Transparency is vital to building trust with customers, and using service level agreements (SLAs) is an effective way for support teams to set customer expectations for help requests. They provide clarity as to how problems will be addressed and how quickly your team will be able to resolve them.
And while SLAs serve an important purpose within the ITSM industry, they can also present a few challenges. SLAs that hold your support team to unrealistic timelines, and outdated SLAs that no longer align with current practices, can wreak havoc in any reporting that’s based on meeting the goals outlined within them. Your employees will look like they’re constantly underperforming, and customers will quickly become frustrated because their support tickets aren’t resolved within the promised timelines.
If these are scenarios you’d like to avoid in your own school, keep reading to learn how to create SLAs that benefit your faculty, staff, and student customers.
What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a document that details the scope of services, quality, and responsibilities expected from a service provider. It contains specific metrics and standards (like response time, uptime, etc.) to measure service performance, and penalties or remedies in case of non-compliance. SLAs aim to ensure a defined level of service.
While SLAs should be tailored to the structure and organization of your IT department, most include these common features:
- Scope: Explains who the SLA applies to and gives an overview of what it contains.
- Service descriptions: Identifies each type and level of service included in the SLA, such as software support or hardware repair.
- Hours of availability: Provides specific times when your live support team members will answer questions (i.e., during business hours) and describes any available automated systems or self-service solutions.
- Response and resolution times: Uses industry standards and analysis of past performance to determine a specific amount of time when users can expect a response and resolution.
- Performance assessment: Details how you’ll evaluate your team’s performance and what information will be collected for that purpose.
- Customer responsibilities: Lists things that the customer has to do during the help request process, such as providing up-to-date contact information and promptly communicating with response team members.
Including this information in your own SLAs will help establish customer expectations that team members can work toward. With that in mind, it’s beneficial to be as specific as possible when establishing SLAs for your school.
For instance, rather than giving a blanket response time for all types of help requests, offer a range of times based on the severity and urgency of the problem. Critical issues might have a response time of one hour, while low-priority problems grant support team members up to a business day to respond.
What Do Service Level Agreements Help Accomplish?
SLAs are the foundation of a positive relationship between end-users and support teams. They make processes more efficient, allow for performance improvement, and keep customers in the loop.
Set Service Standards for Support Teams
When a support team has to meet SLAs, it gives them a better idea of how they should handle incoming tickets and requests. Service standards are essential to creating a consistent help desk ticketing system with reliable response and resolution times.
In addition to establishing support standards, an SLA also sets expectations for users: your teachers, students, parents, etc. Rather than wondering when and how a support agent might respond to a ticket, your customers will know exactly what the process will look like.
Provide Benchmarks for Performance Monitoring
Evaluating IT performance without a set of criteria and benchmarks is impossible. An SLA outlines the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to assess each ticket response, including:
- Response times
- Resolution times
- Escalation events
Simply telling support team members to respond quickly isn’t enough of a guideline to generate a fair and honest performance assessment. SLAs give administrators a system for evaluating performance.
Motivate Teams to Meet KPIs
When customer support teams are aware of KPIs, they have a pre-established goal to work toward. This motivates them to work quickly and maximize their productivity. It also inspires agents to optimize their existing processes, making adjustments that allow them to more successfully reach their targets.
Enable Resource Planning
An SLA also plays a part when you schedule staff and purchase new technology. If you know that your SLA commits you to having a support team available at certain hours, you can decide when each employee should work. In addition, when you decide to install new hardware or software solutions, you can research products that will allow you to meet your SLA obligations.
Give Customers Confidence
Providing a thorough description of each service provided helps users understand exactly what your team can help with and what that support process looks like. It demonstrates that you’re committed to quality support. Your customers should know that support staff are held accountable to these descriptions, which builds confidence and creates trust.
Reduce Ambiguity on Response & Resolution Times
Frustration is natural when customers submit help desk tickets and don’t receive any guidance on how long it will take to hear from the customer support team. They might also be tempted to submit multiple tickets for the same issue to get answers. SLAs eliminate this issue by stating plainly how long a response and resolution will take.
Identify Recurring SLA Breach Issues
If you discover that your support team members consistently fail to follow the processes or timelines outlined in your SLAs, there may be an underlying issue at play. SLA breaches are often a sign of bigger problems, such as:
- Insufficient or ineffective employee training
- Lack of customer responses
- Inadequate resources and staffing
When you track SLA compliance, you can detect patterns and identify the source of the issue. This, in turn, allows you to make crucial changes.
What are the Different Types of SLAs?
Different SLAs allow you to address separate goals within your school or district. Although you might combine multiple SLAs into a single document, it’s helpful to think of them independently. The most common types of SLAs for the ITSM industry include:
- Response time SLA: Defines the maximum time allowed for responding to a support ticket or request. For example, the first response is within 1 hour for high-priority tickets.
- Resolution time SLA: Specifies the maximum time permitted for resolving or closing a support ticket. For example, resolve all low-priority tickets within 72 hours.
- Restoration time SLA: For service outages, this guarantees the maximum downtime before services are restored. For example, 99.9% uptime is guaranteed, with all issues fixed within 2 hours.
- Customer satisfaction SLA: Minimum customer satisfaction score required based on surveys or feedback. For example, maintain 95% positive CSAT survey ratings.
- Availability SLA: Defines the uptime percentage and overall availability of services. For example, 99.95% of application availability is guaranteed.
- Quality SLA: Minimum performance thresholds and benchmarks for metrics like error rates, response times, accuracy rates, etc.
- Reporting SLA: Frequency and details of service performance reports provided. For example, weekly reports on uptime and resolution times.
- Upgrade SLA: Details on software/system maintenance, patches, and upgrade implementation.
