Let’s talk about those dreaded service-level agreement (SLA) terms you agree to with your customers. You know, the topics and terms that can lead to very heated discussions in industry peer groups. This is such a contentious issue because everyone views them differently and has a different and usually strong opinion on them.

At its core, an SLA merely determines and dictates who, what, when, where and how things get done. It is super important to have SLAs in your agreements, and more importantly to live and honor by them. However, not all SLAs are created equal; there is no one-size-fits-all SLA, and this holds especially true if you are reselling someone’s services.

In my experience consulting with managed services providers (MSPs), I’ve found that most of them have different ideas for what an SLA is or should include. Typically, SLAs are signed between you and your MSP customer. But in some cases, they could be between your vendor, you and your customer too. This can take the form of a legally binding contract or a more informal agreement.

Here are three key things to focus on in order to get more precise terms and improve your SLAs.

The Metrics-Driven SLA

During my audits of MSPs, the first thing I typically ask for is a copy of all their agreements templates, and I always jump straight to the SLA section. I want to find out how the agreed-upon terms are measured. Very often, terms end up in an agreement with no way of being measured, and that can be very dangerous. What if a customer chose you due to the four-hours-to-resolution terms in your contract? I’ve seen that happen, and without explicit metrics stated, conflict can arise.

An example of good expectation-setting with clearly defined metrics is the Scope of Services for Continuum's Network Operations Center (NOC). While I can't go into specifics, Continuum holds themselves accountable for providing stellar service delivery to partners by establishing and upholding competitive benchmarks for email response and ticket followup time. Tying agreed-upon terms to measurable outcomes helps establish the transparency clients need in order to judge the success of their solution. In my personal experience leveraging their IT management platform, I've been particularly impressed with how speedily their highly skilled technicians answer NOC chats. 


Word Choice Matters – a Lot!

Another important aspect of your SLA to keep in mind is in your choice of words. To me, the word “handled” is an evil word, never to be used. In a customer’s mind, when they see that word, they expect the issue to be addressed or even resolved. But what if they open a ticket at 4:45 pm on a Thursday before a long weekend? Chances are most of your staff will be gone, and hopefully your skeleton crew can “handle” this issue within the expected two-hour window. But let’s be realistic: that’s not likely. It would have been much better for your team if your SLA had used the phrase “acknowledged” instead, for example.

Tickets = Dollars

An acknowledgement, as suggested above, should create a ticket in your system. Once that system is in your ticket, your SLA should clearly explain how you’re handling it and remember: tickets that are just sitting on the board equates to lost money. I hate lost money, and I’m sure you do too.

You should have a well-defined and agreed-upon workflow that says what you’re going to do with that ticket, and when. Someone should call (yes, call) the customer to let them know you have received the ticket and require more information. A clear workflow for your ticketing system is a must for any SLA.


Living and running your company by the SLAs in your contract will lead you to have both happier customers and happier employees. My recommendation is for you to take a real close look at your SLAs. I tend to review our SLAs with my team weekly, but I personally watch them closely on a daily basis. Living by SLAs is just the proper way to do business. Each line of business has different SLAs so I also recommend leveraging your agreements with your professional services automation (PSA) in order to improve your SLAs.