from legal action, unlawful complaints and lawsuits.
  8. SLAs may facilitate managing service expectations effectively and keeping emotions out the door.

What-to-include

The most basic criteria to be included are usually speed of reaction, feedback frequency, expected times for temporary solution delivery and expected times for final problem resolution. But a lot of criteria will vary from project to project.

Other criteria to include are:

  • page loading speed
  • server fails
  • number of crashes per period of time
  • bug quantity
  • quantity of project issues.

If during the writing of the document something is omitted, it will usually come up in development and may require subsequent revisions to the SLA.

If one or both sides realize during the project implementation the importance of additional criteria that are not on the SLA, they should be added to the existing document.

A lot of custom criteria on the SLA will depend on the budget. For example, if you are paying less for the service, you may tolerate more server fails. But if you are in a long-term project with a substantial budget, you expect to have a system that almost never fails.

The-Basic-Do’s-and-Don’ts-of-Writing-a-Solid-SLA

Do’s:

  1. Do change SLAs. As projects develop, requirements and budgets may change, and the SLAs should evolve with them. Every SLA should be approached as a living document that is reviewed and altered at a regular frequency, where negotiations and adjustments are seen as natural and healthy.
  2. Do make it clear and transparent. Avoid ambiguity and make sure that all the points on the agreement are understood correctly by both parties.
  3. Do legibly state what exactly is covered.Make sure you state clearly what services are provided and what services should not be expected.
  4. Do mention availability limits and expectations.Clients should know when you are available and expected resolution times should be made clear.
  5. Do go through several iterations. Writing a living and breathing SLA should take a while, so do invest your time into the writing process instead of wasting it later on conflicts and disputes.
  6. Do get legal help. If you are entering a long-term business relationship with a substantial budget, you need a lawyer on your side to oversee every clause and sentence and keep you out of trouble.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t forget to write an SLA. This especially applies to outsourcing, cloud computing, and other IT segments where the responsibility is given to another supplier.
  2. Don’t treat the SLA as a substitute for communication. When there is a complaint, deal with it first, and only go to the SLA as a last resort. Waving an SLA in the face of whoever is complaining may seem too aggressive.
  3. Don’t make the SLA serve only one party. As a service, it is natural that you want to please everyone. But IT providers also have criteria they need fulfilled and an SLA should eloquently state those. After all, it is a mutually beneficial agreement between two sides that work together.
  4. Don’t forget to update clients on progress as often as possible. Make sure you show how you meet expectations on a regular basis. The sooner iterations are discussed and approved, the faster you can move on to the next stage without leaving anything out of the loop.
  5. Don’t use templates and cookie-cutter forms. Even though you can get SLA templates online, they should only serve as a basis for your own document, a starting point. Each SLA should be a reflection of the unique needs of every project and its goals.
  6. Don’t overpromise and overimpress. Even though you want to sound reliable and able to keep your promises, you cannot make any guarantees unless you know you can deliver on them in full.

SLAs are especially important in IT but any type of business can benefit from a document of a similar kind, even though it may not have the same name. If you want to maximize your profit potential and minimize your risks, start writing an SLA right now.

Do you have any more do’s and don’ts on writing an effective SLA? Then drop us a line below!