Managed service providers (MSPs) that operate without an SLA (service level agreement) are flying without a net, and it’s a bad idea. Every client relationship should be regulated by an SLA that formalizes your service commitment to the client. Without it, client disputes are much harder to resolve.
A well-drafted SLA can save you a headache down the line by specifying the services you provide, performance metrics, minimum response times for support calls, and client responsibilities.
Your success as an MSP hinges heavily on how well you fulfill the terms of your SLA. While agreements vary from one provider to another—and even by client in cases where it makes sense—they should include some basic elements. Here are five components every SLA should include:
Depending on your contract with each customer, you may have control over some IT assets, such as workstations, services, and storage, but not others, such as specific business applications supported by a cloud provider or copiers and printers that come with their own warranty services. Your SLA must specify which assets are covered, so there’s no confusion about what you’re responsible for in case of malfunction.
Your customers need to know how to contact you when they have a problem. Be it phone, text or email, tell them the best way to contact your support staff and set expectations for how quickly you can respond to a problem. Make sure they understand the difference between response and resolution to avoid any confusion about how long it will take to fix something.
Customers put their trust in you to run their IT environment to support their business operations and goals. Any SLA worth its salt must include performance metrics such as device uptime and incident response times that keep you honest on the quality of your services. Your metrics should be realistic, relevant, and easy to quantify, so there’s no ambiguity about guaranteed performance levels.
Violations of SLA clauses should have consequences. If you miss your response times or uptime guarantees, your customer will demand some sort of satisfaction. A strong SLA should include a money-back guarantee—perhaps a five percent discount off next month’s service fee if you miss one or two metrics in a given month. This makes the customer more willing to forgive you, so long as the problem doesn’t become chronic.
Customers must assume some responsibility for their IT environments by following practices and procedures sanctioned by you as the steward of their networks and data. If a customer installs bad applications or allows users to engage in risky computing behaviors, such as not using passwords or allowing nonauthorized people access to sensitive information, the customer must be held accountable if these acts cause service disruptions.
The SLA protects you and your customer. It helps set expectations for the client, commits you to a certain level of service, and helps avoid disagreements that can lead to early contract termination. If you’ve been operating without an SLA, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
Pedro Pereira is a Massachusetts-based writer who has covered the IT channel for two decades. Recognized as one of the first journalists to cover managed services, Pedro continues to track, analyze, and report on the IT channel and the growing MSP partner community.
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