Don’t Let Your Service Level Agreements Run Your Business

In this article we share insights into how to manage your service level agreements


When the IT support provider sees green, but your customers see red, it’s time to transform the traditional service level agreement key performance indicators to support better employee experience and productivity.

We identified three concepts at our annual HUG (HappySignals User Group) workshop. Both our large enterprise customers and managed service providers (MSPs) agreed on the issues and how the parties could move closer together to add business value.

1. Customers must share their expectations and targets (and they should be ambitious)

The workshop discussion started away from the two questions in hand. From this came the concept that enterprises should share their expectations and desired targets more openly with their service provider. With the concept also applying in internal service provider scenarios.

The key thing here being that sharing the same vision is the starting point for success. With the vision not the usual suspects – such as shorter response times – but more ambitious aims such as being a more proactive service desk or improving the employee / customer experience (based on increased happiness and reduced lost productivity).

In outsourced scenarios, this was also seen as a platform on which to build a better partnership and greater trust.

2. Current SLAs are harming the employee experience

When the group started to discuss which of the traditional IT service desk SLAs are working to boost employee experience and which are doing the opposite, the group – including both enterprise service providers and MSPs – found that, somewhat surprisingly, everyone thought that traditional SLAs (and targets) harm employee experience more than they help.

Certain SLA targets were flagged for obsolescence:

  • Response time
  • Call-handling time
  • First-time resolution rate.

As was the service desk’s provision of a VIP service.

There was insufficient time to dig more deeply into this topic in the workshop, but it’s something that we will be writing about soon. I think that most service providers would benefit from understanding how traditional SLA KPIs affect employee/customer experience – whether for better or worse.

3. SLAs are the problem 

If both enterprises and MSPs think that traditional SLAs are harming employee experience, then why do companies still use them?

Two reasons – relative to outsourced services – were offered and discussed in the workshop:

  1. Procurement department – they insist that there’s a sanction model in contractual agreements.
  2. The companies that provide the competitive bidding templates (RFPs) for service desk services – they propose / demand that certain SLAs are in place.

There was also talk of rewarding service providers for superior performance, not just penalising them when they fail to hit targets. It’s not a new concept, but one that interested the group.

I’ve been thinking about this this – the issues with SLAs – a lot since the event. My conclusion is, that we cannot let the agreement rule over better service quality. And I believe the old saying – that you will get what you measure – to be true.

My key workshop takeaways

For me, there were two key takeaways from the HUG workshop:

  1. Don’t let the contractual agreements run your business
  2. Set an ambitious target for your service desk and share that with your provider.

Plus, that more work needs to be undertaken to truly understand the impact of traditional SLA use by IT service desks and if and how industry thinking is changing. For instance, the Service Desk Institute (SDI) in the UK now runs an event related to experience level agreements (XLAs).

I’d also like to mention that we have recently published a report, along with SDI, which details the results of a joint survey looking at the current IT service desk attitude to, and balance between, SLAs and employee/customer experience. If you would like to be one of the first to receive a copy of this, then please submit your details here.

My colleague Pasi Nikkanen used some of these findings in his Service Desk and IT Support Show (SITS) presentation called: “Is Employee Experience the secret to proving business value?” held in London in June.

Finally, you can more read about our HUG workshop discussions on industry with customers and service providers here.

Hopefully you found my blog interesting. I’d love to know your thoughts on the importance of employee experience. Please let me know in the comments.

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