service level agreement

Providers of service are quite familiar with the service level agreement, also known as an SLA. You may have a Service Level Agreement with a company that spells out exactly what you can expect from them in terms of network outages and response times, for example. That’s an explicit SLA, because it explicitly calls out the expectations of the relationship.

Your Implicit Service Level Agreement

There’s another form of SLA. It’s an implicit SLA. An implicit SLA is not governed by a document, but by past performance. If you’re typical response time is, say, four hours, then four hours becomes part of your SLA. If your network maintains a 99.999% uptime, regardless of anything in a written documentation, your customers expect a 99.999% uptime.

If your explicit SLA states a 24-hour response time, but your history shows a four-hour response time, the four-hour response time is your implicit SLA and becomes what your customers expect. You can deal with such expectations by resetting them as tickets are opened. For example, you might include an expected resolution time in your responses to customers when they open a ticket.

Another Form of a Service Level Agreement

Here’s another form of an implicit SLA: If most of your help desk staff members are business-like and efficient in dealing with customers, that becomes part of your implicit SLA. It’s what your customers expect. Then, if one help desk technician is folksy and tries to engage in chit-chat with your customers, it violates the implicit SLA that your customers expect. This is not to suggest that being folksy and trying to chit-chat is inherently bad. It’s simply saying that it’s not what your customers expect based on past experience. When you violate your implicit SLA, it can be jarring to your customer. Most people crave consistency.

The most important result from calling a support desk is to get the issue resolved. After that, customers talk about wanting good soft skills such as compassion, empathy, good listening, and being treated with dignity and respect. They want a positive experience. Customers also want to know what to expect. They want consistency in their interactions with you and your department. What is your implicit SLA and what are you doing to ensure you and your department deliver on its implicit promise to your customers?

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