How to Set Up XLAs in ServiceNow

Compared to traditional Service Level Agreements (SLAs), Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) focus more on what matters most to end-users – the outcomes and value of services.

In this blog, find out why XLAs help deliver better business outcomes than SLAs, and learn about a four-stage approach to set up XLAs in ServiceNow.

Blog image_XLAs in SN-2

If your service provider organization is currently looking at the use of experience level agreements (XLAs) to better understand, and improve upon, the quality of its IT service delivery and support (or that of other lines of business using ServiceNow), then this blog will help.

In it, I explain how XLAs differ from traditional service level agreements (SLAs) and the targets they contain. It also explains why they’re better suited to modern business needs, including those of employees, and how experience management can be used to improve both operations and outcomes.

Let’s start with the difference between XLAs and SLAs as the foundation for setting up XLAs in ServiceNow…


XLAs versus SLAs

We often love our three-letter acronyms in business, with XLA another one to add to your list of 3LAs. As to what they are, they’re a necessary evolution of the traditional SLA used by service providers. Importantly, though, this is so much more than a fashion-based name change – with the replacement of “service” with “experience” (in the name) reflecting the need for service providers to also focus on demand-side performance metrics rather than solely those related to the supply-side. If it helps, you can think of this as what matters most to customers/end users rather than what matters most to the service provider.

Another important difference is that XLAs focus on the outcomes and value of any given service. Such that experience level targets (or experience targets) measure what has been achieved rather than simply what has been done – so on the outcomes, not the outputs. Plus, don’t let the “versus” in the above heading fool you – with XLAs and SLAs it doesn’t need to be an either/or situation in target terms and your organization can operate both in tandem.

However, and importantly, an SLA target will rarely be able to deliver what an XLA target can in terms of understanding and improving your outcomes, especially in customer or end-user terms. This is because… well, I’ll let the next section tell you.


Why XLAs offer more than SLAs

Take a moment to think about many of your current key performance metrics. If you’re an IT service provider (and similar examples can be taken for other lines of business), does anyone who’s not in IT care how many incidents the IT service desk handled in Q3? Or does an employee who’s still struggling to get help with their IT issue care that the service desk has a rolling customer satisfaction (CSAT) score of 95%? Especially when they’re being bounced from one IT team to another with no one able to quickly help with their issue.

While these might seem frivolous examples, hopefully they’re a good starting point for questioning whether your current SLAs and service level targets are fit-for-purpose. Importantly, there are various perspectives to consider here. For example, do the service level targets allow your service provider organization to ensure that:

  • Services are delivering on their promises in the eyes of the customer/end users. Or are there potentially “watermelon SLA” scenarios where, while performance metrics are consistently green, the service receivers are unhappy with the services they receive?
  • Customers and end users are receiving the services and support they need? Or are the services and support capabilities they receive adversely affecting their ability to deliver the outcomes and value expected of them?
  • Issues are highlighted, root causes are identified, and improvement opportunities are visible across service provider operations, services, experiences, and outcomes. Or are these improvement opportunities hidden by the use of SLAs and the limitations of the service-provider focus?

The bottom line here is whether you’re totally confident that your current portfolio of performance metrics – including CSAT – is a true reflection of your service-provider organization’s relative level of success.

Or do you need to introduce XLAs and experience targets to better measure and improve upon your service-provider organization’s operations, services, experiences, and outcomes based on the customer/end-user perspective? Leveraging both experience management and the ServiceNow NOW platform and data to better understand what customers and end users receive in terms of service and support.


Start with knowing how you want to benefit from XLAs and experience measurement

On the one hand, you might not know what the measurement of experiences will uncover, and this is usual (and one of the key reasons why the approach is needed – that issues are often hidden to traditional metrics). On the other hand, there are a number of commonly seen benefits that can be used to drive your experience management actions. For example, gaining greater insight into end-user happiness and productivity (as part of the end-user experience) such that it can then be improved to not only meet end-user expectations but also to improve operations and outcomes.

The context is important too. For example, using the better insight to better manage outsourced partners and to drive improvements in the right places. After all, how often do the metrics used in outsourced IT arrangements show that all contracted targets are being met but end users aren’t happy with the IT services and support? What’s usually missing here is the focus on what’s most important to the service receivers.


How to set up XLAs and experience targets with ServiceNow

We recommend the adoption of a four-stage approach to XLAs and experience management:

  1. Measurement – this is the collection of experience data which when combined with the operational data in ServiceNow will create meaningful insights. This can relate to experiences in different business areas, such as IT or human resources (HR), or how remote working is impacting employees.
  2. Sharing – an important part of experience management is the sharing of the measurement data with stakeholders. It helps to create transparency and trust as well as opening up issues to all rather than just one person owning the data. It’s also great for working closer with partners and vendors as well as being motivating for them.
  3. Identification – with the constant flow of experience data, there’s now real-time insight into the experience end users are receiving and the areas that need improving. From this data, experience targets that fit your organization’s exact needs can be set.
  4. Improvement – after issue identification, deeper analysis of the experience data helps to find ways to improve the experience.

As shown in the image below, this is a cyclical approach. End users will continue to have experiences that will vary and change over time; therefore measurement is still needed to ensure that experience targets are being met. Including that any improvements and other changes aren’t adversely affecting employee happiness and productivity.

SN XLAs_Steps


How to measure experience in ServiceNow 

End-user perceptions of IT have traditionally been measured via annual surveys or “every nth ticket” handled by the service desk. There are many issues with this approach including, for annual surveys, the speed of feedback and that responses are sought from all employees even though they might not have used the service in question.

A better way to measure experience is to have focused audiences with feedback sought daily. This delivers a continuous stream of responses, and the employee effect of changes to service and support can be seen instantly. Importantly, this isn’t only the impact of experience-related improvements but also any other changes that affect ways of working. For example, for a phased ERP system rollout to one location at a time, the data-based insights and learnings can be used to improve the experience after each rollout.

However, there’s more to consider than the “mechanics” of XLAs and experience measurement. This starts with knowing that the point of experience measurement is not to show success but to understand where your service-provider organization currently is and how it can improve. It then requires a change in mindset and culture.

Creating an experience management culture

The Experience Management pyramid below – which mirrors the design of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – shows that, to create an experience management culture, service-provider organizations must go through each level to be successful. The first level of the pyramid is continuous measurement, which was covered earlier. This provides the realistic data that experience management is built upon. Then each subsequent stage helps to change the thinking, actions, and eventually the culture of the organization.

SN XLAs_Maturity Levels


The HappySignals integration app is available in the ServiceNow Store

The HappySignals Employee Experience Management Platform continuously measures your organization’s ServiceNow run services so you can see where your end users/employees experience the most pain and lost productivity. Such that you’re then able to focus your improvement efforts on the right services and areas. This can be both the IT Service Experience for incidents and requests or the Enterprise Service Management Experience for other lines of business such as HR and Finance.

Pre-defined surveys mean that you don’t need to spend your time with survey designer tools. Instead, that time can be spent on actually improving the services and the associated experiences. Importantly, the use of consumer-focused best practices means very high response rates are achieved, up to 25-50%, and these high volumes provide credible and valuable data for decision-making.

Finally, the comparison of your service-provider organization’s performance with the HappySignals Happiness Score™ Benchmarks data offers even greater insight because you can understand how it compares to other, similar organizations.


Want to find out more about how HappySignals brings XLA thinking and experience management to your ServiceNow implementation, without the need for customization or development?

Learn more about our solutions for ServiceNow, or check out this webinar on Experience Management for ServiceNow.

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