#XLA - What are Experience Level Agreements?

"Most people understand XLAs as focusing on the experience-based outcomes of IT services". Pasi and Sami round up a variety of definitions, from many different organisations across the world, to bring to you the baseline of what XLAs are.

Experience Level Agreements are an ever growing topic in ITSM. However, the term has never been given a single definition for the industry to follow, leading to many companies using their own definition. 

How are XLAs defined?

The first definition of Experience Level Agreements that we will begin with comes essentially from the 'Founding Fathers' of the term, Giarte, operating out of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Giarte describes XLAs as being less of a traditional or heuristic agreement, such as SLAs, and more focused on working to achieve desired outcomes. "XLA is a guide and not a judicial document".

Find out more about Giarte's take on XLAs here.

Deptive, a New Zealand based company explains XLAs as swinging "the focus onto the employee experience to discover how employees actually find the experience of utilizing the technology".

They also go on to claim XLAs "shifts the focus from service reviews and penalties to continuous service and improvement using employee feedback and hard data to drive ongoing improvement and boost overall satisfaction."

Giarte's and Deptive's definitions of XLAs both create a shift from leaving sanctions, service reviews and penalties, which have been typically found in SLAs, to measuring outcomes and employee experience.

Find out what else Deptive has to say on XLAs here.

However, Alan Nance from CitrusCollab approaches XLAs from a different angle. This company puts "the outcomes that determine the consumer experience central to their design efforts". This creates a greater focus on Service Management and differs from SLAs that "primarily reflect delivery perspective".

Find out more about CitrusCollab's definition on XLAs here.




"SLAs measure the process - XLAs measure the outcome and value" - Sami Kallio, CEO HappySignals




Hannah Price from TOPDesk at ITSM.tools, explains XLAs as "how, in the end, did the customer feel about how they were treated." FreshService strengthens this definition by claiming that the experience and emotions out-ways SLA metrics, with "customer experience taking precedence over hard technical data."

Read ITSM.tools' article of what XLAs are here.

Furthermore, Lakeside claims that XLAs are still a set contract between a service provider and customer - however it now focuses on the quality of employee experience with the providers services.

Find more information on Lakesides XLA definition here.

"SLA = Secrets. Lies. Assumptions."

In contrast to this, Ahmed Al Hadidi, from Pepsico created a "Roadmap for a Customer Centric Service Desk - From SLA to XLA".

Al Hadidi makes a great statement that if your organisation is just using SLAs then the acronym stands for "Secrets, Lies and Assumptions" as you are not truly understanding what your end-users are experiencing.

What do XLA metrics look like?

HappySignals metrics measures two things:

  1. We measure the happiness of end-user satisfaction after each incidental request. This focuses on the perception of experience from IT services.
  2. As well as this, we also ask how much time was lost due to a certain issue or request. This measures how efficient a service has been.

Hannah Price from ITSM.tools explains that XLA metrics are covering a service and not a product, meaning that the metrics can still be tangible. But, remember that people are "guided my emotions, not numbers".

By adding simple surveys or measurement tools can help lead to measuring XLAs. An example Hannah gives of an XLA KPI is "keeping your call closure satisfaction rate above 4.5" out of 5 stars.

Furthermore, Giarte metrics focuses on multiple aspects:

  1. The proactivity of provided services.
  2. The extent at which they help clients accelerate the time-to-market.
  3. The number of relevant insights provided.
  4. The knowledge levels of employees.
  5. The general quality of services provided.

Finally, Nexthink approaches XLAs through consumers "Digital Experience Score - an XLA-based metric sourcing both technical and experiential data to provide a holistic overview of end-users' experiences with the overall services." 

XLAs summed up

In summary, there are multiple ways of describing what Experience Level Agreements are and how to best measure these XLAs.

However, from the many definitions above, it can be said that most people are defining XLAs as focusing on outcomes, feelings or experiences rather than the processes.

The difference between SLAs and XLAs are that XLAs are focused on making the end-user experience better, whether that is through design, service management or service experience.

If you found the topic of this blog post/episode interesting, please read our extensive guide on Experience Level Agreements.


Pasi Nikkanen: Welcome to HappyToday podcast. This is a podcast for those who want to improve service experience of internal services. If you use ServiceNow, or other enterprise service management system and this is for you.

In this episode, hashtag XLA. Most people understand XLA as focusing on the outcomes and experience-based outcomes.

Hey, welcome to this episode of HappyToday podcast. Now we're going to start the new series called hashtag XLA. And XLA comes from the words Experience Level Agreement. I think it's a trending topic and we want to cover it, actually not just in one episode, but in a series of episode. What does XLA say to you? Something like, where did you first hear it?

Sami Kallio: First I have to say that I really agree that this is something that is so much asked from us, how we define it. And that may be a simple question. It is but let's come back to that later in this episode. But I think the first time I heard about it was somebody came here taping some event, check this company called Giarte and Marco Gianotten is the one that has first defined this term. XLA or at least the company has been talking about it longest if I know right.

