How SLAs Make Customer Delight a Business Policy


Can you scale delight? This is what most customer service leaders would have you think.

They’d have you think that your customer service should be on the lookout for the company’s big Joshie the giraffe moment.

The problem is, this sort of customer service mandate is that it’s:

  • Difficult/impossible to define
  • Not at all scalable (and in fact, scaling delightful moments is the antithesis of what makes a delightful moment)
  • Requires disproportionate time, creativity and budget

It’s much easier to delight customers than you might think. Most customers are not only satisfied, but remain loyal to companies that help them get from Point A to Point B quickly, responsibly and without having to put in much effort. Think about those moments that frustrate customers most:

The ones that don’t confirm right away that your ticket was received:

And the ones that make you jump through hoop after broken hoop:

This source of frustration is what organizations need to focus on, but they don’t. Nobody complains when they don’t get charming Reddit-worthy customer service. But everyone gets ticked off when they don’t receive fast, helpful support within a reasonable timeframe. These complaints are entirely preventable and manageable on scale when you use SLAs.

SLAs in a nutshell

An SLA (service level agreement) is a service related goal that a company sets for anything that is quantifiable. For example, a delivery company may set an SLA that says ‘We will deliver 90% of packages within 24 hours’. Or a customer service team may set an SLA that says ‘We will respond to all customer emails within 4 hours.’

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Whether SLAs are used to set goals internally or establish an agreement between the vendor and the customer, SLAs help organizations define a clear service goal – a line in the sand – so you can easily pick out instances where service didn’t make the cut and how it can be improved. For example, when fewer than 80% of packages are delivered within 24 hours, or a response to a customer email took longer than 4 hours, SLAs tell you where to look first. 

The best customer service organizations are systematic and consistent across channels.

SLAs are good for two things:

  1. Meet the service promises you’ve made to your customers
  2. Help you pinpoint when and where you’re failing to meet them

If you’re serious about running a tight support ship, you should use SLAs to set a reply time and resolution time.

On the support side, SLAs tell your support team how to prioritize their customer requests. Incoming tickets run the range from low/normal/high/urgent and SLAs help them them determine how they should respond, escalate and resolve.

It’s within this framework of customer expectations that you can measure what your team is doing well, what they could be doing better and what *needs improvement.*

Public vs. private SLAs

SLAs originally came about from B2B transactions, where if Company A did not meet the SLA they signed with Company B, they would actually have to hand over real cash as a disincentive.

You don’t really want a system that ensures you meet your SLAs, you want one which ensures you meet customer expectations. Even if you’re not publicizing to the customer your SLAs, you should have them set up internally.

But what some companies will do is this: they have a public SLA and a private SLA. That is, they tell clients that they will respond within 4 hours, but privately, they have a 2 hour response time. That way, if they fail their private SLA, you still have time to get your act together before you fail your public SLA.

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Use SLAs to be consistent, not the same

Your reps should be able to triage, forward and escalate customer cases according to expectations set by the organization.

Your customer base comes with varying needs – some urgent, some who pay a premium for faster support and others who rarely have a reason to get in touch.

An SLA would set a due date for you based on the priorities you set ahead of time. This lets your reps triage, forward and escalate customer cases in some really useful ways:

What Can You Do With SLAs?

SLAs do not have to be the same across every incoming case, but they should be consistent. For this reason, your team should understand and map out your priorities before setting up SLAs.

Turning SLAs into useful reports

Most companies still use first contact resolution (FCR) to measure their customer service performance. But there’s too much that this metric doesn’t capture.

It doesn’t capture the adjacent issues that require a customer to call back a number of times before the case is fully resolved. It doesn’t capture the additional time reps spend on reopening the case or any new tickets that come out of the original. More importantly, it doesn’t capture the time and effort the customer expends to have their case resolved.

You can (and should) measure other things than FCR. You can also use SLAs to target specific performance metrics that give a much clearer sense of whether you’re providing low-touch customer support.

What Can You Measure With SLAs?

You can also bucket tickets that failed your SLAs and analyze them by one by one to identify where the ball is being dropped.

The takeaway

If you’re aiming for above and beyond service, think SLAs. Don’t underestimate what you can do with them internally. Not everything comes down to reply and resolution times, but SLAs helps both individuals and teams understand how they’re doing in specific, measurable terms. 

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Now over to you: how does your customer support team use SLAs? What metrics does your team use to measure/improve their performance?

the ultimate guide to customer support metrics cheat sheet

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