Missing the point

Missing The Point – from Dave Brierley, The MCSA Group National Accounts Manager – July 2013

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Dave Brierley explores why an obsession with compliance at the expense of satisfaction is no good to anyone.

As a major service provider we have seen a steady increase in the number of customers, especially Public Sector, measuring service delivery against ever tightening Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and stipulating the requirement for penalties, or service credits, in an attempt to drive improvements in supplier’s performance against contracted service levels. But … does this approach really work? Whilst service level agreements with defined delivery criteria provide a measurement function, do they actually drive improved performance or do they simply mean that suppliers spend more time and effort in managing and avoiding penalties or service credits?

In our experience, it is more than likely that customers receiving service that is 100% in line with SLAs will be deeply dissatisfied with their supplier, simply because to achieve this, the service would, by definition, be very disruptive to the users.

For example, one risk of focusing on compliance ahead of satisfaction is that service providers can end up sending unsuitable engineers to site to meet the response time and avoid penalties. The SLA is met, but the contribution to improved business performance is zero. In contrast,  a truly partnership based approach to service means it is possible to breach virtually every service level and still have extremely satisfied customers.

To illustrate:

  1. If a customer logs a fault call on a tape drive at 11am that is attached to a server with a 4hr call to fix service level, do they really want an engineer to turn up, take the system out of service and replace the tape drive within 4hrs? Or, would they prefer to arrange a time that fits into their daily usage schedule and have the tape drive replaced at a time that minimizes disruption?
  2. A user working from home has a problem with a laptop that is on a 4hr response to site SLA, but they have a series of important client meetings arranged that cannot be rearranged. Rather than respond within the SLA, the user would prefer to arrange a time that is suitable and non disruptive to their schedule. Service level is breached but the customer is happy.

The point is that, whilst service level measurement is an important tool, it must not drive out flexibility and co-operation between customer and service provider.

Obviously there is the middle ground in these scenarios which is what real value service will deliver. Most of the time fault calls will be responded to by arrangement and the service level is deemed to have been met. However, on the occasions when a major problem strikes, then the service partner has to deliver to full SLA without hesitation or delay.

The MCSA Group’s approach is that our service delivery must wrap around our customer’s business functions and processes. We are there to support the business and end user activity to help drive reliability and functionality within the IT provision.

Strict adherence to SLAs is disruptive. Understanding our customer’s business and wrapping a highly flexible service provision around it enables The MCSA Group to enhance the user’s experience of the customer’s IT provision, which then further improves the reputation of the IT department as a whole.

As part of The MCSA Group’s service delivery we have the ability to take on the spot surveys for user satisfaction on each and every fault call as our engineer is completing the work. By having our engineers update calls from PDAs in real time, we simply add a basic satisfaction survey to each call for users to complete as they sign for the work. The survey can be made bespoke to each customer, but normally comprises two questions:

  1. Please rate your satisfaction with the handling of this incident (Scored 1-10)
  2. Please rate the professionalism of the engineer (Scored 1-10)

The results of this basic survey are included in monthly reports and give an immediate spot check on our performance. Any score less than an 8 is followed up by the Account Manager and, if thought necessary, corrective action is put in place.

To conclude:

Service delivery is a partnership between the IT department and the Service Provider that has to be seen as fit for purpose from the viewpoint of the recipient… the end user.

To achieve this takes understanding, co-operation and flexibility, supported, rather than undermined, by measurable service level agreements.