One of the keys to successful managed services is managing client expectations. Your Service Level Agreements (SLAs) do much more than affix metrics to the list of things you promise to do. Well-crafted SLAs build trust and confidence in your company. Your client knows what will happen in any given circumstance, and you know you can deliver as promised. This is the strongest marketing tactic you can employ to build your MSP brand and grow your business.
Here are five ways you can sharpen your SLAs.
1. Don’t over-promise
Every MSP’s goal is to attract new customers. Naturally, you want to impress prospects so they will choose you. But it can be easy to over-state your capabilities in your zeal to make the sale. If you give in to that temptation, you will set up your new client for disappointment and set up your company for failure. It won’t take long for your new customer to realise you can’t do the job – reliably, or perhaps at all. You will lose their business and their goodwill.
Instead, under-promise (without selling yourself short, of course). Then do everything you can to over-deliver when it comes to day-to-day managed services as well as those times when quick disaster response and restoration are needed.
2. Set clear, reasonable goals
If you don’t spell out exactly what your client can expect in a given situation, you leave the door open for misinterpretation. Your customer expects A, when you really meant B. That makes it impossible for you to meet their expectations. They won’t be happy. Add in the stress of a tech disaster in progress, and your client is likely to blame you, even for things you cannot control. This scenario is entirely avoidable.
Be their hero instead. Set realistic expectations you know you can meet. For example, guarantee response time, not resolution time. You can control one, but not the other. Review SLAs with new customers before they sign on, to be certain everyone has the same information and interprets it in the same way. And make sure their role, responsibilities and relevant performance metrics are equally clear.
Establish an even stronger relationship right from the start by personalising your SLAs. Introduce your team members, and explain how they work proactively on the client’s behalf.
It is a bad idea to use “boiler plate” SLAs or simply copy what you wrote for some other client. Each business is unique, so each of your clients has unique needs. That requires tailored service level agreements. Yes, that’s more time-consuming and creating contracts is tedious. But here’s a benefit that will buoy your spirits: the fact that you take the time to understand each client well reinforces your reputation and relationship with them. You aren’t just selling them commoditised services, you’re the working partner they need to protect and build their business.
4. Train your staff thoroughly
They must be fully versed in SLA protocol to avoid potential miscommunication. They need to know what falls within their scope of responsibility and what lies elsewhere – either with the client or someone else. Familiarise them with disaster recovery protocol, so they can quickly identify priority levels and how to respond appropriately to each level.
5. Include a hold harmless clause
As a managed services provider, your company functions in interdependent environments. We’ve already noted that there are things you cannot control, and clients need to realise that as well. So while an SLA is intended to outline the specific services you will provide and set performance metrics, it is in fact a legal business contract. As such, it must protect your business by limiting your risk. Including a hold harmless clause provides that protection, so you aren’t left vulnerable to conditions out of your control.
Clients look to you for more than a list of to-dos and timely response. What matters most to them is value. Clear, reasonable service level agreements provide that value by explaining how your MSP company is helping the client build their own business. That’s the foundation for a long and profitable business relationship.
So take the time to craft SLAs that are pertinent for each new client. Then make sure that client understands the SLAs. That way, everyone knows what to expect, from themselves and each other. That supports smooth ongoing service delivery, and it ensures best-case-possible restoration when things go wrong, as they inevitably will from time to time.
Meet Mary! Mary McCoy is a Senior Demand Generation Programs Manager at Continuum, where she's worked for over two years. Mary has consulted with hundreds of partners, lending website, blog and social media support. Before that, she graduated from the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!) with a BA in Economics and served as digital marketing intern for Citi Performing Arts Center (Citi Center), spearheading the nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday social media campaign. Like her school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, Mary believes learning never ends. She considers herself a passionate, lifelong student of content creation and inbound marketing.