Help Desk SLAs

What are Help Desk SLAs? 

Use a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to set expectations for both your customers and team.
Guest Contributor
12 min read
12 min read

In a Nutshell

A help desk SLA (service level agreement) is an official contract between the service provider and the end user describing the level of service to be provided, including quality of service, timeliness of service, and the channels it is to be delivered on. 

Table of Contents

Any business in operation needs to set certain standards and expectations for the service to be delivered from its help desk. In the case of customers, they can know what to expect for their money in terms of support and the service to be provided. In the case of employees, they know how the business intends to meet their needs when asking for assistance from the help desk.

Expectations and assumptions about the business’s level of service need to be made explicit if the company is to operate properly. When customers open a ticket with your service desk, for example, they know that you will respond in twelve hours and no later. This prevents customers from being disappointed and becoming angry with your business.

Businesses run more smoothly when customers know what to expect and aren’t left guessing about what kind of service your company will provide. 

It’s better if these agreements and expectations are formalized in writing. Service providers and end users can benefit from a shared document called a service level agreement, which we’ll talk about in this blog post.

What is a help desk service level agreement?

A help desk service level agreement is an official contract between the service provider and the end user describing the level of service to be provided, including quality of service, timeliness of service, and the channels it is to be delivered on.

The SLA includes information relating to how a customer can submit a support ticket, the way that support tickets are triaged based on the severity of the issue, and the intended response times as well as exceptions to the SLA.

An SLA is a set of obligations that the business agrees to fulfill when it comes to the service provided to customers. 

For example, you may promise to respond to all customer emails within two hours, or to answer every phone call within 5 minutes. SLAs are specific and time-based so companies and customers know when the conditions have been met.

Benefits of help desk SLAs

Help desk agent productivity is enhanced

SLAs give your help desk agents a target to aim for. When SLAs are in place, this gives your agents more clarity over which tickets to prioritize and the key metrics that they should be aiming to improve. When help desk agents have formalized goals, this makes them more productive and efficient as they know which tasks to prioritize.

Help desk SLAs instructions for agents to follow when delivering customer service. 

Helps you deliver better customer service

SLAs ensure you maintain a high standard of customer service. By making your customer service promise explicit, the business is more likely to offer better customer service in an effort to meet the standards it has set for itself. Customer service goes from a nebulous concept to something quantifiable that holds the business accountable.

When you define your help desk SLAs, you have a clearer idea of what great customer service means to you. 

Manages customer expectations

SLAs help clarify the expectations between the business and the customers. Without SLAs, customers don’t know when they might expect a reply and this could lead to them sending multiple emails to the help desk. When you manage their expectations right from the beginning, customers are in a better position to decide whether they want to do business with you.

Help desk SLAs create a clear contract with customers who want to do business with you. 

Customers fully appreciate the service you provide

Customers are made aware of the promises that the business makes to them. Customers know when a business is exceeding its targets and they have something to benchmark it against. This means customers appreciate it more when the business delivers excellent customer service since they know the business isn’t just doing the bare minimum.

Help desk SLAs enable businesses to under-promise and over-deliver, leading to more satisfied customers in the long-run. 

The results of SLAs are measurable

Since we measure SLAs with KPIs, the business has a way of knowing whether it has been successful. If your target first response time is 2 hours, it’s very clear whether the business has met this target or not. As long as your SLAs aren’t too ambitious, the business can state categorically if it has been successful in delivering great customer service.

When your help desk SLAs are properly measured, your business knows when it is on-target and fulfilling its obligations. 

See for yourself

Keeping is the fastest, simplest way to manage customer support right inside Gmail.

Help desk SLA types

There are three types of help desk SLAs.

1. Customer-based SLA

This type of help desk SLA is aimed at individual customers of the service provider and includes the services to be delivered, service level, and the nature of the relationship. The SLA is different for every customer depending on what plan they choose for the service.

2. Service-based SLA

A service-based SLA is used depending on the service or product that has been opted for by the customer. It includes the standard and extra services on offer and the level of service that the customer can expect.

3. Multi-level SLAs

A multi-level SLA is used when the business wants to differentiate between different types of users and group them into multiple tiers or levels. It deals with agreements that take place at the corporate, customer and service levels.

Components of a service level agreement

Statement of goals

Your service level agreement should include the goals that aim to be met by the organization. Your aim should be to provide the highest level of service possible that can be delivered by the vendor. Its aim is to meet customer expectations as closely as possible.

Comprehensive list of services

You need to include a list of all the services to be delivered by the vendor. The vendor might offer such additional services as support and reporting, so the client needs to be informed of these services.

Quality of performance

The client needs to have information about the quality of performance to be delivered by the vendor. The vendor needs to provide particular benchmarks against which the client can measure the standard of performance. These benchmarks can include time to first reply, or time to resolution.

Exceptions to the SLA

There will be times when your company can’t meet the terms laid out on the SLA. You need to include all the ways that the customer can respond when the company doesn’t fulfill its obligations. For example, they may be entitled to discounts on services, refunds on the products they have bought, and more.

How to create a help desk SLA

1. Acknowledge what customers anticipate from your company

SLAs have to be created with the customer in mind. It’s no good saying you will respond to all emails within two days if your customers expect a three-hour response time. You need to make sure your company is well-equipped to handle customer expectations when you implement your SLAs. SLAs shouldn’t just be based on what your company desires in terms of service levels, but should be built around the needs of your customers.

Help desk SLAs should be a way of exceeding customer expectations, not a disappointingly low standard of service. 

