The digital world is running at a feverish pace and the bar for what constitutes a premier customer service experience keeps getting raised. As digital transformation brings about new technologies and applications in nearly every sector, the common thread that ties it all together is service. The dividing line between products and service has quite literally blurred. Therefore, service organisations must be relentless in their pursuit of delivering a clear, crisp experience on each transaction.

Assuming you already have empathetic staff that are well trained on your products, the question then becomes what else can you do to improve the customer experience?

The answer is to make sure you are setting transparent expectations that line up with your customer’s needs, and meet them consistently. In short, properly align your service level agreements (SLAs) with what customers can expect. After all, SLAs are a vital way to measure your organization’s effectiveness.

The importance of meeting SLAs: A cautionary tale

To illustrate this point, allow me to share a story from a recent business trip I took. As is my practice on extended travel, I packed efficiently and then took advantage of the hotel’s cleaning service to extend the use of my wardrobe. On this particular trip, I left a dress shirt in the laundry bag outside my door prior to 6 am. The hotel’s policy explicitly stated clothes left prior to this cut-off point will be “done the same day.”

Since I was flying out the next day for another meeting, this turnaround time was critically important to me. In the parlance of corporate customer service, I considered this our ironclad SLA. You can probably guess what happened next.

When my shirt didn’t arrive that evening, I went to the front desk to inquire about its status. Their response – we will check and advise (escalation 1). When I returned, the next morning they still had no idea where my shirt was (escalation 2). I promised to return in another hour with the expectation that they would have answers this time.

Third time, presumably being the charm, the hotel staff said they would be more than happy to mail it to my home once it was cleaned. Anticipating this response, I was ready with my shirt size and the location of a nearby store where they could purchase a replacement. They obliged.

The bottom-line is, the hotel completely blew their SLA; they did not have a tight escalation process, nor did they have any Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to alert them of the failure. For a service professional, this is the ultimate faux pas. By failing to fulfill an SLA, not only is trust at stake, but so too is the very relationship with the customer.

What you don’t know can hurt you

Providing quality service in the digital age takes diligence coupled with real-time SLA alerting functionality to warn of impending lapses. In the case of my wayward shirt, the service staff had no mechanism to alert them that they were about to miss their SLA.

In this case, what they didn’t know hurt them.

Had they been aware of the problem earlier, they could have tried to resolve it, or short of that, at least proactively reached out and offered me viable options. With no mechanism in place to measure against their SLA, they were left completely blind.

Service executives need to arm their staff with systems that put a premium on the customer-centric “cues” that will ensure expectations are met without drama. As customer expectations grow more demanding, it becomes increasingly important for service personnel to have the tools and information they need at their fingertip in order to make good on the SLA promise.

Be transparent and meet obligations

Another key component of the SLA obligation is to be transparent.

Customers need to know what you can and cannot provide at the outset, so they have realistic expectations going in. Build your operation to embrace transparency!

Your empathetic staff will adjust to meet customer expectations and welcome the knowledge that their customers know the chain of service delivery – even when outside the established SLA. This can mean the difference between success and failure.

Don’t lose your shirt

To meet rising customer expectations, service organizations need a highly-trained, empathetic workforce coupled with tools and technologies to deliver answers quickly and accurately, and performance measures that enable SLAs to be properly aligned with those expectations.

Today’s digital transformation is driving products and just-in-time delivery technology that measures the difference between success and failure in seconds, which means companies are increasingly relying on service as a business differentiator. Great service leads to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

On the flip side, failing to align your SLAs with customer expectations could result in your service organisation losing its proverbial shirt.

Tracy Steele

Tracy Steele


Tracy Steele, Vice President, Global Technical Services and Training, Netscout