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5 min read

What are SLAs and why do they matter for your IT support?

If you are a business owner who relies on IT support from a managed service provider (MSP), you may have heard of the term SLA, or service level agreement. But what does it mean, and why is it important for you to keep an eye on it?

In this blog, we will explain what SLAs are, how they work, and what benefits they offer to you and your MSP partner. We will also discuss some other metrics that you should be aware of when evaluating your IT support service, such as customer satisfaction, response time, and resolution rate. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of what to expect from your IT support provider, and how to hold them accountable for their performance.

What are SLAs?

SLAs are part of your IT support contract that defines the level of service that your MSP partner agrees to provide to you.

They relate specifically to response time and are a measure of how quickly your MSP will respond in various situations.

SLAs can also include measurement methods, reporting procedures, and penalties or rewards for meeting or missing the agreed service levels.

SLAs are important because they help you and your MSP partner to align your goals, communicate your needs, and manage your expectations. They also provide a clear and objective way to monitor and evaluate the performance of your IT support service and to resolve any disputes or issues that may arise.

What are the components of an SLA?

SLAs can vary depending on the type, size, and complexity of the IT support service, but they usually consist of the following components:

Service description

The scope and nature of the IT support service is usually defined in the main body of a contract or in an addendum, but the SLA is fundamentally tied to this description. It will define the types of devices, systems, applications, and users that are covered, and the hours and channels of service availability.

Service levels

This is the main element of an SLA and it specifies the quantitative and qualitative standards that the IT support service must meet, such as the availability, reliability, and performance of the service. Service levels are often expressed as key performance indicators (KPIs), such as uptime, downtime, mean or maximum time to respond, time to resolve, and so on.

The two main metrics you want to be aware of for IT support are:

1. Response time

This metric measures how quickly your IT support provider responds to your requests, issues, or inquiries. Response time can be measured by the time elapsed between the initiation and the acknowledgement of a request, issue, or inquiry. Response times usually vary depending on the priority of an issue. We’ll take a look at ticket priorities later in this blog.

2. Resolution rate

This metric measures how effectively your IT support provider resolves your requests, issues, or inquiries. Resolution rate can be measured by the percentage of requests, issues, or inquiries that are resolved within a given time frame, or by the number of requests, issues, or inquiries that are resolved on the first contact.

Service reporting

Agreeing in advance on how these metrics will be reported is important.

Details such as how performance will be measured, monitored, and reported need to be agreed upfront. You need visibility of these metrics to ensure that you can hold your MSP accountable. Ensure you cover the frequency, format, and content of the service reports, and the tools and methods used to collect and analyse the data.

Service review

Reviewing the metrics is one of the most important elements of SLA. There is little point in gathering all of this data if nothing then happens with it. At IT Foundations, we send our customers a rolling 90-day summary of their support service every month covering all of these metrics. We make sure that you are fully informed about every aspect of your IT support. We also provide an opportunity to discuss these at every quarterly review meeting so that we can address any issues in either our performance, or with your technology that is leading to recurring IT issues.

Often MSPs who prform well within their SLA’s like to shout about their performance from the rooftops. If your MSP doesn’t make these numbers available to you then you may want to ask to review them. It may be an indicator that they aren’t performing to your contracted service level.

Service escalation

Sometimes IT issues can be more complicated than the average and that’s where a good and clear escalation policy needs to be in place to ensure that your MSP doesn’t breach their SLA with you. This is primarily something for your MSP to deal with internally but it’s worth you being aware of. If an issue sits with a less skilled support technician for too long before being escalated it could have repercussions for your business.

Service penalties and rewards: Failure to meet SLA’s may have contractual consequences. Check your terms of service to see if this is the case.

Ticket priorities

As mentioned above, not every support ticket is created equal. Before we can work out how quickly we need to respond to an issue, we first have to triage it and assign it a priority. MSP’s usually prioritise tickets based on a matrix like the one below.

SLA priority

To help make sense of that table we’ve got some definitions below that we use:

Levels of Severity/Urgency:

  • Low Urgency: One user or a small group of users is affected
  • Medium Urgency: Departments or large group of users are affected
  • High Urgency: Whole company is affected Business Impact:
  • Low Impact: No significant impact on the day-to-daybusiness processes
  • Medium Impact: Business is degraded, but there is a reasonable work around
  • High Impact: Critical, Major business processes are stopped

Once a priority has been established for a ticket, we’ll use the table below to work out the applicable time that will apply for the various stages of the ticket lifecycle.

SLA - time

We always strive to be well within these times. They are the maximum contractual time we agree to resolve an issue within.

For a deeper dive into the priory matrix, take a look at Freshworks article.

Why are SLAs important for your IT support?

SLAs are important for your IT support because they offer you the following benefits:

  • Clarity and transparency: SLAs help you to understand what you can expect from your IT support provider, and what they expect from you. They also help you to avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts that may arise from vague or unrealistic expectations.
  • Accountability and reliability: SLAs help you to hold your IT support provider accountable for their performance, and to ensure that they deliver the service that they promised. They also help your IT support provider to demonstrate their reliability and professionalism, and to build trust and loyalty with you.
  • Performance and improvement: SLAs help you to monitor and evaluate the performance of your IT support service, and to identify any gaps or areas for improvement. They also help your IT support provider to improve their service quality and efficiency, and to adapt to your changing needs and preferences.
  • Value and satisfaction: SLAs help you to get the best value and satisfaction from your IT support service, and to ensure that your IT support provider meets or exceeds your expectations. They also help your IT support provider to increase your satisfaction and retention, and to grow their reputation and referrals.

What other metrics should you be aware of from your IT support service?

Besides SLAs, you should be aware customer satisfaction.

This metric measures how happy and satisfied you are with your IT support service, and how likely you are to recommend it to others. Customer satisfaction can be measured by surveys, feedback forms, ratings, reviews, testimonials, and so on.

Every time our support team close a support ticket our clients get asked to leave feedback by clicking on happy and sad faces with the option to leave a comment. This feedback from across the whole client organisation is visible to the customer’s management so that they can see an unfiltered view of how their staff feel we are doing. (Incidentally, if anyone leaves negative feedback then the management at IT Foundations all get an email and we ensure that we follow up to identify why we failed to meet our client's expectations, ensure that we put the wrong right, and improve our service to ensure we don’t repeat our mistakes.)

Conclusion

SLAs are contracts that define the level of service that your IT support provider agrees to provide to you. They are important for you to keep an eye on because they help you to align your goals, communicate your needs, and manage your expectations. They also help you to monitor and evaluate the performance of your IT support service, and to resolve any disputes or issues that may arise.

Besides SLAs, there are some other metrics that you should be aware of from your IT support service, such as customer satisfaction. These metrics can help you to assess the quality and efficiency of your IT support service, and to provide feedback and suggestions to your IT support provider.

We hope that this blog post has helped you to understand what SLAs are, and why they matter for your IT support. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you.

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