How to Create a Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Hopefully this is not a step you missed when you set up your business, but I can see where, in the excitement of getting everything lined up you can completely forget that people may need to know how and when you might fix broken products and how much it is likely to cost them.

A Service Level Agreement (SLA) refers to the expectations negotiated between an internal help desk and its internal customers. But SLAs are also used for external customers as well; it is simply called somthing else, like a service guide or consumer guide. The external SLAs are less negotiated than offered. If the customer wants it, he will pay for it.

In any event, you want to make clear to the supportee what you, the supporter, will be doing and not doing. This has lately been called expectation management (I think we will eventually run out of things to manage and have to figure out another term).

From Kristin Robertson’s book Spectacular Support Centers here are some items that need to be set down:

  • incident response and resolution goals
  • service up-time goals
  • support performance metrics
  • how support requests will be handled inside and outside of business hours
  • how to measure and assure quality
  • how to contact the support center in the first place
  • SLA related metrics
  • prioritization
  • scope of support
  • what information the customer is supposed to have ready when he calls

Whew! Quite a list. Not too bad when you only have one package to offer, but what if you want to offer different packages for different customer groups? Like Standard and Premium? Or take advantage of support software capabilities to create unlimited support packages?

That last point makes administration and tracking easier but you still need to establish all those points above first. For each agreement.

While hammering out these decisions, the first thing to consider is what kind of time committment can be made and met without violation? What if you have multiple tiers of support, can each of those areas commit to the time you are alotting? If not, better figure out what you can safely promise or you’ll be breaking another promise shortly – that promise of the best service in the industry.

Since, especially SLAs for external customers, the contracts tend to be long and full of unreadable legalese, you will want to create a shorthand guide describing:

  • what services are offered and for how much
  • how to contact you
  • hours of operation
  • description of how support request will be handled
  • the escalation process
  • survey methods
  • how to access self service if available
  • support center metrics
  • who the customer can complain to if dissatisfied with service.
  • You may also need to include when you will stop supporting a product or version.

In Ms. Robertson’s book, she mentions that these points can be covered in a brochure. Just make sure any printed information matches what you have online. These days, online is probably the first place customers look to find out the SLA information. That brochure may be locked in an office or file cabinet, if it wasn’t trashed by accident.

So, now that you have found something new to worry about and get done in your copious spare time, you had better hop to it. A new business has no business creating unhappy customers.

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