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Customer SLA - Service level agreements tips for Computer Systems Support

Burleson Consulting Standards & Guidelines

Service Level Agreement components

Almost all corporations employ a service level agreement (SLA) to ensure quality and codify customer expectations.

Computer systems are very scary to most corporate employees, and the majority of service level agreements for computer applications spell-out very specific details about availability, capacity, response time and technical support services.  Today's computer service providers are required to sign-off on levels of quality for all system components.

There are formal service level agreements for computer systems, delineating important operational factors such as response time and system availability:

  • High Water Marks - The system will be able to support up to 10,000 concurrent user requests.
  • Transaction Response Time - 95% of all transactions will complete within one second, and no single transaction may exceed 5 seconds.
  • System Availability - The system will be unavailable for less than 30 minutes per year.
  • System support - All help desk requests will be addressed with 30 minutes by a vendor certified person with good English communications skills.

Each of these SLA components must be very specific, indicating how the SLA will be measured and what penalties the provider must pay, should the SLA be violated.

Automating Service Level Agreement compliance monitoring

Your SLA is important and all service level agreements should include details about the construction of an automated mechanism to monitor compliance and report exceptions. 

BC is a leader in corporate service level agreements and we have experts to help you draft SLA and install software to monitor compliance with any SLA.

These SLA software monitoring solutions can be fully automated and notify you and your provider whenever the exception thresholds of the SLA have been exceeded.  SLA compliance monitoring solutions can also be programmed to escalate alerts, interfacing with pagers and telephones.

Service Level Agreement for response time

The non-technical manager may resist specific SLA conditions relating to response time claiming that is is costly to measure end-to-end response time.  In fact, measuring response time is easy, given the proper tools.  Even internet response time can be measured, and you can hire services to conduct transactions around the globe and report the end-to-end response time.

Service Level Agreement for Availability

Today, the use of failover and clustering technology allows computer system vendors to offer 99.9999% guaranteed availability.  Your computer support provider can buy high-availability solutions such as Oracle Real Application Clusters for ensure continuous availability.

Service Level Agreement for support quality

Any SLA that addresses technical support should be very specific about the quality of the technical support personnel.  Speaking of the ubiquitous help desk, SLA's for technical support are often dismal.  Companies sometime hire inmates from prisons, mentally unstable people, and other marginally employable people, anyone who will take constant abuse for $8/hour:

Always include communications skills in your SLA

Since the Internet now allows inexpensive electronic contact anywhere on the globe, many companies are tempted to hire technical support from third-world countries, where the person might not have an adequate understanding of spoken English.

Remember, an SLA is not just about access to a technician.  It's also about requiring a certified (i.e. OCP, MCDBA) technician with outstanding English communications skills. 

This article 'Abroad and Back' notes that customers who hear noticeable accents from help desk personnel expect a bad experience, and they came to prefer accent-neutral help desk support:

'"If customers called and heard an accent, they figured it would be a bad experience," Griffiths said. "Even though there were improvements over time, the [negative] perception was there."  Three months later, Griffiths knew he'd made a mistake.'

This article titled 'Dell Recalls Tech Support from India after Complaints' notes that Dell was flooded with complaints about their outsourced help desk support and moved their help desk beck to the United States:

'Newspapers located near Dell's Austin, Texas headquarters reported that customers were complaining not only about having their calls answered by technical support staff who spoke with accents but also about receiving scripted responses to their questions rather than one-on-one support.'

The importance of spoken communications

From a providers perspective, the voice on the telephone is the voice of their corporation, and many corporations go to great lengths to have accent-neutral voices (The accent of northeast Ohio is the standard for television broadcast journalism).  Politicians take great pains to speak with accent neutral diction (JFK and Jimmy Carter both had voice coaches).

Even pleasant accents (the smooth cadence of a southern drawl or a Scottish Brogue) are discouraged and you unlikely to hear any of these accents from a responsible help desk.  Some people suggest that discriminating against the verbally and mentally impaired should be illegal:

In sum, all service level agreements relating to computer systems should contain very specific provisions and address method to monitor the service levels for the end-user community.

BC is a leader in corporate service level agreements and we have experts to help you draft SLA and install software to monitor compliance with any SLA.



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