Article

John Cheney
John Cheney 7 November 2019

How to stop SLA breaches

Customer experience has never been so vital for a business. With minimal differences between competitors’ features and even pricing, excellent customer service can make a difference. This article discusses where a service level agreement (SLA) is critical to service providers’ contracts and how it drives positive customer experience. 

What is an SLA?

An SLA describes the parameters of the service a customer could reasonably expect from a supplier or vendor. This agreement lays out the metrics that both parties could use to measure the quality of a service. It also provides remedies or penalties when the vendor fails to meet the terms. 

Any contract without an SLA is open to misinterpretation and could be exploited. Hence, the SLA protects both parties involved in the agreement.

The following are the basic types of agreements between service providers and customers.

Response SLAs

This SLA sets a deadline for every incoming message from clients. Assigning a response time to each query means that customers are not left to wonder when they are going to receive a reply or update. Additionally, an immediate response shows that the company is acknowledging the customer’s concern. Once the clients are notified that a human agent is attending to their query, they are likely to perceive the experience as more pleasant and be more patient while waiting for a resolution. 

Resolution SLAs

Setting an acceptable timeline while still delivering quality results requires a careful balancing act. These are the concerns that resolution SLAs target. Every unique query or issue is assigned a resolution SLA, which includes a deadline for closing or resolving the ticket. This ensures that each customer’s report is handled suitably instead of the agents focusing on closing it as quickly as possible using template responses. 

Issue-based SLAs

Some queries require speedier replies, such as outages or service errors. Issue-based SLAs set unique deadlines for these particular ticket types.

How CRM can help measure against SLAs

CRM provides a convenient way to track how long service representatives take to resolve support requests. SLAs function as “timers” that customer support representatives can use to see how much time they have remaining until they reach the prescribed period to settle a support request. This can provide a business with an in-depth understanding of the responsiveness of its employees, particularly in addressing the needs of its customers. 

SLAs can also permit CRM users to pause the timer based on the status reason of a particular support request. For instance, if a customer service representative cannot proceed with the required action because the customer has yet to supply the pertinent information, the status reason will be “Waiting on Customer” or “Pending Customer Response.” This will put the timer on pause until the customer service representative changes the status reason. However, the time spent on hold will still be tracked and recorded.

What to do in an SLA breach

Despite taking all the necessary precautions to ensure that all your teams meet the SLAs, committing a breach remains a possibility. Unexpected situations occur, systems experience downtimes, employees overlook certain tasks, and before you know it, you have an overdue response on your hands. While this is not an ideal scenario, the good news is that there are solutions. As long as you don’t make it a habit of breaching your SLAs, customers tend to focus more on how you handle the delay instead of the breach itself.

Be honest with your client

There will never be a perfect moment to deliver bad news. It’s best to be transparent about the delay and acknowledge the breach to your customer. Even if the response is not yet overdue, take the initiative to determine whether you can meet the deadline and inform the waiting customer immediately. 

When communicating an anticipated SLA breach, strive to be as open and transparent as possible. Inform the customer of the circumstances that led to the situation. Then, share how your team plans to handle the concern. Most importantly, apologise for failing to fulfil your end of the agreement. As the issue moves forward, make sure you’re consistent in sending updates. 

Review your internal setup for reminders and escalation procedures

Take advantage of automation along with escalations to ensure that every SLA breach is handled as quickly and efficiently as possible. Make sure that the reminders reach the right staff with the capability to take action. Also, ascertain that the reminders are sent early enough for the concerned representative to be able to address it in a timely manner. Revisit the escalation paths and ensure that the right people are involved. Update the management chain for every breach that occurs.

For instance, you can use CRM to implement a colour coding system. You can assign the colour red for instances of breached SLAs. You can use the colour orange to signal that your team only has an X amount of time before a breach happens. You can assign the colour green as a signal to your agents that you still have a lot of time before an SLA is breached. Not only can this system be conveniently set up, it will also provide your customer service support team with a quick and easy guide in terms of which issues to prioritise. 

Review processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again

If you’re detecting consistent SLA breaches, then you’ll need to look closely into the issues and conduct a post mortem to determine the reasons behind them. 

Determine whether your team is getting overwhelmed. If that’s the case, then it might be worth your while to start automating repetitive tasks to ease their workload. Take a look at potential internal bottlenecks that might be contributing to the breaches. If you spot any, review your system to find ways to minimise friction. Learning more about why SLA breaches happen is an important step towards improving the quality of your customer experience.

Final thoughts

It is imperative that companies adhere to the terms set out in the SLA agreement. Failure to do so could result in not only operational losses but also wasted opportunities.  

Technology can help. CRM has been widely recognised as one of the most crucial tools in customer service. Nowadays, companies want more visibility when it comes to what is going on across their business particularly in customer support. CRM offers an automated system that can determine issues like what triggers a breach of SLAs, who breaches SLAs and which process consistently delivers the best results. 

CRM can also help refine SLAs and better understand where issues are and how to address them. The insights it provides are very powerful, both for the agents themselves but also for the management team of the business. Furthermore CRM is not only a customer support tool - it connects the rest of the business including marketing and sales teams. 

In this age of selective and demanding customers, customer service is king and keeping SLAs paramount.

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