- Compliance SLA: Adhering to regulatory compliance standards like HIPAA, PCI, DSS, etc.
The specific details of each of these SLAs depend on the service, industry, and customer needs of an organization. For instance, public schools with a history of cybersecurity tech stack concerns might put greater emphasis on their upgrade SLA, whereas an organization with an unreliable network would focus on restoration time. When determining your own SLA verbiage, look at SLA examples from school systems that are similar to your own.
Common SLA Metrics for Tickets
The only way to know whether you’re hitting the mark when it comes to customer support is by measuring your SLA performance. When you examine the right metrics, you’ll know where your team thrives and what areas need improvement. The metrics you should examine differ depending on what standards you have in place, but most organizations focus on a few key data points.
Response times refer to the amount of time it takes for your team to react to new tickets. For most organizations, the response is the first reply responding to a customer’s question or notifying them that you’ve received their request. Many organizations look at these times as an average.
To calculate this metric, you can add all of the response times and divide them by the total number of tickets. The average lets you know how long it takes your team to respond to a typical help request. Look for any outliers that are far above or far below that number. If you find a pattern of slower times associated with a particular day or staff member, it can help you hone in on potential problems.
When your customer support team starts working on a help desk ticket, a new clock starts ticking. The time it takes for your staff to fully address a customer concern is known as the resolution time. You can generate an average for this metric by adding the resolution time for every incident and dividing it by the number of tickets.
The average resolution time can provide valuable information about what types of requests are most time-consuming. This, in turn, helps you make decisions about staffing, automation, and resource allocation.
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
Unlike response and resolution times, which are based on time frames, the CSAT metric relies on customer responses. To obtain that data, ask customers to rate their experiences once their support ticket is closed. Give them the chance to provide specific details about the positive and negative elements of their interactions with your team so that you can pin down specific problems.
The average CSAT is based on the sum of the customer ratings you receive divided by the total number. For example, you might ask customers to rate your service on a scale of one to five. If you have 150 customer satisfaction scores and they add up to 590, your CSAT is 3.93. Working to raise that score is a critical step for any organization.
Schools are increasingly reliant on technology and internet access, so even a short period of downtime can cause major problems. In 2022 alone, 1,436 schools in the United States experienced ransomware attacks, paralyzing their systems for at least a brief period of time.
SLAs often promise customers that service downtime will be minimal, but it’s crucial to verify that you’re keeping your word. To calculate this metric, divide the number of minutes or seconds that your system was down by the total number of minutes or seconds in a given period, such as a month. Subtract that number from 100 to get your uptime percentage.
Best Practices for Meeting SLA Targets
Hitting your SLA targets isn’t always easy, but certain strategies increase your chances. To maximize your compliance, implement these SLA best practices in your organization.
Set Achievable SLAs Based on Team Capabilities
When you develop your SLA policies, be careful not to overestimate what your team is capable of achieving. Think about the structure of your IT department, the number of employees you have available, the quality of the technology they’re using, and their level of training. Otherwise, you’ll set your team members and customers up for constant disappointment.
Prioritize and Escalate Tickets According to Severity/SLA Timelines
Although every user is important, some tickets require faster responses than others. Set up a system of priority levels for tickets based on their urgency, and keep a close eye on ticket statuses as they move through the process. Act quickly to escalate especially critical problems, and save low-priority issues for later.
Automate Repetitive Tasks to Shorten Response/Resolution Times
Use automation to not only standardize help tickets but also speed up your system. For instance, rather than asking team members to fill out a template for every customer request, use AI tools to auto-populate information. Likewise, automated systems can save time by directing customers to self-service resources and routing tickets.
Let Customers Know if SLAs Need to be Changed
Part of effective SLA management is providing customers with timely notifications when you have to make changes due to unforeseen circumstances. When customers are aware of the reasons for a delay or change in service delivery, they’re more likely to be understanding and to provide a positive experience rating.
Continuously Monitor and Report on SLA Ticket Performance
Generate regular SLA reports with key metrics and share them with your customer support team. Consistent SLA monitoring ensures that you know when to make adjustments and when your staff is going above and beyond.
Benefits of Maintaining SLA Compliance
When your team stays on track with your SLAs, you’ll see positive short and long-term outcomes. The benefits include:
- Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty: Customer satisfaction rates are higher when end-users feel that you respect their time and honor your promises.
- Better team reputation for responsive, quality support: When your customer support team has fast response times, it indicates that you prioritize your customer’s needs and creates a more positive perception of your support team.
- More efficient support processes and reduced backlogs: Using established standards and familiar processes keeps things moving and prevents tickets from piling up in the system.
- Higher team morale and productivity: Team members feel less overwhelmed and more motivated when they have clear goals and a defined set of tasks.
The ultimate goal of an SLA is to create a more streamlined support workflow. As a result, all the stakeholders in your organization have something to gain from SLA compliance.
How Incident IQ Helps You Meet Your SLA Targets
When you order a product from a store and receive a guaranteed delivery date, you rightly expect your package to arrive on that particular day. When it doesn’t, you feel disappointed in the company and annoyed by the inconvenience, both of which could motivate you to take your business elsewhere in the future.
Although public school IT departments provide different services than a store, customer satisfaction is no less important. If your team tells teachers and students that they’ll receive support within a day and that help fails to materialize, they lose confidence in your support team. Creating, monitoring, and updating SLAs helps prevent these problems by building trust and clarifying essential elements of your support workflow.
Maximizing your SLA compliance is easier with the right tool. Incident IQ’s help desk software automates the ticketing process, provides valuable data, and accelerates your response and resolution times. To see how Incident IQ can upgrade your service desk, schedule a free demo.