Imagine a scenario like this: it's Saturday afternoon, and the big game is on. You've just settled down to watch the football (American/European, doesn't matter) match and popped open a can of your favorite gametime beverage.
Then the phone rings.
It's one of your customers. Their server is down and they need you to fix it. NOW.
So you get up off your comfy couch, check your remote management software (maybe even BEFORE you've got up off your couch if you're using RM software available on Android and iPhones) and discover that your customer needs a new hard drive on his server. You make it down to the customers site, swap out the drive, restore and everything is back to normal.
That is, until your customer gets his bill. Your customer didn't realize that he was going to be paying extra for Saturday service. He wants you to immediately take off all the extraneous charges. He's a contract customer, after all!
That's when you pull out your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and show the customer the part that says that weekend service is extra. Then, just to make sure the customer understands, you point out the customer's signature at the bottom of the page.
The customer thanks you for your prompt and efficient service and, best of all, pays his bill on time.
Service Level Agreements are one of the best ways to maintain a happy and satisfied customer base. In an SLA, you and your customers spell out what your expectations are of the level of service that they can expect to receive. By putting all of this in writing, you make sure that your customer knows when he can call you to fix broken systems, how long they might take to fix and how much they're going to be charged.
Once you've drawn up a standard SLA for your MSP or IT support company, have your customers read it over and sign it, indicating that they understand the parameters laid down on paper.
There are many different pieces of information that can be in an SLA and they can be as simple or complex as you see fit. But here are some of the sections found in many SLAs:
Service: The "S" in SLA. Exactly what type of service are you delivering? Server space? Website hosting? Cloud computing cycles? Connectivity?
Problem Reporting: What does the customer do if there is a problem? Do they send an email? Fax? Carrier pigeon? Whatever the method, make sure you are specific.
Support Hours: What are the normal support hours for your business? What about outside hours? Will there be any additional charges incurred if calls are made outside of normal support hours?
Customer Responsibilities: What sort of burden is on the customer? Do you need them to keep their systems up to date to prevent malware? Or will you be doing this as another part of your service? What type of content can they download/host on their websites?
Confidential Information/Data Protection: How long will records be kept? What happens to them when they are no longer needed? How will you protect your customer's personal and financial data?
These are just starting points. Every SLA is different and what might be important in some SLAs will be unnecessary in others.
Although there's nothing wrong with writing up your own SLA or using one of the templates below, it's always a good idea to have a SLA that you plan to use for your business checked over by a lawyer/solicitor. They'll help you uncover any loopholes and clean up any ambiguous language that may come back to haunt you in the future.
Here's just a short list of more information about SLAs and some templates to help get you started:
Also check out our article on setting expectations for response times with your customers.