The SLA (Service Level Agreement) is one of the foundational blocks of a successful managed services practice. If you are delivering services to clients without an SLA, you may live to regret it.
The SLA protects you and the clients. Drafted properly, it sets clear expectations and obligations for both parties, and specifies the scope of work you provide to avoid any surprises that could derail the customer relationship. In a long-term services arrangement, operating without an SLA is akin to walking a tightrope without a net. If anything goes wrong, you have no protection.
Each SLA may differ slightly to accommodate specific customer needs, but you should have a template covering all the elements that apply to every client. These typically include service level guarantees, a tech support schedule and response times in the event of an equipment failure or downtime.
In preparing your SLAs, you must be realistic about your capabilities and ensure you have the infrastructure to support whatever commitments you make to customers. As you draft or revise your SLAs, here are three essential considerations you mustn’t ignore:
Do you have enough people to deliver on what you promise your customers? If you offer 24/7 support, you’d better have the staff in place to make good on that – or partner with a NOC (Network Operations Center) provider that can fill this requirement on your behalf. How well you are staffed (or whom you partner with) is absolutely critical to the level of services you deliver. This goes back to the need to be realistic and not overpromising.
Another critical aspect of meeting your SLA commitments revolves around the technology you employ. If your monitoring platform is buggy or lacks the functionality to provide the services guaranteed by your SLA, it won’t take long for customers to get frustrated and start looking to replace you.
This means your choice of tools can make or break your business, so you obviously need to partner with technology vendors that provide reliable, bug-free solutions – and will work with you to address any issues that may come up.
When getting ready to sign a new client, you need a clear, realistic picture of the client’s infrastructure, which is possible only when you conduct a thorough assessment of the environment.
Your uptime guarantees must take into account whether the client’s infrastructure is healthy enough to fulfill your service commitment. If client systems are up to par, you have two basic choices – either talk the client into investing in upgrades or adjust your SLA guarantees accordingly. A third, less attractive choice is to walk away – if the client’s environment is beyond hope.
Lastly, to ensure your SLAs are rock solid, run them by an attorney who understands the managed services market. The lawyer’s fee will surely be less than the price you’ll pay if you lose a client because of a poorly worded agreement.