This article first appeared on InvGate

April 22, 2021

We’ve had a decade of people talking about the fact that customer experience, or CX, makes the world go round. However, in “IT land,” we’ve likely been so focused on meeting hard, data-driven targets for so long that it’s taken longer for internal IT organizations, in particular, to catch up and focus on how IT service delivery and support are making the customer feel. Or how they are making the internal customer – the employee – feel. 

A solution to this issue that has gained traction over the last half-decade is experience level agreement or XLAs. Where XLAs are a way of measuring service experience – so it could be CX or employee experience – and using the data and feedback to improve service levels from an experience perspective.

To help, this blog looks at what XLAs are and how best to use them effectively.

What are XLAs (and how are they different from SLAs)?

So many people get confused between service level agreements (SLAs) and XLAs. So, it’s important to get the terminology straightened out first:

  • SLAs are a documented agreement between the service provider and the customer that identifies the services required and the expected levels of service.
  • XLAs are a contract between a service provider and a customer founded on the quality of the service experience with the provider’s services.

SLAs are an essential part of making sure that IT delivers against its promises. Used effectively, they can turn vague techie concepts such as service availability, application uptime, or network performance into something that can be measured and reported on. SLAs are great at giving you and the customer the basics. So, if you want to know if a business-critical service remained up during business hours, then SLAs can absolutely deliver.

The issue with SLAs

Traditional IT measurements and metrics don’t look at the customer or employee experience. For example, it’s all very well saying that email as a service was available for 99.5% of the time (and in line with the agreed SLA target) but what about that 30 minutes of downtime during month-end for the Finance department? Or that morning where it wasn’t accessible in the usual way and the users had to use a different app? Or that couple of hours on a Friday afternoon where most users were saying that the performance was sluggish at best and just about unusable?

The reality is that uptime as a percentage just isn’t enough, and this is where the value of XLAs comes in. If the SLA tells you and the customer that IT delivered the right service within the agreed timeframe, then the XLA(s) will give you a feel for the customer or employee experience.  Successful IT delivery is all about services. Your IT department’s customers – both internal and external – don’t care about the many moving technical parts that build up your services, Yes, we’re working in IT – so, of course, they might be the coolest thing in the world to us. But to our service consumers? They’re focused on the end-to-end service and its outcomes – the stuff that’s much more difficult to quantify.

So, instead and to focus on what’s most important to customers, IT departments need to start measuring things such as – how did the customer feel after using our service(s)? What went well? What needs to be improved? Given the choice, would they choose to use us again?

How should your IT department use XLAs?

A key point to start with is that XLAs usually don’t replace SLAs, they complement them. One simple way to adopt XLAs is to add an experience-focused star system to your customer satisfaction survey – making it the first question asked helps with engagement too. Why? Because one of the main reasons that customers don’t engage with feedback surveys is that they’re too clunky, too complicated, or just too time-consuming to complete. By introducing an app-store-style rating system, you make it easy for the customer to give you a quick, easy snapshot of their experience.

Going deeper into measuring the service experience, other aspects or areas that your IT department could measure are:

  • Consistent service quality among all service desk analysts
  • Consistent service quality across all service desk channels/platforms – it shouldn’t matter if a customer submits a ticket via self-service, over the phone, or via email they should expect a good experience
  • The support approach – it’s not enough to be amazing technically, being able to see the issue from the customer perspective is important too
  • Keeping the customer updated in a way that works for them
  • Clear, concise, and professional communications
  • The proactivity of the service being provided
  • Clarity about the services provided by the IT department.

What are the benefits of XLAs?

XLAs demonstrate commitment – a commitment to your customer in terms of service quality and a commitment to your people in terms of improving ways of working. Here are some of the benefits of including XLAs in your service approach:

  •  It’s easier to recognize and act on “the voice of the customer.”
  • The ability to proactively improve services – because, with XLAs, you’re getting feedback in real-time rather than weeks or potentially months after the event.
  • Improved relationships with customers, especially by responding to their aired issues swiftly and positively. Sometimes it’s not about getting things right all the time, it’s how we respond when things go wrong and how quickly we can pivot and resolve things.
  • It can open up the service to greater flexibility and tolerance. For example, if you miss the SLA target on a ticket by closing it late, it’s game over. However, with an XLA, by keeping the customer informed and giving them workarounds, you still might be able to deliver a great service experience despite the delay in resolution.

What do you think about the power of XLAs? Have you already added, or are you considering incorporating, XLAs into your service offerings? How’s it helping? Please let us know in the comments.