2. Choose your hours of service delivery and customer support channels

Customers need to be left in doubt when your business is operating its customer support. It might be 8am-6pm GMT or 24/7 hours of operation. You might support customers through live chat and email or you might operate a phone line to help customers. You need to make it crystal clear when and where your business is offering support, including self-service support channels.

However your business offers support to your customers, make sure you can meet the demand for different channels. 

3. Identify your KPIs to track if your SLAs are successful

Your business is responsible for measuring whether your SLAs have been a success using core KPIs. You need to check whether you are on course by tracking KPIs such as time to first response, average resolution time and service uptime. It’s important for your business to measure performance and to let customers know if you have not met your targets. In a later section, we’ll talk more about how your business can measure performance.

In order to measure your SLAs, make them specific and time-based so you can attach KPIs to them. 

4. Create a work-in-progress SLA and seek approval

Put together an initial version of your SLA to show senior leadership and gain their support. It doesn’t need to be perfect as SLAs will likely change over time and team members will have important elements to add to it. Your SLA should cover as many points as possible and be comprehensive without overwhelming customers with information. You need customers to be able to understand your SLA while covering all your bases.

Creating your help desk SLAs is an iterative process, and you need the help of others in your company in order to do it. 

Help desk SLA best practices

1. Services should have various SLAs depending on customer needs

All your customers don’t deserve the same kind of SLA from your business. Depending on the plan that your customer is subscribed to, you should alter your SLAs to suit different customer needs. Depending on how much customers are paying for your business’s services, they can expect a varying level of response to their customer support queries. For example, you may offer your top tier customers an email response within two hours, while middle-tier customers have to wait six hours.

2. Use your help desk to measure SLA success

If you invest in help desk software like Keeping, you can measure your SLA’s success using key metrics such as first response time. In Keeping, SLAs are certain rules you construct around response time (or resolution time) to make sure you are replying to your customers in a prompt fashion. When an SLA rule is set off, the ticket will be tagged with a special “SLA Violation” tag. You can also add other optional rules like opt to be notified or assigned when an SLA violation happens. You can measure your actual performance with special SLA metrics.

Read More: The 6 Best SLA Metrics

3. Regularly assess and update your SLAs

The service that your business offers will change over time and your SLAs should be updated to reflect current practices. SLAs that are out-of-date will mean customers aren’t kept informed of how your business presently operates and they won’t be able to see how the business is fulfilling its targets. For example, you might promise to answer the phone to your customers within five minutes, and hire the right number of staff to meet the demand. Then you discover that your customers prefer to email the company with their query. You’ll need to change your SLA to reflect the increased demand for email.  If your team is regularly registering sla breaches, then it might be time to update your SLA commitments.

4. Make sure your SLAs meet your customer’s needs

Your SLAs are only effective if your customers can understand and appreciate your terms and conditions. They should be written in language that customers can easily understand and be tailored to fit their unique needs and requirements. For example, you don’t want to say you will respond to all requests within 24 hours if customers expect on-demand service. You’ll need to thoroughly assess the service level you are able to provide if you want to achieve customer satisfaction.

Help desk SLA examples

AirIT

AirIT SLA

AirIT keeps their customers informed with their Service Level Agreement letting them know the speed of service they can expect from the company and how they prioritize their tickets. Their SLAs are written in clear and easy-to-understand language with tables showing customers how they triage their tickets.

Alexa for Business

Amazon for Business

Amazon promises that businesses subscribed to Alexa for Business will receive credits if the technology doesn’t operate at 99.9% uptime. It outlines the circumstances in which customers will be eligible and describes how customers can obtain their credits in such a scenario.

Avius

Avius SLA

Avius provides a comprehensive service level agreement detailing how the company will provide support to its customers. It includes what type of support the company will offer and the hours of operation it provides over phone and email. Avius makes it clear how the company will fulfill customer needs

How to measure help desk SLA performance

There are a number of key metrics you can track to keep on top of whether you are meeting your SLAs. In order to be effective, SLAs need to be measured or you won’t know whether you have been successful.

Time to first response (response sla)

The first metric to track for your SLAs is time to first response. You must accurately measure how long it is taking your business to respond to your customer enquiries for the first time. Time to first response tracks how long it takes for your help desk agent to respond to a customer ticket from when it first arrives in the inbox. Customers expect a timely response from your agents, and don’t want to be kept waiting.

Time to resolution

The second metric to track for your SLA is time to resolution. This is how long it takes your agent to resolve a customer query from the time when the ticket first lands in the inbox to when the ticket is marked as “closed”. One thing you want to consider when tracking this metric is whether you will include time spent waiting for a customer response. If a customer takes four days to reply, should this be counted towards time to resolution?

See for yourself

Keeping is the fastest, simplest way to manage customer support right inside Gmail.

Wrapping up

Service level agreements keep you on track towards meeting customer needs and ensuring your business provides a consistent standard of service. Without SLAs, it’s ambiguous what the business promises to offer the customer and customers don’t know what to expect from their vendors.

Establishing and fulfilling SLAs is an important part of running a business if you want to build effective long-term relationships with your customers. Customers learn they can trust you if you stick to the terms of your SLAs and they will continue to buy from you.

Allow your service level agreements to continuously evolve with your business and ensure to regularly update them in keeping with current practices. Notify your customers when you make changes to your SLAs, especially when you raise the bar for the standard of service you provide.

Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath
Catherine is a content writer and community builder for creative and ethical companies. She is often writing case studies, help documentation, and articles about customer support. Her writing has helped businesses to attract curious audiences and transform them into loyal advocates. You can find more of her work at https://awaywithwords.co.