Pasi Nikkanen: And I think it was two years ago we did a report with SDI and then we actually came out and we were kind of hesitant of using the word XLA because we don't like three little acronyms to be brutally honest. But I think now it's picking up so it makes sense that we talk in the voice of the customer.

Sami Kallio: True.

Pasi Nikkanen: So no fighting against it. It is XLA nowadays. I guess in this episode, let's first cover the definition and also in metric sense, what two different vendors, different people talk about it. And I think we did a little research with you and we tried to find out how people define.

So I agree. Let's start from Giarte since they also say that they are the founding fathers of XLA so let's give the credit to that one. How do they define?

Sami Kallio: I think the main definition if I have understood right from how they say it, but it's the first point they want to make is that it's not an agreement. Even though the name is an agreement, but not the heuristically way so that it would be the sanction kind of stuff. It is like the way of working from the outcome perspective. So focused on the outlining everybody is explaining XLAs in that sense in a similar way that it's focusing on the outcomes and not focusing on how they define it.

Pasi Nikkanen: That's like their definition that it is not an agreement, although it kind of it is an agreement. But focusing on the outcome and what comes out, we should be that main focus.

Then there was some interesting founds like Deptive from New Zealand saying that the experience level agreement swings the focus to employee experience. So actually discovering how employees actually experienced the utilization of technology. I think that's also really good. Again, it comes to the same but they use a little bit different wording here. So again, shifting focus from service reviews and penalties to continuous service and improvement. I think that's the key point again from Deptive that I picked up.

Sami Kallio: I think one of the companies is talking very much about this now is CitrusCollab and Alan Nance and Lisa Schwartz are talking about this and I think they have about the same point there. They are thinking that this is changing how we do the design. So continue service improvement is in the same area, but they're thinking that XLAs are, now changes focus how we should inservice management. Focus on again, and the outcomes by designing it from the perspective of our end user experience. And couldn't agree more.

Pasi Nikkanen: I went to our friends at ITSM Tool and there was a guest article from Hannah Price from TOPdesk. And I think what she said was that in the end, how did the customer feel? So again, coming to this kind of un-tangible thing what experience really is. Humans are not computers, they are not robots, but they actually feel and experience things. I think that might be also sometimes a difficult side of the XLA to IT people. because it's about emotions un-tangible.

But on the other hand, I don't remember who it was, but they also said that on the other hand services are un-tangible. So service is not something that you can measure with as a robot or as a technology or as a process.

Sami Kallio: I think one interesting point made by first service was loss that, when you have a critical incident nobody remembers the commitment desolate. The feeling goes over it. It doesn't matter if you have accreted something to be solved in two hours, if something is so critical to you your pain is true and of course, from their prospect they're saying that, that's the reason why XLAs are going over traditional SLAs, why they are more important. Because at that critical moment it doesn't matter if you reach the SLA or not. Your customer will be anyway angry. You cannot say, "but we did solve it in two hours". It doesn't help.

Pasi Nikkanen: Somebody was exactly saying that when it comes to the difficult moment then it doesn't really matter unless the experience is good and things get solved. There were also a few Nesting and Lakeside who are more measuring their devices. So I think their definition it was still as an agreement. So it was again, it kind of makes sense because they are measuring more of the devices. So how the devices are performing.

Sami Kallio: And that's then more fact based also because I think how I would define XLAs, it is emotion based. It is feeling. It is opinion. SLA is easy for us and IT, because that's fact based. Something happened. It was the outcome, it was something happening. That is a huge difference.

Pasi Nikkanen: Maybe that actually takes us to the definition of the metrics because I think when we talk about metrics it really depends. Are we talking in the context of service management or IT in some other context? Or how anybody can find it.

Sami Kallio: One thing I've found was there was a PepsiCo guy who was analyzing the, I just love because if somebody have heard me speaking wherever, I hate SLAs. This defined the letters.

Pasi Nikkanen: And this guy was Ahmed-Al-Hadidi.

Sami Kallio: Sorry for not remembering his name, but he defined those three letters, SLA - Secrets, Lies, Assumptions. And I just love it because it tells what I feel about SLAs. What happens through the organization and the corporation if you are only using those.

Pasi Nikkanen: Yes, That's really good.

So Secret, Lies and Assumptions. Cool. We need to put that on the show notes. Then like I said, the second part of the episode was about the metrics and that I think you need to take into the context. So I think what we are talking here is service management. So again, how would you define in HappySignals the metrics. Then we can look how other guys are defining but what other HappySignals metrics for XLA?

Sami Kallio: Of course what we measure is the happiness of end user satisfaction after each incidental requests. Whatever enterprise service management area we are in. That is the kind of the perception. How they failed. How we help them. But I think the other thing is really an XLA is also that we are asking from the end users how much time did they lose because of a certain issue or request.

So how efficient we made it for them and I think those are the two metrics in the service management that are really the dominating ones that we should be focused on, and that's how we define XLA.

