How do you ensure that you meet the promises that you give to your clients? For every service, your business offers, your customer will have expectations of the quality and timeliness of your provision. Failure to live up to that expectation will lead to unhappy customers or, at worst, the loss of a customer and their future business. Time to discover Service Level Agreements.
Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
The first step of achieving customer success, by fulfiling your agreement, is to know what you agreed in the first instance. Many successful businesses will make it clear from the outset what the promise is. They will often document this promise in a Service Level Agreement or SLA.
Service Level Agreements are a document which specifies criteria that the business offering the service agree to meet to satisfy the offer to the customer.
The SLA may include aspects related to the quality of the product or service provided. At this point, the Service Level Agreement may detail warranties or guarantees. For example, you may return the product for a complete replacement within twelve months of purchase with no questions asked.
It may also advise timescales by which certain parts of the contract must be complete. For example, we will deliver your new website within thirty days of payment of your deposit.
The SLA may include expectations on the part of the customer to allow the work to take place. For example, the customer must provide payment within 14 days of the contract commencing to receive the service without delay.
Getting Great Customer Feedback With SLAs
Service Level Agreements are attractive to customers, as they let them know exactly where they stand regarding the services they can expect. Meeting these criteria is even more crucial to customer satisfaction than ever before. With the advent of online review sites, your customers can check out the comments of your past customers, good and bad. Not meeting your SLA is a sure-fire way to build up a bank of negative comments about your business.
Setting the right benchmarks within your Service Level Agreement can make all the difference in gaining new business. It gives a clear indication to potential clients as to what they can expect, allowing them to make direct comparisons with competitors in your field. These benchmarks can range from response times for help desk enquiries, to the completion of a long term contract.
How To Create A Service Level Agreement
When drawing up an SLA, it is essential to consider the needs of your clients and how you can help to fulfil them.
Service Level Agreements measure the service provider’s performance and quality in several ways. Some benchmarks that an SLA could determine:
- Working hours or availability, e.g. 99.9% uptime for a website host
- Time for a response to an enquiry, e.g. 2 hours for a support request
- Advanced warning time of system changes that could affect clients, e.g. 14 days notice of upcoming maintenance
- Usage and performance statistics, e.g. invoice generation within 30 seconds.
- Potential penalties and compensation for failure, e.g. money back for non-delivery within agreed timescales.
Once you have decided on what your SLA will contain, you need to stick to it. Tracking the performance of your business against your Service Level Agreement is vital. If you don’t know how you are performing, how will you know if you are meeting your targets?
Adding Metrics To Your Service Level Agreement
You need to make sure that you SLA uses SMART targets. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. If you prepare your Service Level Agreement to include these kinds of goal, the next step is measuring your business against them.
An SLA may detail the final measure, the overall timescale, but using your external targets is not enough to achieve customer success. You must now convert your external objectives into internal ones. For example, you may have told the customer that you will provide their report within ten working days, but the delivery of this report will not involve just a single step.
Many services require multiple stages to be complete, often by different members of staff, before delivery of the final product or service. Thinking about your service as a process that incorporates several well-defined steps can help you to systemise your business. A step-by-step recipe for your service is called a business process or workflow.
How To Breakdown Your Services Into Measurable Steps
If you have a workflow for each service you provide, you can put metrics against the different steps of the process that ultimately build up to achieve the objectives in your client-facing Service Level Agreement.
For example, delivering that report in ten working days may breakdown as follows:
- Admin Team: Gather client information and arrange an appointment to survey within three working days (keep goals achievable and realistic, clients aren’t always available next day) – 3 days
- Field Surveyor: Perform survey and enter details into a case management system – 1 day
- Surveyor: Write-up initial draft of the report and give feedback to field surveyor – 1 day.
- Field Surveyor: Respond to feedback – 1 day
- Surveyor: Make modifications based on feedback, and send for review – 1 day
- Senior Surveyor: Review the report, add any final comments and submit to the client – 1 day
This process leaves two days for any issues that occur during the preparation of the report. This wiggle room can act as a buffer to ensure that you meet the external goal detailed in your SLA with room to spare.
Tracking Your Tasks Against Your SLAs
To review, you have your external SLA that you agree with your customer. You also have your internal SLA that you agree with your staff. Now you have something that you can track. To do this, you need to gather information about how your work proceeds through your business.
In the old days, this may have involved a job sheet – a piece of paper, or a set of documents, which contain forms for your staff to fill out. The job sheet would travel around your business, from in-tray to in-tray, as each step of the process is complete. The team could compile reports to send to managers of how many tasks were in each in-tray, to give an idea of flow through the business pipeline.
Paper gets lost, damaged, is unreadable and cannot provide information instantly to managers. Some businesses try to mimic paper-based systems with email, shared folders for document storage, or even a network-available spreadsheet.
In the end, these options aren’t that much better than their paper-based equivalents. Emails get lost, go into junk mail folders, and the right people don’t get copied in. Files in shared folders get accidentally overwritten, deleted or misplaced. Spreadsheets get too big, become unreadable, and data gets pasted into the wrong column.
Workflow Management Systems
The best solution to these problems is a workflow management solution. You can set up your business processes and add metrics to each stage of your workflow that you can track. By adding warnings and automated actions to occur as you approach or exceed time limits, you can keep your tasks on track.
Having your tasks managed by a workflow management system, you can get an overview of which stage your jobs are at, and how they are performing respecting your SLAs. For example, you could view a list of all tasks that are close to exceeding the SLA for that step of the business process.
As you are collecting data in a consistent format and storing it in a centralised location, you can efficiently run reports to gain further insight.
For example, you could see which steps of the process often exceed the internal SLA or which staff members are always on time.
Create Automated Actions based on SLAs
Workflow management software, like SwiftCase, can provide you with a graphical warning system (like a traffic light). Red, amber and green denote tasks that have exceeded, are close to exceeding or are on track, respectively. All jobs should start as green, and ideally, stay that way until completion, thereby meeting your Service Level Agreements both internally and externally.
For example, a task could move from green to amber if you don’t resolve a customer request within 2 hours, then marked as red after 4 hours. You can then configure amber and red alerts to trigger messages to the various parties involved, depending on their level of urgency, to indicate that action is required.
Complying With Quality-based SLA Targets
In addition to time-based SLAs, it is also easy to track your quality-based targets using workflow management software. By requiring the sign off of steps in the process, and adding review stages to your workflow. For example, you could add a checklist of quality checks that need to be complete before a job can move to the next step.
With a complete audit of who had done what on which job and when and how it was actioned, you can keep control of the quality of service that your business provides.
Delight and Retain Your Customers
With Service Level Agreement in place both internally and externally, and a workflow management system that can track your compliance, you can stop guessing that you are providing exceptional service, and be confident that you are. Getting this right will make you more consistent, efficient, and help you to delight and retain your customers.
SwiftCase can ensure you don’t miss deadlines and can respond to your customers’ needs promptly, improving customer satisfaction, honouring SLAS, and in turn, increasing your profitability and growth potential.