10 service level agreement practices you should implement

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Service level agreements are not everyone’s favorite topic, so let's open this article with a metaphor: SLAs are sort of like a dance.

You have two parties participating that know they need one another to have a successful routine, with each playing a specific role. Let’s call these two dancers “reliability” and “responsibility.”

They have a partnership built on trust, collaboration and a shared goal of giving the best performance possible. And sure, sometimes the routine doesn’t go as planned, but there’s an agreement in place that allows them to get back on track and put on the best show possible.

It’s the ultimate form of camaraderie. These are SLAs in a nutshell.

They’re agreements that clearly outline your responsibility to customers in terms of product reliability and other things such as response times. But there’s a fine line here. The last thing you want is to claim that you’re going to have 99% uptime when you know, historically, you’ve hovered closer to 96%.

So when you’re crafting these SLAs, it’s important to make sure that you’re including sensible targets that you’re well-equipped to honor.

Here, we're going to dive into some best practices for outlining your SLA document. This includes things like identifying KPIs, establishing clear incident escalation processes, and more.

By the end, you’ll have a better idea of how to craft a sensible SLA document that sets you up for success while giving your customers the confidence they need.

Service level agreement (SLA) best practices

A service level agreement is a contract detailing how services will be delivered and what your customers can expect in terms of things like uptime and response timelines. The more detail and specificity this contract has, the better you'll be able to meet your customers’ needs.

From setting realistic expectations to clarifying roles and responsibilities, implementing a detailed service level agreement is important in managing IT successfully.

Here are some best practices for creating SLAs that work for everyone:

1. Clearly outline the purpose and service level goals

When it comes to your SLA, you're not just putting together an agreement—you're building a clear communication channel between your team and your users. The nitty-gritty? Your SLA should precisely state its purpose and pinpoint specific service level goals, such as:

  • Enhancing service quality
  • Cutting down average response time
  • Additional product support

By making sure everyone understands your SLA, guesswork gets kicked out of the picture.

2. Identify key performance indicators and metrics

Your key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics form the backbone of your SLA, providing quantifiable measurements that help assess the level of service provided. For a customer support team, for instance, KPIs might include:

  • Average response time
  • Average time to resolve an issue
  • Percentage of issues resolved at first contact

By accurately defining these metrics in your service level agreement, you'll be better equipped to objectively monitor your team's performance and ensure it meets clients' expectations.

As part of this assessment process, don't overlook DORA metrics, like Deployment Frequency or Mean Time to Recover (MTTR), which can offer valuable insights into the efficiency of your processes.

3. Define achievable service level targets

Identifying targets is a critical step in developing your SLA, but it's vital to ensure they're achievable. Unrealistic targets can lead to frustration, poor service quality, and even contractual disputes. Here's how you can define realistic targets:

  1. Review performance: Analyze the system's historical performance to understand its capabilities
  2. Align with business goals: Your SLA should align with your overall business goals
  3. Prioritize: Not all services are equally critical; prioritize based on their impact on business operations
  4. Communicate: Discuss and agree upon these targets with teams and stakeholders to ensure mutual understanding and achievable expectations

4. Establish clear escalation paths for different severity levels

Some incidents require immediate attention, while others can be resolved in due course. Escalation paths, therefore, become an essential part of SLAs. These escalations define who handles what and when, ensuring that incidents are managed swiftly and accurately.

For instance, consider a common issue like server downtime:

  • Level 1: The service desk team should initially handle the incident
  • Level 2: If the team cannot resolve it within a stipulated 'response time,' it escalates to a technical expert
  • Level 3: If resolution remains elusive after certain 'minutes of downtime,' the issue is escalated to senior management

This clarity ensures your team understands their roles during different severity levels and promotes efficient incident resolution.

5. Clearly specify response and resolution times

While an SLA typically includes numerous metrics for performance, response and resolution times are often what your clients care about most.

A prompt response to a service request acknowledges the problem and assures clients that their issue is being addressed. But it's equally important to resolve the issue within a specified time frame.

For example, in your SLA, you might commit that high-priority issues will receive a response within 15 minutes and be resolved within three hours. Having clear timelines not only sets client expectations but also keeps your team accountable for timely responses.

6. Document roles and responsibilities for service delivery

Reliable service delivery requires a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities.

This aspect of your SLA should include things like who is responsible for responding to different types of incidents, who manages the escalation process, who will communicate with stakeholders, and ultimately, who will oversee the entire lifecycle.

This element of SLA best practices not only increases accountability but also ensures that everyone on both sides understands their role in delivering the agreed-upon level of service.

When each member of your team knows exactly where they fit into the incident response process, it leads to more effective collaboration and streamlined operations.

7. Determine priority levels for business outcomes

Prioritizing business outcomes within your SLA helps ensure that more critical incidents receive immediate attention. An effective way to determine priority levels is by considering the impact on user experience or business operations.

For example, a short-term disruption in email services might be an inconvenience but doesn't necessarily halt operations and could be a low-priority issue. On the other hand, server downtime impacting all users and disrupting core services would be considered high priority.

By defining and understanding these priorities in your service level agreement, you can better align with your overall business goals and prevent minor issues from diverting resources away from significant problems.

8. Define the preferred channels of communication

Clear, consistent communication is key in incident management, and your SLA should outline the preferred channels for different kinds of communications. For example, non-critical updates could be communicated via email or a social media account, while more urgent issues might warrant a phone call or a direct message through Slack.

Your customer support team should also have a system in place for regular updates via the chosen channel. This step will not only ensure transparency throughout the incident process but also provide customers with peace of mind knowing that their issues are being actively managed.

Hint: this is where something like a Status Page would come in handy.

9. Schedule regular reviews to assess effectiveness

An SLA isn't a 'set and forget' document, but rather one that should evolve with your business needs and performance. Because of this, scheduling regular reviews with customers is essential to verify whether the contract is still relevant and effective.

These sessions should focus on key points, such as whether you're meeting the defined KPIs, if any service level penalties have been implemented, or if there are persistent issues with your service delivery.

Honest feedback during these reviews will allow you to make necessary adjustments, ensuring your SLA remains an effective tool for incident management.

10. Constantly update your levels of agreement

A service level agreement is a living document that should be revised regularly to reflect any changes in your business application or service request landscape. This process goes beyond just addressing shortcomings revealed in the review process.

These revisions might include updates to:

  • Level of availability expectations
  • Expected response times
  • Escalation pathways within the SLA structure

Keep your agreement updated and in line with current IT realities to ensure that it remains an effective tool for guiding your overall service level management strategy.

Cut back on downtime with

When it comes to SLAs, every minute counts, especially when it comes to downtime metrics. was designed specifically to help businesses reduce their downtime through better incident management, which is great news for anyone responsible for meeting SLA uptime requirements.

With streamlined incident response via Slack, gone are the days of direct messages and siloed communications. You can say goodbye to context chasing, too, as everything responders need to know is in one dedicated incident channel, enabling them to get up to speed faster.

Our Status Pages also play a significant role here. With Status Pages, you can communicate clearly to customers when an incident occurs, building trust and offering a glance at historical uptime: both of which help you meet your SLAs. also offers Workflows that automate several steps in the incident response process and Insights that highlight the efficiency of your response processes. Together, these functionality ensures that you can make your incident response faster and better while building more resilient products.

Want to learn more about how can help you meet your SLAs? Book a demo today.

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