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SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are great way to manage contractual obligations. They bring meaning to the definition of the service quality as a tool for agreement between the service providers and their clients (note, no end-customer here). So, that’s what they are – a measure of how often is the service provider meeting the “agreed” levels of services.
One would hope that SLAs would bring the much-needed quality of service in business, but that’s unfortunately not the case. They are just not geared for “customer happiness”, They are designed, and used in a way, to keep the management from frowning!
How are the following for service quality? (we’re speaking customer experience here)
- Your wireless network goes down in the middle of an important email (Murphy never takes a break, remember!). You retry incessantly for five minutes, & then call up the customer service. You mention that this email needed to go out in the next five minutes, while you’d have already wasted 15 mins reaching them. The most polite (they are trained to be so!) voice says that the complaint is being “logged” and you could expect a response in the next 2 hours! And, the resolution could take “up to” 24 hours. You regret having called them and spending the last fifteen minutes bothering them instead of running to an internet kiosk!
- They implement a fantastic automated service management application, that is to help you from having to call someone and wait on hold etc. AC goes down, you log a call, an automated email response tells you that you would receive “the response” in the next 2 hours from some humans, and that this particular category has an SLA of 6 hours. Don’t hold your breath! Wait, you can’t scream because there are no phone numbers – the system is automated, you see!
- Your mobile service suddenly stops working. No dial tone. You call them. First up there’s a problem getting to the right menu because the phone you’re using is not registered with them and doesn’t belong there. When you get to the right person/menu, complaint is logged. You wait for the resolution. When you can’t hold any longer, you call again, go through the same trouble, but when you actually get to speak to someone, you’re told that the complaint was auto-closed at 4 hours SLA because they were not able to “reach” you. Well, there was no dial tone, and that WAS the complaint! How stupid can services get?
And these stories have become so common place that any freak resolution, exactly when I need it, makes me mighty delighted.
SLAs hurt customer service more than they really please the customers –
- If you have a 2 hour resolution time for an urgent service request, with a penalty and management attention for every violation thereof, most urgent requests “will” actually get attended to for completion within 2 hours. Not on As-soon-as-possible basis.
- Most SLAs now have multiple stacks and categories for application of the thresholds. It’s common to have first Response time SLA, resolution time SLA, Call closure SLA. It seldom seems to matter as how well the response was provided, whether the resolution really attended to the actual problem or whether the call was closed with the customer being “happy” with the service.
- The feedback channels for the “Bad Services” are mostly shut out of the systems. Most times you get to the feedback upon satisfactory closure of the service. It’s also startling to see that the “direct” escalation channels for a particularly bad service just don’t exist in most places. One hits the same customer service rep time and again.
- The whole concept runs on statistics. Higher the volumes, more robotic and mediocre the servicing behavior becomes.
- The mechanisms for getting the customer what they really want (in order to be mighty pleased) are minimal to non-existent in the SLA driven world.
Looks like, everybody is just happy serving their customers at their levels of agreement, and don’t work to please their customers. Are they training us to not expect good services and please us with one once in a while, who knows! As far as I know, SLAs (or with a benefit of doubt, badly designed ones) are the root cause of mediocre services.