No matter what business you’re in, ready-made happy customers don’t simply appear on your doorstep. You must earn them. In managed services, one of the surest ways to customer happiness is to set expectations upfront with a well-defined service level agreement (SLA).
The SLA is positively critical to healthy customer relationships. In it, you tell the customer exactly what to expect in service delivery, when and how services are rendered, and what happens when something goes wrong.
Every MSP should have an SLA template, but then tailor it for each customer. Remember, a template is a starting point, not the end product. Each customer relationship has specific requirements, obligations and expectations, so you must adapt the agreement to each situation. There is no one-size-fits-all.
A good SLA contains obligatory elements such as a definition of services and acceptable service levels, a schedule of hours of support, a contingency and response plan for breakdowns and downtime, a list of customer responsibilities, and a section on liability and data protection.
The agreement should set service metrics and penalties for missing them. If you guarantee 99 percent uptime, you must deliver. If you don’t, the SLA should cover how you make it up to the customer with a price break or some other agreed-to way. Service guarantees require reliable tools to deliver the service. Whatever you do, don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Specify how quickly you will respond when something goes wrong and set goals for getting systems up and running again. Also, when a customer calls with an issue, what percent of the time do you guarantee first-time resolution? What’s an acceptable number of calls on the same problem?
Be sure to address any circumstances beyond your control. If you are using cloud-based business systems and data backup, spell out your liability in the event of an outage. Clarify your role and obligations vs. those of the vendor whose tools you are using. You need to understand each vendor’s services and protocols so the SLA can accurately represent warranties, indemnities and regulation compliance.
The agreement must cover your obligations regarding data protection, and for how long you are expected to deliver that protection. Avoid taking on liability for data touched by other third parties over which you have no control.
Clarify Customer Obligations
If the customer or a third party is responsible for maintaining systems up to date, possibly affecting how well a system performs, the SLA should cover that. Even if you provide patches and updates, customer action such as downloading infected content or clicking an attachment with a virus can hurt the customer’s network. Be sure the SLA addresses such incidents so you don’t get the blame.
Get a Lawyer
There is a whole list of SLAs dos and don’ts. You can be sure providers have experienced them all. Avoid the don’t’s by running your SLA template by an attorney to spot loopholes, ambiguities, and bad ideas. As a matter of practice, have your lawyer review each contract before you sign it. A small legal fee upfront is less costly than the price of an unhappy customer later.
For more on SLA best practices download our free guide, MSP Matters: A Roadmap to Enduring Business Success.
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