An SLA (Service Level Agreement) are typically for providers of things like ISPs, web hosts and the like. They basically spell out what level of service you can expect and the consequences if the service provider were to fail to live up to the SLA. The key here is that an SLA is about service and what the user of that service should expect… This got me thinking.

Why Didn’t I Have an SLA?

I provide website maintenance services, being a service, my clients clearly expect a certain level of guaranteed service from me. Shouldn’t they know exactly what they should expect, what they are paying for? This expectation is often times not discussed but assumed and other times it is overtly asked about (typically during the pitch/evaluation process). Questions such as:

  • How can I get a hold of you?
  • Will you call or write me back?
  • How long will my tasks take?
  • What if I have an emergency?
  • Do you work evenings and weekends?
  • What if I have an emergency on a evening or weekend?
  • Who will do the work when you are not there?

These are all fair questions and they not only define the service to the client but also define the way I work.

What Great Opportunity to Define the Way I (Want) Work

When providing a service based business one of the hardest things to define is how you want to work and then stick to that. The reason is, as a service, you are on call for when someone wants or needs that service. As a business its hard to say ‘no I can’t provide that at this time’ because it is your livelihood, its what you do and it is expected. Of course you want to provide a high quality of service.

Providing a high quality of client service doesn’t always mean jumping when someone yells ‘jump’, but rather planning things out, scheduling tasks and jumping when only necessary. So if I had an SLA I could not only define the way I want to work but also define to my clients what they can expect from me. Do I work weekends, no… but here are the processes in case of emergency (i.e. I will never abandon you in a time of need but at the same time please don’t be mad when I don’t answer my phone at 9PM on Saturday night).

Setting Boundaries

I have always believed that part of client management is setting boundaries. It’s not that I want to limit the client or tell them ‘no’, but simply setup a playing field in which we both know the rules. In the past this was done during conversation but there was nothing in writing. An SLA would document this for now and future review.

A Great Pitch Tool

Since writing my SLA I have used this in new business pitches. The SLA basically answers all the questions that a new client might ask, sets expectations and allows them to fairly evaluate my service and service level against other companies they may be evaluating.

When I first started using it in pitches, I was worried that it was gimmicky and silly but have since learned that potential clients love it. They actually read it (I should probably proof read it again) and even site points from it during our follow up conversations. I honestly feel that it has helped me close some deals and plan to continue to use it.

So Where is This SLA?

You can find my SLA at https://www.fatlabwebsupport.com/about/shane-larrabee/service-level-agreement/.

photo by Edward Webb / cc