What is SLA (Service Level Agreement)?
Business Development Director
09.03.2022 • 6 min read
SLAs in Brief
The service level agreement, or SLA, is designed to outline the level of service a vendor must provide to a client or customer. The document should be detailed and comprehensive, delivering information based on what kind of services will be covered, how these services can be measured and monitored, and what kind of penalties will be incurred if the promised level of service is not provided. All website maintenance package contracts will include this important document.
Any business providing a managed service — particularly those offering monthly website maintenance packages — will need to be well-versed in SLAs. The SLA, or service level agreement, tells clients and customers exactly what they can expect from the website maintenance package. It also serves as a set of guidelines for the vendor itself, telling the vendor what they need to do to ensure the terms of the SLA are met.
Read on to discover more about what an SLA means for businesses and their service offerings, and gain some insight into how service providers produce an SLA that meets the needs of all parties.
Understanding SLAs: The Key Components
The SLA document will outline a number of key components for the vendor and the client to refer to. This will include:
- Services that the vendor is expected to deliver as part of the website maintenance package.
- Metrics by which these services will be measured — perhaps website uptime percentages, client support response times, or specific service features.
- Specific deliverables for each service — for example, 99.9% uptime for the client’s website.
- Penalties that will result if the agreed-upon level of service is not delivered.
- Responsibilities of the client as part of the agreement, if any.
When drafting the SLA, it is important to be comprehensive. The agreement will be a binding document and it may be difficult to change key items, or add other items, in the future.
Best Practices for Drafting an SLA
How should managed service providers approach the SLA? There are a number of best practices they can use to make sure the agreement meets the needs of all stakeholders.
Website maintenance providers need to be realistic on the deliverables they can achieve for clients. This means analyzing previous performance in key areas and using this information to craft the SLA. Taking an average response time, for instance, not only gives the maintenance provider a baseline to work with, but also leaves room to offer accelerated delivery timelines if required.
Road-testing and Analysis
Deliverables will need to be road-tested in the context of the service level agreement. While previous average response times and other sources of data offer valuable insight, ongoing testing and analysis will help providers develop their understanding of what they can realistically deliver. This essentially makes the project an ongoing one, and useful data is generated each time a support ticket is resolved.
Clarity and Simplicity
The SLA must be easily understood by all who need to read it. While some technical jargon may be appropriate for a monthly website maintenance package SLA, it should still be kept to a minimum, and any overly technical terms will need to be broken down into easily understandable language. The SLA should cover the key points concisely, without going into unnecessary detail. Where possible, multiple maintenance services should be covered together in a single central document for easy reference.
Clearly Defined Operating Timeframes
The timeframe for delivery of service should be clearly defined on the SLA. This is crucial qualitative information that should carry no ambiguity. In this sense, the SLA should become a useful yardstick against which all parties can measure the speed of delivery, immediately confirming whether or not the terms of the SLA have been met.
Prioritize Service Delivery
Providers need to work with clients to understand which deliverables are the most important. Clients will generally want certain aspects of service to be prioritized, while other services can be moved down the queue. Approaching all elements of the service in the same way will not be effective in fostering a strong relationship with the client.
Understand the Objectives of the SLA
There are many benefits to a well-crafted SLA, including:
- Better customer retention
- Clear and free-flowing communication between both parties
- Improved levels of service thanks to shared goals
- Unambiguous agreement between provider and client
Providers need to keep these benefits in mind while they draft their service level agreement. The agreement is intended to provide a clear understanding to all stakeholders, and this should be the objective during the drafting process.
Common Mistakes When Drafting an SLA
Unfortunately, service providers sometimes run into trouble when drafting SLAs, creating documents with either too much information or too little. Learn more about some of the common mistakes that can arise when drafting an SLA.
Failure to Recognize Client Expectations
It is important to remember that an SLA is supposed to be an agreement. In fact, this “agreement” component is part of the SLA acronym, and so this must be a critical part of the document. Basically, website maintenance providers need to avoid telling their clients what they should expect or accept from services. Instead, they need to listen to the needs of clients and build the SLA around this.
This involves opening up a dialogue with clients to understand exactly what these users expect as part of the SLA. It will also involve learning more about competitor services, looking at the key service provisions and working to improve on these. A great SLA will achieve a positive customer relationship — rather than forcing an arbitrary set of terms and conditions onto the customer.
SLAs Become Too Specific or Even Contradictory
While SLAs do need to be specific, there is a limit to this. If a website maintenance provider attaches an SLA to each and every service they offer, there is a danger that many of the agreement’s conditions will become difficult to monitor — there will simply be too much information for small businesses to process and keep track of.
There is also a danger that highly specialized conditions become contradictory. If an SLA for a blog page promises a specific First Input Delay (FID) reading, while the SLA for a web resources page promises a different FID time, the client may want to know why this is. Businesses can find themselves in difficult positions if they are trying to fulfill contradictory SLA conditions.
Lack of Defined Metrics
Sometimes maintenance providers become fixated on the nature of their deliverables and forget about the quantitative targets and objectives that represent success. For instance, promising “optimal uptime” for a business website is certainly very attractive, but what does this mean in practice? Is 97% uptime good enough, or does this mean as close to 100% uptime as possible?
Businesses need to make sure that all claims can be measured according to agreed metrics. These metrics will provide the threshold that identifies whether or not SLA conditions have been adhered to. In addition, this will help both parties understand whether penalties need to be imposed, according to the agreement.
Putting SLAs Before Customer Relationships
We’ve already touched upon the importance of an SLA in establishing a positive customer relationship. The problem is, many vendors and maintenance providers don’t recognize the importance of these relationships, and instead treat SLAs as totemic documents that cannot be changed or altered. This can result in lost business further down the line.
While the SLA should be comprehensive and is designed to be adhered to, providers need to make sure this is not damaging the customer relationship. If there is a problem with the agreed-upon service level, they must open up a dialogue. By learning about specific customer issues, they can work to improve the SLA, and adopt guidelines for achieving better levels of service in the future.
Forgetting About Historic SLAs
Customers might not always raise concerns with their website maintenance providers. They may simply complete the term of the SLA, and then move on in search of a different provider. This is a bad situation for maintenance firms, as they might not be able to identify what has driven the customer away.
Historic SLAs that are left un-updated might be the culprit here. Businesses must remember that SLAs are not one-off documents, and instead should evolve and grow over time. By returning to their historic SLAs, assessing the problems that arose during the term of the agreement, and putting this right, providers can achieve more positive customer relationships. It may also be useful for businesses to keep a record of SLAs over their entire operational history, providing insight into how service expectations have evolved.
Access Industry-Leading IT Support with Develtio
Here at Develtio, we provide IT support designed to keep businesses performing at their best while also optimizing security. All of this is underlined by clearly defined SLAs that are crafted with long-term client relationships in mind. Reach out to our team to discover more.
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