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What Does a Successful, Comprehensive SLA Look Like?

Successful SLA

Famed American poet Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors” in his 1914 poem, “Mending Wall.” While the literati might like to spend countless hours parsing every word in that phrase, we’re taking it more literally.

When you have clear parameters, misunderstandings are less likely to occur. When you and your neighbor know exactly where one person’s property line begins and the other ends, there’s less confusion.

And this simplistic — yet incredibly true — reality also plays out in the IT services world. Service providers who take the time to properly draft SLAs and ensure that their internal operations are up to par provide better services to their clients or vendors than providers that aren’t organized and prepared. So, before you start pitching for that next big IT contract client, take some time to ensure that your business is structured for success and that any SLAs you create reflect that. 

What is an SLA?

SLA is an acronym that stands for service-level agreements. These contracts define the parameters of a business relationship between an IT service provider (the vendor) and its clients. An SLA outlines both parties' expectations and penalties for breach of contract or failure to render the agreed-upon services. In general, you’ll usually find the following in an SLA:

  • Scope of work (SOW) — inclusive of specific IT-related needs

  • Emergency response expectations

  • Outline of key stakeholders for both the vendor and the client

  • Timeline

  • Key metrics that are used as benchmarks to determine the success of the contract 

The vendor provides most SLAs, but clients can have an SLA template. In particular, these agreements ensure no room for misinterpretation on the scope of work, expectations for response time to system emergencies, and even what remedies (if any) are available if the vendor fails to meet the agreed-upon service needs; hence, if you’re still a bit fuzzy on why SLAs matter or what needs to be in them, keep reading. 

The Core Components of a Useful SLA

While a wide range of items can be included in an SLA, the reality is that the items listed above tend to be the most mission-critical that will hold both parties accountable. Your SLA should focus on services and management, as these are the two factors that directly impact the agreement. 

Get Concrete About the SOW

Before the first monthly payment is submitted, IT vendors must be clear on what is or isn’t included in the scope of work. The IT acronym can mean different things depending on who you’re talking to, especially if they don’t work in that department. Ensure your client understands exactly what services you can support and which items might require upgrading to a larger package or looking elsewhere for support. If necessary, include a clause stating that unless otherwise updated, the SLA only applies to the support services outlined in the SOW. 

Don’t Forget to Detail Emergency Response Expectations

Again, everyone’s idea of “rapid response” is different. So, if you typically work in a 24-hour response window and your client assumes that your team will instantly respond within minutes of an emergency, that’s a disconnect. Be sure to specify what your client’s retainer gets them and how quickly your team will respond to an emergency. Failure to confirm this can leave you open to legal action if your firm’s response is perceived as slow and costs your client money. 

Outline Clear Lines of Communication

Even if your client is handing off, their IT response needs you, and you can’t leave them in the dark. They need to know that you’re not only responsive to issues as they arise but that the client won’t have to chase after your firm to get answers. Outline your communication plan that clearly states how information is disseminated, the frequency with which it will be shared, and what mediation or resolution process — if needed — will be made available if disputes arise. 

Likewise, if the firm needs specific information from the client before managing certain tasks, those details need to be spelled out. Similarly, you’ll want to confirm what benchmarks are being crafted to measure success. Again, everyone must agree on the services offered and the metrics used to judge your firm’s efficacy in that arena. 

Live Up to Your Promises as an IT Provider

Having an ironclad SLA is fine, but it's irrelevant if you can’t deliver on the services, communication, and timeline guides listed in it. Before you start drafting an SLA, take some time to review your company practices to ensure that the firm can uphold its part of the deal. Avoid that risk by providing that a few basic errors aren’t plaguing your operations.

Leverage a Streamlined Platform to Manage All Operations

Nothing says disorganized like a firm that relies on too many distributed platforms to manage day-to-day operations. This increases the chances that mission-critical items can fall through the cracks. Instead, overhaul your system to one integrated solution, like HipLink, that allows you to manage a wide range of touchpoints in one location — such as vendor relations, internal communications, resource management, and emergency response. 

Get a Handle on Emergency Communications

Assuming that you have specific teams designated for certain problems, sending company-wide mission-critical emergency messages doesn’t make sense. Doing so will only teach your groups to ignore messages until they feel like looking at them. Instead, upgrade your communications process to a system that allows you to specify which teams get an alert message based on the emergency. And take it a step further by ensuring that only people on duty or on-call get the message instead of inundating the entire team. 

Transparent communication with your client is key.

Again, clients don’t like to pay retainers to firms that go radio silent — especially in an emergency. But having said that, it’s not always a good idea to have the main client points of contact interacting with the emergency response team. Instead, work to create a separate communication thread that allows for transparency but that nominates a different internal team member to serve as the emergency contact for your clients. 

Nix Redundant Communication Systems

Having multiple ways to connect with key team members is essential. But if you’re doing it through several redundant communication systems, there’s a good chance you’re pestering staff with duplicate messages — just in different formats — or missing them altogether. Streamline your process by leveraging one system, such as HipLink, that allows you to send messages through one unified platform across multiple device formats (i.e., email, SMS, two-way, etc.).

Don’t Onboard Another Client without a Solid SLA

Onboarding clients without a successful SLA is a recipe for disaster. SLAs not only hold vendors accountable but also ensure that there are no miscommunications that could devolve into legal action and burn reputations. But most importantly, your backend — the day-to-day operational functions of your firm — need to be rock solid before you pitch for new business. 

HipLink is an emergency management and communication software (SaaS) solution that allows IT service providers to revolutionize communications and emergency response without a clunky or slow onboarding experience. Learn how HipLink can improve your business functions, response times, and customer satisfaction. 

 


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