The Watermelon effect of SLAs on ITSM and IT Service Experience

In this article we speak about the effects SLA's has on ITSM and Service Experience, i.e. The Watermelon Effect. Watch the 50 second video to get a quick intro to the topic.

What do you think about the value, and appropriateness, of IT service desk service level agreements (SLAs)? Are you still heavily reliant on traditional SLAs for understanding your service desk’s performance? 

What do you think about the value, and appropriateness, of IT service desk service level agreements (SLAs)? Are you still heavily reliant on traditional SLAs for understanding your service desk’s performance? Or have you changed your approach to the use of Experience Level Agreements (XLA) – either recently or over the last few years? Or maybe you are one of the circa 25% of service desks, usually internal, that don’t use SLAs?

The changing relationship, and balance of power, between support organisations and their customers - whether employees or external customers - makes it an interesting time for SLAs. Do best practice SLA targets – probably created at least a decade ago – truly reflect the wants and needs of customers?

And this is even before considering, whether SLAs are sufficiently focused on the right things to ascertain the level to which service desks are meeting customer expectations.
In other words, there's a potential discrepancy between the set KPI targets and the perceived value of the end-user, which in turn may lead to a situation where the wrong metrics/targets drive the wrong behaviours from people – with service desk agents potentially taking actions to meet said targets rather than doing what’s best for the customer - and the organisation.


Understanding what IT organisations (and their customers) think of SLAs

In March 2018, we held our second annual HUG (HappySignals User Group) event in Helsinki. There were 40 people from large enterprises and managed service providers (MSPs) at the event. And, during an afternoon workshop, a subset of these participated in a discussion aimed at understanding, how different support providers (both enterprises and MSPs) and their customers think about the current use of traditional service desk SLAs.

The workshop aimed to get answers to these two questions:

  1. Are current, traditional SLA key performance indicators (KPIs) valuable for boosting better employee/customer experience?
  2. If and when better employee experience is the main target, how should the SLAs be changed?

Our thinking at HappySignals before the event was that there would be some hot discussions and disagreements between the service providers and enterprises, some of whom were the MSPs customers. But we were wrong!

The support provider sees green, while the customer sees red

Both “types” of workshop participants easily agreed on the issues related to traditional SLAs not focusing on and boosting employee experience. The group also agreed that many of the common/popular IT service desk SLA targets don’t truly reflect the way that employees or customers feel about the suitability and quality of the IT support they receive.

To summarize, the concept of the watermelon effect of SLAs in ITSM is that, just like a watermelon, all the SLA metrics looks green on the outside but are in fact red on the inside. Or, to be more precise, the IT support provider sees green while the customer sees red.

Sadly, the workshop didn’t have sufficient time to discuss commonly-used SLAs more deeply. But it did generate a number of interesting concepts that should be used to move service provider and receiver perceptions of IT support performance closer together.

Those are

  1. Share the expectations and targets
  2. Certain SLA targets are obsolete
  3. The SLA agreement should not rule over service quality
  4. XLAs are the cure to the watermelon effect

Does your organisation suffer from the Watermelon Effect too? Read the solution on how to Fix the IT Watermelon here!

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