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Service Level Agreements

 

AgreementsTo manage customer expectations, a formal document known as a service level agreement may be helpful.  A service level agreement (SLA) is an agreement, negotiated by two parties, with the intention of creating common understanding about responsibilities, priorities, and services provided. The best service level agreements are those treated as living documents; they evolve as the client-consultant relationship evolves. They formulate an objective base, against which effectiveness of the client-consultant relationship can be evaluated.  They serve as a communication tool and, of course, a conflict-prevention tool.  What goes into an SLA and how are they to be established?

Service Level Agreement Components

  • Service level agreements are generally made up of the following elements:
  • Services to be provided are listed
  • Conditions of consultant and service availability
  • Standards of service
  • Timeframe
  • When and how conversations will occur and information will be disseminated
  •  Responsibilities of each party involved in the SLA
  •  Metrics for determining effectiveness
  • Conflict resolution
  • Procedures for escalation
  • When the agreement will be revised
  • Warranties

The most important part of constructing a service level agreement is making sure that in addition to the agreeing parties, there is a management element available to enforce the agreement.

How to Establish a Service Level Agreement

Before establishing your service level agreement, it is important to perform background research.  Make sure that both parties understand one another’s needs and priorities.  Consultants should make sure that they are promising service they can deliver on. 

Once the background information has been researched, both parties should ensure agree on the agreement.  The best way to do this is be sure that both the client and consultant are able to clearly and freely express concerns, wishes, and expectations about the work to be done.  By doing this, you can ensure that the agreement will be something both parties can stand by.

Next, make sure that you set limits and ground rules for working together. Set times to work together, rules for communication, and methods for determining whether something is an emergency.

Once you’ve established the expectations and the rules for conduct, put them down in draft form.  Do not rush this process.  This is not meant to be the final version, but a draft. Submit this draft to the client to ensure that both parties agree on it, and have the opportunity to raise questions of concern and offer suggestions for improvement.  Before signing the agreement, it is important for both parties – client and consultant – to read over the agreement and make sure all interests have been represented. Both parties also must create any tasks that need implementation before the agreement takes effect. Once the agreement passes the scrutiny of both parties, and ally systems are ready, they can sign off and establish the service level agreement. An SLA manager will then be appointed for ensuring adherence to the agreement.

Finally, you will want to keep the following tips in mind when creating and managing a service level agreement:

  1. Don’t create a list of services, but rather make sure you include items like conditions of service delivery and how the SLA will be managed in the agreement
  2. Include a glossary in the appendix of your SLA.  This way, you can be sure that everyone uses the terminology in the same way.
  3. Make sure all interests of both client and consultant are covered
  4. Hold service reviews on a regular basis
  5. Limit changes to the SLA to outstanding circumstances involving changing needs. 
  6. Avoid including everything “Just-in-case.”

The Importance of Appointing a Service Level Agreement Manager

Finally, when you establish a service level agreement, it is vital you also appoint someone to perform as the agreement manager for each party. Without an overseeing body, it will be difficult to enforce the conditions of the agreement should things not pan out the way they should. The service level agreement manager is responsible for:

  •  Being the person to contact should problems in the agreement arise

  • Facilitating conversation with the agreement manager of the other party

  • Handling all conflict should a problem escalate

  • Conducting service reviews

  • Finding ways to improve upon the relationship between consultant and client

  • Planning conflict-resolution training opportunities

The service level agreement manager serves as a negotiator, a communicator and a facilitator.  The best person to hold this position is someone who is knowledgeable, respected, and skilled when it comes to communicating and negotiating effectively.

 

 

 



 
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