A Guide to Setting SLAs for Customer Support Teams
Determining the right amount of time to commit to for SLAs is a balancing act. As much as we might want to promise instant responses, it’s not a practical promise to make to customers. If we over-promise on response times and don’t deliver, customers will be disappointed and there might be serious contractual consequences such as fines, usage credits or early contract termination.
On the other hand, SLAs should help the customer feel assured that they will get timely responses if and when they need assistance. Set the goal post too far away and customers will be disappointed with slow responses. Instead, find a balance between over-promising but still meeting the needs of customers - often by personalizing SLA policies by customer segment. Here are six things to think about when designing your SLA team policies.
SHOULD YOUR SLAS BE THE SAME AS SUPPORT TEAM GOALS?
SLAs are promises that you make to your customers. If you’re a smaller company that doesn’t offer contracts or legally binding SLAs, your SLAs might be similar to the internal goals your customer support team sets for response and resolution times.
However, if you’ve outlined your SLAs in your terms of service or in a legal contract, there are serious repercussions for breaches. Your customer support team goals shouldn’t be to meet the bare minimum level of service. In this case, you’d want to set your goals much more ambitiously than simply avoiding SLA breaches.
Plus, setting your external SLAs the same as your internal goals doesn’t give you much room for error. Ideally, you should aim to resolve inquiries well within SLAs. SLAs should be the longest acceptable time for a customer to wait, but they shouldn’t be your measurement for quality.
The best practice is to set your customer support team response and resolution goals well below your SLAs so that you’re consistently working to exceed customer expectations.
UNDERSTAND CUSTOMER SEGMENTS
When determining your SLA policy, it’s important to consider if all customers fall into the same bucket, or if some customers require unique policies. Understanding the needs of your customers based on their plan type, or contract requirements can help provide more personalized experiences. Two ways you can segment customer groups are:
Tiering customers by plan type
High value customers might get priority over a lower or free pricing plan. While it doesn’t always make sense to set an SLA for free users, setting SLAs for enterprise customers is expected, and often required in contract negotiations.
Personalizing SLAs for VIP customers
High value contracts will often require personalized SLA conditions. With multiple SLA policies, you can set a unique deadline for each customer and for each situation you might encounter.
CATEGORIZE COMMON SUPPORT PROBLEMS
While every customer concern is important, not all of them are equally urgent. By categorizing common support problems by priority and setting separate SLAs for each type of question, your team can better prioritize the needs of your customers. For example, an outage SLA time might be a lot shorter than a request to update a billing address. Using multiple SLA policies allow your team to get as granular as you’d like to serve each type of customer uniquely.
LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS
When setting SLA policies, take customer feedback into account. If customers are complaining about slow responses, or leaving negative customer satisfaction responses, it’s time to revisit your SLAs to ensure you’re meeting the needs of all your customers.
Understanding why customers need specific response times is important too. Critical software or products like banking apps or point-of-sale systems might require faster SLAs because any wait time will seem unbearable. Other products, like ecommerce or entertainment apps, might not require as quick of responses - meaning that you can dedicate resources to other priorities.
SET STAFFING LEVELS TO MEET SLAS
It might be tempting to optimize SLA policies based on agent availability - but this is the wrong approach to take. Instead, base your SLA policies on the customer experience as a first priority and then staff your team to meet those requirements. If you can’t meet your customer’s expectations and are experiencing SLA breaches, you’ll need to hire more agents to handle incoming inquiries.
DEFINE OLA TO SUPPORT SLAS
Operational Level Agreements are critical to consistently meeting SLAs when there are internal dependencies to resolve an inquiry. As mentioned above, OLAs are agreements between internal teams that help prevent bottlenecks. When an SLA isn’t met, customers don’t care who’s fault it is - engineering, support or system administrators - they only care that their agreement wasn’t honored. OLAs help teams work together to meet their commitments to the customer.
BUSINESS HOUR OR CALENDAR HOUR SLAS
If you don’t offer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it’s possible to set SLAs that only take into account your operating hours. For example, if you have a 24 hour Response Time SLA, but only have agents working during the weekdays, customers who send in an email Friday afternoon shouldn’t expect a response until Monday. Setting your SLAs to Business Hours instead of Calendar Hours will only keep the timer running while agents are scheduled to be working.
However, while using business hours might make your reporting look better, customers are still waiting over the entire weekend (or night) for a response. They might not care that you don’t have agents working - they only know that they aren’t getting help. If you choose to only report on business hour SLAs, it’s still important to keep in mind the customer experience for customers that live in different time zones or are trying to contact you after-hours.