Improving IT Customer Service with Service Level Agreements (SLA)
Does your IT Staff deliver amazing customer service? Do your staff members love your Information Technology Department? If they had a choice, would they choose the in-house staff or would they rather call a contractor? Does your IT Director produce monthly reports on staff productivity and proudly share these reports with your management team? And what exactly does your IT staff do all day anyway?
Maybe you have managers and staff who think that IT services are free because they are included in the budget and the staff is already on salary. Nothing could be further from the truth. IT services are expensive and in-house IT services are often more expensive than comparable contracted services.
In a 21st century Information Technology operation, superb customer service should be the cornerstone of the operation. To put it simply, there is no longer a place in the industry for IT management and staff who don’t deliver stellar customer service. Before we discuss methods for improving the customer service of your IT organization, we first have to figure out exactly what they should be doing. The root cause of many IT Customer Service problems is a misunderstanding of their business role and a lack of alignment of their mission with executive and organizational goals. Do they have a clear, specific mission statement? Do they understand your business objectives and what they should be doing to help you achieve your business goals?
No business operation can be all things to all people unless you have an unlimited budget. Since real budgets are limited, the focus and mission of your IT Department should be limited as well.
Establish Business Goals
As an Executive, it is your job to define the mission of Information Technology. You don’t need technical skills or knowledge to define their business objectives, but you do need to think carefully about your goals and objectives and document them thoroughly. Left to their own devices, IT staff will probably keep themselves busy with cool technical things that add no value to your business operations. Let’s get them focused on adding value to your business using a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Following is a high level, executive overview for developing an internal SLA. This is by no means exhaustive but should provide you the general idea of how to get started.
Define the Vision and Mission.
Make it clear, meaningful, short, and tailored to your organizational requirements. The mission statements for a large corporate IT department, a County Government, and a K-12 school district may all be different but great customer service should be common theme with all three.
Memorialize the Mission in a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a document that defines the 6 W’s and a couple of other things:
- What services will be provided?
- Who will provide them and for whom are they provided?
- When will the services be available?
- How much will the services cost?
- Why should services be provided?
- Where will the services be provided?
- Escalation Procedures.
- Problem Levels
Let’s take a look at these items in greater detail.
What services will be provided?
Every service you decide to provide should have a solid business case for being included and should have a cost/benefit/value justification. Are you running a help desk? Do your staff members repair hardware? (Let’s hope not!). Do you want your IT staff to support specific software products? Are they supporting an e-maiil and phone system?
Make a list of the services your staff should routinely provide. You may even want to specify what services aren’t provided. For instance, custom software development and hardware repair are a couple of services that are difficult to justify unless you have special circumstances (I will discuss this in a separate post). You should also specify a procedure for contracting these and other special services should they be required.
Who will provide the services?
Which staff members will provide the services? Will contractors and vendors provide some services? This is good information for your customers to have.
For whom will the services be provided? Just to your direct staff? Contractors and vendors? Do you have divisions or other sub-organizations or partners that piggyback off your system?
When are the services available?
Are you providing services 7X24? Eight to Five on business days? What about off-hours emergencies? How quickly will your staff respond to different categories of requests? For instance, if an application is down, what is the maximum amount of time that should pass before a staff member starts working on it?
How much will the services cost?
Does your IT department work on a charge-back basis? Who pays for calls from external vendors? How do you calculate the hourly rate for your in-house staff?
Why will the service be provided?
Why are you providing this service? Your customers (end users) should understand why some services are provided and not others.
The SLA for your IT Staff should be compared with your various vendor SLA’s to ensure there is no duplication of effort. An SLA is included in your contract with every vendor, right?
Escalation and Problem Definitions
Your SLA document should define different levels of problems and an appropriate response time for your staff and contractors. For instance, is an end user inconvenienced? Is an application for an entire department down? In the case of the former, you might define a day, week or month to resolve the problem – this depends on your specific business, goals and objectives. If a critical application is down, you might want to require the staff to drop everything and begin working on the problem immediately.
Use Management tools and techniques to control the output and services.
An SLA will not magically improve customer service, but it is a first line tool that will help set baseline expectations for IT Staff and their customers. When used in conjunction with a Professional Services Automation (PSA) system, Quarterly Goals and Objectives, and honest annual performance reviews, the SLA can help you make a positive change in the IT staff’s delivery of customer service that meets your business objectives. And remember, management is 10% telling people what to do and 90% making sure they do it.
In subsequent articles, I will discuss Information Technology’s mission in more detail and we will examine some additional business scenarios and options for achieving your business objectives.
If your IT Staff isn’t delivering great customer service, or if you need assistance with the development of a custom SLA for your business, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to discuss your specific business case.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2015by