The Watermelon Effect of SLAs on ITSM and IT Service Experience

This article looks at the effects SLAs have 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 service level agreements (SLAs)? Are you still heavily reliant on traditional SLAs for understanding your service desk’s performance? Or have you recently changed your approach to using Experience Level Agreements (XLAs)?

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

Are your SLAs even sufficiently focused on the right things? To ascertain the level to which service desks are meeting customer expectations? In other words, is there potentially a discrepancy between your set Key Performance Indicator (KPI) targets and the perceived value of the end-user? This discrepancy often leads to a situation where the wrong metrics/targets drive the wrong behaviors from people – with service desk agents potentially taking actions to meet said targets rather than doing what’s best for the end-user and the organization.

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

Let’s be clear. SLAs are great. They set out what the service provider and the customer expect throughout the engagement and the agreed standards that both sides need to work to. Done well, they can strengthen relationships and support service improvement. What’s not great? When SLAs are misused, leading to poor service. This begs the following questions:

  1. Are current, traditional SLA KPIs valuable for improving employee/customer experience?
  2. How should the SLAs be changed if and when better employee experience is the main target?

What is a watermelon SLA?

A watermelon SLA occurs when the SLA is poorly written or is outdated, such that it’s no longer fit for purpose leaving the business with a glowing report when the reality is that the delivered service isn’t providing value to the company and the end-user is very, very unhappy.

I.e., just like a watermelon, your SLA metrics look green on the outside but are red on the inside. Or, to be more precise, the IT support provider sees green while the customer sees red. Watermelon SLAs are terrible in terms of best practices and bad news for the service provider and the customer alike. Simply put, the service provider focuses on the wrong things from a customer or end-user perspective.

For example, incidents may be resolved within the timings set out in the SLA; however, things are still missed. The person helping them may be curt or abrupt because they’re under too much pressure to fix the issue within ‘X minutes,’ or there’s no time to look for patterns, so more significant issues may be missed. From a service provider point of view, watermelon SLAs can cause poor relationships causing minor issues to potentially spiral out of control.

How can you tell if your SLAs are watermelons? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • Lack of clarity about the product or service
  • Business-impacting incidents not being given the appropriate levels of focus or taking too long to resolve
  • Service requests are not dealt with promptly
  • Problems going undetected and undiagnosed
  • Lack of confidence in the service provider and out-of-process or shadow IT initiatives putting the organization at risk
  • Focus on the wrong things, for example, speed rather than quality
  • Having a differing understanding of what applications and services are genuinely business critical

Think about it. Have you ever been in a service review meeting where the service provider reported that everything was on target and delivered within the agreed parameters when you knew the business had experienced unplanned service disruption, poor performance, or user complaints? You’ve been hit with a watermelon SLA.

What are XLAs, and how can they help?

If the SLA tells you that you delivered the right service within the agreed timeframe, XLAs will give you a feel for the customer/employee experience. Successful IT delivery is all about services and outcomes; things that are more difficult to quantify than uptime or the % of incidents resolved on schedule. So what can we measure? How about overall experience out of 10? Consistent service quality among all service desk analysts and channels? Or, keeping the end-user updated in a way that works for them?

By introducing XLAs in your service offering, you’re making a clear commitment to quality. You’ll be better placed to recognize and act on the voice of the end-user/customer, and have the flexibility to proactively improve services as you’re getting more feedback which will, in turn, improve relationships over time.

You can learn more about XLAs in our freely-available Practical Guide to XLAs.

How to fix things

It’s time to change the conversation around SLAs. Service providers must be empowered to provide the best possible service levels, not constrained by SLAs. When we focus solely on metrics, we see numbers and percentages, not the end-user experience, when the reality is that we need to put employee experience (EX) first. To shift the paradigm from measurements and metrics to the voice of the employee and EX, we need to take the following steps:

  1. Share expectations and targets
  2. Admit that specific SLA targets are obsolete
  3. Understand that the SLA agreement shouldn’t rule over service quality
  4. Realize that XLAs are the cure to the watermelon effect

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

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