Service Level Agreements or SLAs are essentially a document given by a supplier to their client or customer that formally defines what they have agreed to and how they intend to deliver it. Essentially, the goal of an SLA is to spell out in plain English what the supplier will and won’t do within an agreed time-frame.
Before acting under an SLA, the most important part of the process is the mutual agreement between the two parties that the service will be undertaken according to a defined standard/level. Before any agreement is made, a number of steps leading up to this point must have taken place to allow both sides to set their expectations and manage those of the other.
A Service Level Agreement must never just be issued and undertaken without the appropriate levels of due diligence and professional management. It is not a document to be handed out as if it was a brochure. Whilst the basics of the SLA could be templated, each should also be carefully tailored to the client or customer in a way that is fair and clearly defines what’s what without any confusion.
Once everyone is in agreement, then the SLA can be signed and the supplier can implement their support for the client/customer.
Once everyone is in agreement, should either party renege on any part of it, the SLA becomes a lynch pin on which questions can be raised and if necessary, support can be halted.
The danger with the process of onboarding a customer to the point where you are delivering SLAs is that at every point, human error hangs in the shadows. Your customer’s attention could be distracted when you ask them to read the SLA you emailed them, or you may have assumed they would already understand what you think is fundamental logic 101. Human error is what makes the quote ‘the devil’s in the detail’ so important to remember when creating watertight SLAs.
- At the point where the client is expected to sign off the document, ensure that they have at least had one meeting with you to review the SLA – this will help you close any loops and explain any ambiguous points to them.
- Ensure that the client is aware of what is NOT included in the SLA. If adjustments are needed then take the necessary steps. You don’t want to be supporting everyone’s personal machines that are still on Windows ME just because you’re a nice person. It doesn’t pay, it undermines the SLA, and your business.
- Ensure that your staff are aware of what is NOT included in the SLA – calculated discretion is okay as long as it doesn’t impact on activities that keep the lights on.
- Schedule quarterly, half yearly reviews of the SLA; there’s no need to create a whole meeting around it, but ensure that it is brought up regularly to check it’s up to date and still relevant. It’s not like a business plan that gathers dust in your drawer.
- Consult the know-how and experience of a qualified legal professional who can ensure that a) the SLA protects both parties and b) that it isn’t so tied down it corrodes your relationships with your clients.
Contract or no contract, anyone can break an agreement whether wilfully or not. Just be sure not to leave the door wide open to chance.
Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that helps technology organisations redesign their business models to help them build better relationships with their customers. You can follow the team on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.