Pasi Nikkanen: I agree because with the productivity side you can understand which services are the critical ones with SLAs when you define them. You kind of define, let's put this kind of SLA for this group of services and this kind of SLA for this group without actually asking from the end user, is this critical for you? Is this important for you? And when they say now are mentioning that they are losing time in certain services or using certain channels, it means that this is business critical for them. Then you don't really care about those services where people don't report lost time because they are happy with those, even if they wouldn't be too happy, they are still not losing productivity. So they experience for them doing their work is still pretty okay.

Sami Kallio: I think that's one way to find the critical services if you don't know them from the start.

Pasi Nikkanen: Yes. All right, let's look at how other guys. What about Giarte? So let's take first again. They had index based on multiple aspects. If we talk them through, the product proactivity of the provided service, what do you think about that?

Sami Kallio: I think that is a good point and I think we kind of have that also in our approach we are having that as a fun one, happy factor as we call it. So that if the service was really provided in a way that you didn't even expect that. An easy example being that your hard drive is getting full and the service desk will contact you and say that, "Hey, come here there's a new hard drive for you, waiting for you." or some other ways they are helping you to do.

Pasi Nikkanen: But then the rest are like, the extent to which we help clients search the right time to market, again, a little bit about the lost time. Number three, the number of relevant insights provided. Number four, the knowledge level of employees which is pretty interesting. It is something that even the services agent, if you don't teach your employees to use the IT, even the best support guys can't really make the guy, the employees feel that they are knowledgeable if they haven't taken care.

Sami Kallio: I think this is kind of, have to ask on the Giarte guys because they're not talking about the typical proper words asked, they are talking about the employees. Sometimes we are thinking, our customers are thinking are we talking about the agents or end users?

Pasi Nikkanen: Yes, the services personnel or the thousands of employees that you have.

Sami Kallio: And I think here the same thing goes. Tech knowledge on both sides is important and I think they might be now talking about the agent's knowledge levels. But this has a huge influence on...

Pasi Nikkanen: Yes, I think let's try to get the tech guys on our podcast and talk about the definition fully. So that's why I think today we want to expose the different aspects of it. And the last one from, it's the general quality of the service provided, which I think for us is the happiness. Were you happy or not.

What else did we find? With TOPdesk, Hannah Price was mentioning there just having satisfaction surveys. She's saying that regular intervals, I think what our take is that, every time. Because you never know when you're having the bad experience and which is the service that you really need to want to give feedback on.

Sami Kallio: And giving you that opportunity every time for end users to give that feedback. They will not do it every time, but they want to have that opportunity. Don't be afraid of asking it. They will make a decision and if they have time for that or not.

Pasi Nikkanen: And then for example, next thing they are approaching the XLA true in-depth scores and analytics. So they have different kinds of the device and a network and that kind of thing.

So again, it's very technical. So I think it makes sense to at times combine those into one score. They do take the network and the device and the different type of things into it.

Sami Kallio: I think this whole topic is so wide and there are so much articles about it. So I think now, to be honest, when we are discussing this, feels bad because we are not able to describe very, very well. So I think we will just collect the list under this podcast or on our website. You can find these articles from the others, how they define it.

Pasi Nikkanen: Exactly. And then I think we'll try to get most of these people that we are mentioning into an interview and then fully go into insight and hopefully, during this spring and summer we have much more knowledge for our listeners about XLA.

I think that's the thing. But as a summary, I think what seems to be the common trend is that seems like most people understand XLA as focusing on the outcomes, and experience based outcomes. So I think that seems to be the common nominator anyway, with everybody who are talking about XLA.

Sami Kallio: Outcomes and feelings, those are the common trends. I am thinking many are also defining it as not getting rid of those sanctions. That's a big difference between SLAs and XLAs that you focus on the cooperation and focus on the deep, let's do it better together for the end users. Neither on a, you will be responsible answering the phone in this and this time. Kind of discussions.

Pasi Nikkanen: As a one definition I think that it's still undefined as a couple of sentences, so outcome based but there is not really common census contents as yet. What is the XLA really? What is it if you make an XLA? What is it going to be? I think that's still the difficulty our listeners and for our customers. Correct?

Sami Kallio: Yes. I think there are many companies that have already defined in agreement level, also how they will describe these XLAs there, but there is no standard for it. I'm not sure if there will be. Of course we want to be the standard. That's a different question. All right, but our product has been used for that already but it's not defined. And also one thing is that, will the XLA be only in service management as service tech area are doing? Some are also taking it to a much wider area of IT like NEXT Inc. And as I said, they are not only in the service management score. And that's also quite interesting to follow up.

Pasi Nikkanen: Yes. And I think there are other companies that actually take a door so that the customers side so that the external customers, we need to work customer experience, what is the experience level that we agree to provide to the external customer.

It is a wide topic. We'll focus on the service management side and we'll try to get a lot of interesting people here. All right. I think that's a wrap. So keep in touch. So whenever you see the hashtag XLA it's about this topic and I think the next one we'll try to go, what are really the benefits, now we have been talking about that, what does it really mean? What is it? What it might not be? But then I think next we'll tackle a little bit on the benefits.

Pasi Nikkanen: All right, cool.

Sami Kallio: Thank you.

Pasi Nikkanen: Stay happy.

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