How Can You Improve Your Service Level Agreements?


The transition to managed services from a break-fix business model can be challenging for MSPs. There is much to consider in terms of setting expectations, documenting the deliverables, and defining how the MSP’s relationships with its clients will be governed under this new model. A service level agreement (SLA) outlines how a managed service provider (MSP) will support its customers day after day, establishing the expectations for response times for service requests.
This agreement also serves as a legally binding contract, and as such, may protect an MSP against legal action.  An SLA serves many purposes for an MSP and its customers, but did you know this agreement can deliver a key differentiator for a service provider as well?
Crafting an effective SLA requires hard work and patience to ensure the agreement can help your business differentiate itself in a crowded managed services marketplace, including:
1. Set Reasonable and Attainable Goals
While a well-crafted SLA is a great way to demonstrate the value of your MSP business, you never want to represent your company or your abilities inaccurately. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to make guarantees you just can’t keep. Many MSPs think that they need to promise quick resolution times in order to win new clients. While this is important, it’s way more valuable to meet your resolution expectations every time, instead of under-delivering.
2. Never make your customer wait!
As an IT provider, managed or not, you are a service organization first and a technology company second!
How long a person waits for service is a very tangible measure of the quality of service a person receives. Think of all the places that are notorious for poor services, the DMV, Call-Centers, food service. “We’ve waited 15 minutes and no one has come to the table.” “I’m number 214. They are currently seeing number 167.” “We are experiencing higher than normal call volumes.” I have a question, when are they not experiencing higher than normal call volumes? The theme is the same, people hate waiting. People especially hate waiting when they have no feedback to manage their expectations.
Communication is critical to effectively managing expectations around SLAs.
3. Clarify Specific Points
If there’s one place you don’t want any ambiguity, it’s in your SLA. Precision and clarity can help your clients determine what to expect from the relationship, your services and certain aspects of your services, like response times, for example. It’s much easier for an MSP to guarantee response times, versus time to resolution. You should clearly state these times in your SLA and stipulate that they are in fact response times, not resolution times. Be sure that all parties clearly understand who carries what responsibility, and for which metrics. The beauty of a great SLA is that it takes the guesswork out of the provider-client relationship.
4. Include Hold Harmless Clauses
MSPs work within a number of independent environments, which means there are a number of different elements and limitations to be mindful of. While your SLA is intended to outline the specific services you will provide and set performance metrics, it is in fact a legal business contract. As such, it must protect your business by limiting your risk. Including a hold harmless clause provides that protection, so you aren’t left vulnerable to conditions outside of your control.
5. Properly Train Staff
Your employees must be thoroughly trained on SLA protocol in order to eliminate potential miscommunications. They need to know exactly which problems fall within their sphere (according to the SLA) versus those for which they’re not responsible. They should also all be well-versed in disaster recovery protocol and how to respond to issues of different priority levels.
6. Plan for hybrid cloud migrations.
Hybrid cloud will become increasingly popular over the next few years, according to recent data. Technology research firm Gartner has predicted nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of next year, and MSPs that plan for hybrid cloud migrations now will be able to support their customers’ hybrid cloud needs.  He pointed out that MSPs should establish guidelines for monitoring the boundaries between various platforms and aggregating, unifying and analyzing data from them.

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