Service Level Agreement: Key to Efficiency, or Support Team’s Worst Nightmare?

Let’s just state the obvious at the right now. Managing your customer support without proper SLAs is quite frankly impossible. Whatever help desk software you decide to use, like LiveAgent, should have extensive support for setting SLA intervals and the ability to base ticket prioritization on those timeframes. Setting “the right” Service Level Agreements is a whole different story. If you don’t do this correctly, your rules can became equally menacing as powerful. One ill-based expectation or an aggressive demand can start a vicious cycle of frustration for you and your customers.

Ask too much from your agents and you put them under a huge load of time-based stress, and their replies would get uninformative, harsh and under the worst circumstances – useless. Replying just for the sake of complying with your company’s aggressive time frames is never good. Support agents get nervous, customers get half-baked answers, and issues that should & could have been sorted out with one precise message will spread into never ending conversation threads. So long efficency, so long seamless customer experience…

Well, let’s do something about it. Managing customer expectations is hard. But dare I say that managing expectations from your support team is even a bit harder. So what’s the trick? Is there a magic bullet to get your SLA’s right? Quite frankly, no. But if you follow a few basic principles you should get close to an ideal state.

Before we jump into specifics. Let’s start with a definition of SLA as we understand it in LiveAgent:

An SLA (Service-Level-Agreement) is an arrangement to meet targets for replying to the Tickets by your Agents (support representatives), for providing help to your customers.

Providing help based on service levels ensures that you’re delivering quantified and reckonable service. It also provides a more clarified view when issues appear. SLA Levels define SLA response times for answers of various types. Business hours can be applied for your SLA Levels with an option to exclude holidays. SLA Rules and SLA Levels bring a dynamic and efficient system by which you can ensure you and your Agents (support representatives) provide answers to new Tickets in time. SLA Rules can set SLA Levels to New Tickets (with specific conditions) or stop other rules.

This definition is hugely important, since we are going to rely on our workflow management and aim our propositions to specific use cases with LiveAgent. Please bear in mind that other help desk solutions out there may differ from our implementation.

But the question stays the same: How do I set “the right” SLAs. Please, read further.

1. Do not overestimate your team’s capacity

Take your time and do deep analysis of your support team performance. What is the average response time? Which departments are the most demanding? What issues tend to repeat themselves? Before you go forward with setting any kind of SLA, think about what you can do in reality, where and how you can push efficiency further, listen to feedback from your team and then act accordingly.

2. Use more than one type of SLA

Departments that mimic internal structure of your company, type of incoming queries or their nature should be your best guidance to work with SLAs properly. You have to understand that solving simple billing dispute is way easier and way quicker that fixing a bug buried deep inside your source code. Setting the same SLA for your Development/Tech support team and your billing team is a road to hell.

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3. How are the others doing?

Doing any kind of business is highly competitive, no matter what area are you in. Since support is the integral part of customer experience, it might be a good idea to research what your competitors are doing. Try to go around, ask some questions, do mystery shopping and wait. Approach your competitors directly or try to find some feedback from their customers in the form of reviews, social media buzz or forum posts. Do your research thoroughly and patiently and don’t stop until you feel like you have a complete picture about industry standards. Now the hard part – do everything you can to be better and beat them.

4. Analyze everything

Getting the SLAs right with the first shot would be a pleasant coincidence or work of magic. Dive deep into reports and try to find causalities between your SLAs and customer satisfaction. Look at areas where you are exceeding expectations on one hand and on the other side identify where you get overdue. Find out the reasons, get feedback from your team and think about if you can make your agents’ lives easier via prolonging SLA or identify what is slowing you down and fix it immediately. This is especially important if you are publicly advertising your responsiveness. Broken promises would hurt your company’s reputation.

5. The power of human touch

We tend to love automation. Algorithms running in the background makes our work easier and we rely on those way too much. Unlike computer programs, humans have big advantages: common sense, empathy and feelings. Never rely 100% on your rules behind the curtain. Be proactive and monitor the buzz in customer support. More often than not, you are going to find yourself in situation where you should step in personally, so you can above and beyond. Use your expertise wisely and there will be a situation where you can give your client an answer within few minutes, why wait for 48-hours SLA rule to come into play. On the other hand, prepare to be flexible. Sticking to SLAs without already mentioned common sense is a road to hell. Provide your agents with clear escalations paths, access to subject matter experts and under no circumstances get disconnected from what is actually going on within your support team and with customer queries.

Niki Vajdova

Marketing Intern

Student at Faculty of management - Comenius University in Bratislava.

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