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Something of a newcomer when it comes to customer expectations, experience level agreements (XLAs), at least in the context of managed IT, are pre-defined target levels for end users’ experience with any given IT service.
XLAs define and measure the type of IT experience end users can expect while also tracking and documenting their satisfaction with this experience by evaluating the quality of the service and support they receive.
One thing that can be said for XLAs is that they focus on the perceived value of IT services to users. XLAs drive organisations to put end user experience at the centre of their service propositions and really pay attention to how customers feel about their treatment and the services they receive (rather than just observing the operational performance, for instance).
The good thing about XLAs is that, before an MSP enters one with their customer, they encourage a clear understanding of:
- The outcomes the customer is trying to achieve
- The added value or benefits the MSP will provide
- The things that result in a positive feeling for the customer as they interact with the service touchpoints
Customer satisfaction is the primary measure used in XLAs and, of course, this can be measured in different ways.
It could be a one-to-five-star rating, a customer satisfaction survey, or even a Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is a globally recognised market research metric based on a single survey question asking respondents to rate the likelihood that they would recommend a company, product, or a service to a friend or colleague.
Baselining metrics in this way is useful when onboarding a new supplier since figures can be tracked and measured along with any changes to the wider IT service provision. In doing so, service providers can measure these changes in terms of impact on user perception.
What are the challenges of XLAs?
Like anything, there are a few challenges when it comes to XLAs, an obvious one being the subjectivity of the premise ‘experience’.
Since XLAs measure user experience, one of their main challenges is how personal the measure can be. One negative experience, be it downtime during a stressful period, or perhaps an encounter with a service desk trainee who isn’t as fast as their colleagues yet, may be enough to cement negative perception permanently.
Another challenge worth bearing in mind is the difficulty in collecting feedback. As the primary source of XLA metrics, this can be challenging since many users don’t like – or don’t have the time – to give feedback.
This can mean XLA feedback is skewed in favour of those that feel negatively about the service, as opposed to the silent majority who may feel very satisfied with the service received.
Overcoming XLA challenges
To surmount these challenges, it is important that service providers invest in strong business relationship capabilities that will:
- Ease and promote the process of receiving regular feedback.
- Expose the various touchpoints where customers interact with the service (this clarifies the customer journey and priorities).
Regularly measuring XLAs provides better data on trends related to different seasons and events. A key point here is generating enough volume to create a true picture of perception. This will help dilute anomalies as per the example given above.
User satisfaction is the real value
It’s true that not all MSPs provide XLAs. However, service value is driven by fulfilling customer outcomes; therefore, if your managed service provider is empathetic to the users’ needs, listens and remains agile to what your users’ are saying or requesting, and works collaboratively with your team to implement useful and effective IT services (as well as takes regular measures of users satisfaction), there may not be a real need for one.
The true value in understanding and measuring user experience is that doing so keeps channels of communication open throughout the service lifecycle. As user experiences evolve and change, a holistic approach to experience – one that is a truthful reflection of the customer’s day-to-day challenges and needs – is the only meaningful way of understanding and improving service value.
Matt Baker is Services Consultant at Littlefish, a Managed IT and Cyber Security Services Provider.