Should we force everyone to manage to the SLA deadline

By ITIL® from Experience ©

Many ITSM and ITIL® experts believe that the secret to good customer service is simply to deliver by the SLA1 deadline.

Many Service Desk and IT Operations managers wants everyone to manage to the Service Level Agreements (SLA) targets since it is easy to measure, monitor and appears to be easy to implement. They only need to:

  1. Get senior management's buy-in (see Do we need CIO support to succeed)
  2. Have clients to sign their SLA (see We need SLAs. Should we start with Service Level Requirements)
  3. Load the SLA values in the ITSM Tool
  4. Create reports (see Is there a book to help us develop Key Performance Indicators (KPI))
  5. Finally, get management to have some "teeth" to enforce the SLA (see What does it mean to have CIO and management support).

However, experienced ITSM practitioners understand that managing to the SLA clock is only one ingredient to a great customer service recipe. Many businesses are wildly successful by carefully managing customer expectations and relentlessly communicating during the fulfillment process. Take Amazon for example. They promise a delivery date and continually informing their customer on the progress or changes to the delivery date. Its true that their Prime program is an SLA nonetheless, they have been, and continue to be, successful without it.2

Managing to the SLA results in the organization focusing on itself instead of the client needs. When IT focuses inwards instead of outwards, it no longer puts the customer first. Consequently, actions are taken meet deadlines even if they are detrimental to the overall client experience.

Once management focuses singularly on measuring SLA breaches people quickly find creative ways to avoid breaching their SLA or Operational Level Agreement (OLA)3 . For example, people:

People start to play the "hot potato"4 with client requests. They throw the ball into the other's court as quickly as possible so that they are not the cause of the SLA breach5 .

Some suppliers also play this game. When a supplier focuses on “It is / is not in the contract/SLA” without any flexibility to ensure client satisfaction, the relationship eventually deteriorates and sour.

As a result, an attitude of "I did my job by the book" creeps in the culture of the organization at the expense of doing the right thing for the customer (see You had one job). It’s the equivalent of a doctor saying: "the operation was a success but the patient died." Needless to say, the patient may want the operation to be a little bit less successful and still be alive! Patients more easily accept and understand challenges when they are continually informed of a changing situation (and it goes a long way to avoid lawsuits). The same goes for a pizza. Clients would prefer a properly cooked pizza in 45 minutes with a polite delivery driver rather than a half-baked pizza in 30 minutes simply to honor the SLA. The point here is that it is more important to set client expectations and to quickly communicate changes than to blindly attaining the SLA thinking that customers will undoubtedly be happy.

Forcing people to manage to the SLA clock is managing the task; a micro-metric. It is an easy pitfall to fall into instead of focusing on the outcome; the macro-metric of satisfying the client's needs, using balanced measurements by taking into account the customer satisfaction ratings, number of re-opens and escalations (i.e. KPI)6 .

A metric is like a dial in a plane's cockpit. A plane’s cockpit has many dials and being on time is only one metric. The pilot does not simply look at the clock to make the trip a pleasant one. Thus, for success, it is better to manage to the overall client’s experience and satisfaction than to strictly focus on the SLA clock and for management to stay away from an SLA witch hunt.

In closing, do you want the organization to "measure like mad or serve with soul?7

Close the ticket and open a new one.

- Why? The work is not done

Yes, but this way we don't breach the SLA

Last updated on: 2019-03-24 Published on: 2018-10-01

Improvement by criticism do not result in lasting performance improvements

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Category: Implementation > People ITIL Process > Service Level Management (SLM)


Service Level Agreement (SLA): (ITIL® Continual Service Improvement) (ITIL® Service Design) An agreement between an IT service provider and a customer. A service level agreement describes the IT service, documents service level targets, and specifies the responsibilities of the IT service provider and the customer. A single agreement may cover multiple IT services or multiple customers Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, 2011 https://www.axelos.com/Corporate/media/Files/Glossaries/ITIL_2011_Glossary_GB-v1-0.pdf

2 Without Prime, Amazon can still be considered to have an SLA. The expected delivery date of each product that the client accepts (“signed”) by placing their order can be deemed an SLA.

Operational Level Agreement (OLA): (ITIL® Continual Service Improvement) (ITIL® Service Design) An agreement between an IT service provider and another part of the same organization. It supports the IT service provider’s delivery of IT services to customers and defines the goods or services to be provided and the responsibilities of both parties. For example, there could be an operational level agreement: - Between the IT service provider and a procurement department to obtain hardware in agreed times - Between the service desk and a support group to provide incident resolution in agreed times. Source: ibid

5 Several ITSM tools have a feature to send an email alert when a ticket has been reassigned too many times (e.g. Axios assyst and Marval MSM). Thus, this behavior is prevalent in many organizations.
6 We know of an IT Service Desk manager that made a rule that every ticket had to be updated daily. Agents quickly learned that adding “No updates” to every ticket got the manager off their backs. Needless to say that time to resolve tickets did not improve.


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