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Do we need an SLA for VIPs

By ITIL® from Experience©

A "Very Important Person" (VIP) usually includes executives from IT and the business (e.g. CIO, CxOs, directors). Given that their time is very valuable and that they have a powerful ‘bark’, the common thinking is that it is better to keep them happy to avoid a complaint.

Alerts are often put in ITSM tools to ensure that Service Desk Analysts treat them with a sense of urgency. Some even assign their highest level of priority to VIP incidents and service requests as if they are Major Incidents.

In one organization everyone dropped what they were doing every time the CEO needed help. One day he called the Service Desk because he was having trouble loading music on his iPod. Even though he told the Service Desk Agent that he was asking for a favor since his request was not business related, everyone was mobilized as if a major incident happened simply because "He" called. This caused unnecessary Service Level Agreement (SLA) breaches on other requests until his music was loaded.

Priority of service should be driven based on the impact to the business and urgency of the situation; not based on the user's position in the organization (see What is another term for User). Thus, the incident from a surgeon who cannot print the directions to a friend's cottage is less of a priority compared to the incident of a nurse who cannot monitor a patient’s vital signs in the Intensive Care Unit. Perhaps this is why ITIL® does not mention VIP or User-Based SLAs1 even though many ITSM tools have that functionality (e.g. Marval MSM, Axios assyst).

The need to implement a VIP SLA is typically driven by a reaction to a bad customer service experience by a VIP (see How to make sure VIPs do not wait when calling the Service Desk). Most of the time, a band aid or workaround solution is put in place by giving the mobile telephone number of the best Service Desk Agent to VIPs. Sometimes an emergency telephone number is setup and staffed on rotation. However, this quick-fix does not address the root cause which might be that a junior staff took the call or because of a systemic under-investment in the Service Desk.

To ensure that customer needs are met, ITIL® recommends to gather the Service Level Requirements (see We need SLAs. Should we start with Service Level Requirements). Thus, a common approach is to present VIPs a priority matrix with response and resolution times based on business impact. However, most VIPs do not care about priority and best practices as long as their expectations are met. Only IT cares about priority because of limited resources!

The biggest problem with VIP SLAs is that once a VIP is not satisfied with the VIP service, operations will need to create a V-VIP, then to a V-V-VIP SLA and so on until the root cause is addressed. Perhaps it is why Steve Jobs called his Service Desk whenever he needed support – he experienced the service first-hand and enabled him to address issues. Thus, addressing service delivery issues removes the needs for a VIP SLA.


Last updated on: 2018-11-05
Published on: 2014-02-27

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ITIL Process > Service Level Management (SLM)


1. ITIL® mentions three (3) types of SLAs: Service-based, Customer-Based and Multi-Level SLA. See Sections 4.2.5.1, Service Design, ITIL® v3, 2007 Edition p. 67 -or- Section 4.4.3, Service Deliver, ITIL® v2, p. 34


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