Customer Service SLAs – 5 tips on how to make the most of your service level agreement

access_time 5 min
date_range 06.07.2021

Having trouble with the consistency of your customer service? An SLA ensures that the customer service team – outsourced or not – operates with clearly defined targets and metrics that motivate all parties involved to optimize their operations.

Customer service SLAs – What are they?

Successful businesses have a strong brand. Customer service is often an integral part of the brand experience and helps increase customer loyalty. That’s why companies want to ensure that that their customers can get help when they need it. This is essentially what service level agreements are for.

An SLA defines the services and the expected level that the customer service provider has to meet. It’s a clearly defined document that includes the metrics and values that the service provider has to cover to get full payment. The metrics usually include response and resolution timeframes.

For example, if you’re a utility company striving to restore power after an outage, you want to make it absolutely certain that your customer service provider is on the same page with you in communicating the situation accurately and swiftly. For this, you need to have a tailored SLA in place.

Why do businesses require SLAs?

Customer service can be a complex web of channels, customer tiers, interests and urgency levels. While service providers undoubtedly do their best in trying to identify and understand the special characteristics of every company, it is better if the acceptable levels for all necessary metrics are agreed beforehand.

An SLA is a legally binding agreement that can be used to hold parties accountable for not meeting the agreed levels. An SLA should include fines and other consequences to avoid costly court battles and uncertainty.

How does an SLA benefit a partnership?

A clear-cut and metrics-based service level agreement has various benefits for the end customer, the customer and the service provider.

Targets become transparent and realistic

SLAs are an efficient solution for making the collaboration between two businesses as transparent as possible. Even the most ambitious service provider must admit that achieving 100% uptime or reliability is impossible in the long run. It’s thus better to set realistic goals that are acceptable and achievable.

Enables accountability

When the service level agreement is made, it should explicitly describe the consequences of failing to meet the required standards. This way the collaborators have a shared understanding about what is expected and accepted.

Promotes communication

A well-crafted SLA encourages the involved businesses to communicate openly. This promotes a culture of communication where needs, goals and improvements can be discussed flexibly. Even though SLAs are binding contracts, they can also serve as a sounding board for the optimization of all involved parties.

Agents know what is expected of them

Meeting SLAs requires running a systematic operation. When you clearly define the target levels for each team, the operation can be tailored to meet those levels. As a result, your agents know exactly what is required to reach the defined goals and how to perform tasks efficiently.

Consistent customer service delights customers

Customer service has to be consistent. If your service level varies from day to day, you can be sure that the word in the street is that your business systematically offers bad customer service. SLAs provide a proven way to guarantee that customers get a contractually agreed customer experience.

5 tips to help you make the most of SLAs

1. Choose your metrics wisely and report accurately

Picking the right metrics is the cornerstone of a good partnership. A good SLA metric should

  • motivate all parties involved to optimize their operation
  • measure an area where the service provider’s actions can clearly make a difference
  • be easily reportable
  • focus on the most relevant metrics instead of trying to measure everything.

To ensure that you are able to provide accurate and easy-to-read reports, you need a quality omnichannel customer service software.

2. Define uptime target

Some industries are more seriously affected by downtime than others. In healthcare or large-scale e-commerce even 10 minutes of downtime a year might have serious consequences, whereas for many industries that could be completely acceptable. Often different times of day also have different uptime targets that reflect the customer volume.

3. Set response and resolution times for all channels

You need to define specifically how long it takes to respond to customers and how long it can take to solve their issues. Different channels should have channel-specific targets, as customers have completely different expectations for emails and chat windows, for example.

4. Prioritize when needed

Companies often have several customer tiers that pay for a certain customer service level. Naturally SLAs have to recognize this. If a customer with a premium plan doesn’t get the service they were promised, they probably don’t see a point paying extra anymore. Sometimes VIP customers can have their own SLAs inside a bigger agreement to ensure that their needs are met.

5. Revise regularly

SLAs shouldn’t be set in stone. New channels are emerging continuously and the way people communicate is going through constant change, too. New innovations, for example chatbots, are being used more than ever.

Your SLA must follow the trends in the customer service world and also be flexible if you need to change your strategy. Think carefully how long the service level agreement should last before committing to a potentially harmful deal.

Start drafting an SLA

Transparency is always key in partnerships. If you don’t already have an SLA in place, it’s time to start making your operation more systematic and efficient. The results will be positive for everyone: the outsourcer, the service provider and the end customer.