A quick read with a big impact.

Managing User Expectations With Better Help Desk SLAs and OLAs

User expectations play a crucial role in the success of your help desk operation. Managing these expectations from the outset is essential to providing exceptional service and meeting the needs of your customers effectively.

The secret? Implementing well-defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Operational Level Agreements (OLAs). By leveraging these agreements and adopting an active approach, you ensure that you not only meet customer expectations, but exceed them.

Consequences of insufficient support

When your customers are dissatisfied with your help desk, their dissatisfaction has negative repercussions across your entire enterprise.

  • Complaints and discontent: When users are unhappy with the support they receive, they express their frustration by complaining. Their negativity spreads, often creating a decline in user satisfaction and an overall poor perception of your IT department.
  • Damaged reputation: A consistently poor support experience also tarnishes the reputation of your folks in IT. Negative word-of-mouth travels quickly, and a lousy reputation deters users from seeking assistance, decreasing trust in the help desk’s abilities.
  • Users seeking alternative solutions: Users turn to their coworkers or find a solution on their own when they are unhappy with the service they receive from your help desk. We call this “going underground.” When your users go underground, this opens up the risk they’ll try to implement suboptimal solutions or outright errors. Worse, it’s a drain on the users’ overall productivity.
  • Impaired help desk improvement: When users bypass your help desk and seek solutions independently, you lose valuable insights into user issues and trends. Tracking and monitoring issues is crucial for identifying patterns, optimizing processes, and continuously improving support services. Without this feedback loop, your help desk misses opportunities to enhance efficiency and deliver better user experiences.

Challenges in standardizing help desks with SLAs and OLAs

Your organization has likely tried to address user dissatisfaction and improve the help desk experience by establishing SLAs and OLAs. You aimed to standardize the operation of your help desk by providing guidelines and establishing performance targets. You have likely discovered along the way that these agreements come with plenty of challenges that alter how people feel about using the system.

For one thing, while SLAs specify timelines and priorities for issue resolution, your users might not be aware of the designated priorities and timeframes. For example, if your SLA categorizes a problem as “medium priority” with a resolution target of five business days, your users only perceive their issue as taking a week to resolve. This lack of understanding leads to frustration and dissatisfaction.

Then there’s the challenge of unrealistic expectations. Your SLA might include expectations that are impractical or difficult to achieve in certain situations. For instance, a 10-minute response time to an email or portal ticket might not be feasible for your help desk due to system limitations or time-consuming processes, such as call processing and finding user contact information. Finding out if the support desk has enough people and resources to satisfy your SLAs’ requirements is crucial. 

Finally, consistently missing SLA targets is a clear indicator that something is amiss and needs your attention. When your help desk repeatedly fails to meet SLA commitments, this signals inefficiencies or resource gaps that you must address. Continuous monitoring of SLA performance is crucial for identifying areas of improvement and taking corrective actions.

Consider using multi-level SLA models

One way around these challenges is a multi-level SLA model. A multi-level SLA model provides a more comprehensive approach to managing user expectations and delivering adequate support. Here are four crucial elements to consider in implementing a multi-level SLA model:

  1. Ticket priority based on impact and urgency: Assign ticket priority based on the issue’s impact on user productivity and the urgency of resolving it. You determine the effects by assessing whether the user cannot work because of the issue. On the other hand, you evaluate the urgency based on the user’s scenario, such as differentiating between a low-level employee experiencing difficulties with Zoom for a regular team meeting and a CEO facing the same issue moments before a critical shareholder meeting.
  2. Timely acknowledgment and follow-up: Specify that your help desk should promptly acknowledge the creation of a ticket, reassuring the user that their concern is being heard. Additionally, consider defining how frequently the help desk should update ticket status. Proactively communicating in this way maintains a positive user experience. Your SLA should also mention that the help desk should follow up with the user’s manager, ensuring they are aware of the issue and the measures the help desk is taking to address the issue promptly.
  3. Allowing sufficient time for resolution: Your SLA should incorporate response time standards, staffing levels, and resource availability. This ensures that your help desk has the time and resources to address issues effectively. Considering factors beyond response time, such as staffing levels and resource requirements, sets realistic expectations (and avoids overburdening your help desk team).
  4. Understanding business needs and requirements: Developing a solid understanding of your business and its unique needs is crucial for crafting effective help desk SLAs and OLAs. After all, SLAs outline the agreed-upon response time for specific issues, while OLAs detail the level of service and the necessary documentation for the team to fulfill their responsibilities. Consider new employee onboarding, for example. Your SLA defines how quickly the IT department should set up new hires, and your OLA outlines the information needed, specific requirements for different roles, and the timeline for delivering those services.

Aim for continuous improvement

Once your organization implements a better SLA, you should continuously strive for improvement through a cycle of continuous evaluation and refinement. This allows your help desk to enhance its performance and better meet user expectations. Here’s how you do it.

First, identify and monitor key metrics. Your SLA should identify metrics that gauge the performance and effectiveness of your help desk. These metrics include response time, first-call resolution rate, customer satisfaction ratings, and other relevant indicators. Regularly monitoring these metrics gives your team valuable insights into your help desk’s performance. You also uncover areas that require attention and improvement.

Second, use this information to continuously improve over time. By analyzing performance data and identifying patterns and trends, your help desk identifies areas where it falls short and implements strategies to address these deficiencies. For instance, if your help desk struggles to meet response time targets, this indicates a need for process improvement, additional resources, or training opportunities for help desk agents.

Benefits of improving your help desk SLAs and OLAs

By having better SLAs and OLAs in place, your help desk fosters a more positive and efficient support experience. With well-defined SLAs, your users know what to expect when they contact your help desk. This clarity eliminates uncertainty, and enhances user satisfaction. Your users’ faith in their support team and the help desk grows as they see their concerns getting resolved within target times.

Improved SLAs and OLAs also set up your help desk agents for success. When you provide clear guidelines, performance metrics, and objectives, your agents better prioritize their tasks, allocate resources efficiently, and focus on delivering quality support. This boosts agent morale, increases productivity, and improves customer interactions.

It’s all about managing expectations

Managing your users’ expectations is essential for the success of your help desk. When you implement well-defined SLAs and OLAs, you set expectations, improve support processes, and enhance user satisfaction. Continuously evaluating and refining your SLAs, monitoring key metrics, and adapting to evolving needs for continuous improvement is crucial.

Check out our website to learn more about managing user expectations and implementing effective SLAs and OLAs for your help desk.

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