Using SLAs in Zendesk for a Better Customer Experience
“Delivered in 30 minutes or the pizza is free” – Domino’s SLA, once upon a time.
When Domino’s started delivering pizzas in 1979, they guaranteed that customers would get their pie in 30 minutes or less… or else they wouldn’t have to pay for it. Sounds like a good deal, right? That guarantee is a great example of a Service Level Agreement.
Service Level Agreements (SLAs) help customer support teams define and deliver an expected experience to customers. In support, most SLAs are time based. For eg. How quickly will customers receive a first response?
SLAs are often legally binding contracts with customers, especially for enterprise software. If an SLA is breached, your organization could lose a customer, be expected to pay large fines or be sued for breach of contract. Just like uptime guarantees, support SLAs are critical for large companies working with VIP customers.
Why track SLAs?
First of all, you should use SLAs because they make your team faster. As Zendesk reports: “A recent study of IT users covered by response-time SLAs reported an average response time 200 times faster than their non-SLA counterparts.”
This is probably because using SLAs keeps your team’s attention on the right tickets at the right time. Zendesk SLAs create seamless automated workflows to surface older, more urgent tickets. Andrew Spittle, Happiness Engineer at Automattic, recently sat down with us to talk about their support set up. They heavily rely on SLAs to prioritize tickets and reduce the cognitive load of agents choosing which ticket to answer next. Since they’ve set up priorities and SLAs for every incoming ticket, agents simply click “Play” and are served up a queue of tickets in the order they need to be answered.
Defining SLAs with your customers also helps set better customer expectations. They know how quickly they can expect a response, and this helps them benchmark your service. A short SLA can build trust with a customer who needs to know you’ll be there if they run into trouble.
Finally, as mentioned above, some SLAs are legally binding. You need to be tracking the service provided to these customers in order to meet obligations. This is why using a tool like Zendesk, with powerful, native SLA workflows is very important.
In Zendesk, SLAs come in four flavors:
- First Reply Time – the amount of time it takes for a customer to get their first reply to a new ticket.
- Next Reply Time – the amount of time between the oldest unanswered customer’s reply and the next public agent reply.
- Requester Wait Time – the combined total time customers spend waiting for a reply, measured by the ticket being in the New, Open, and On-hold statuses. The SLA will pause on Pending. It measures the customer’s experience of waiting.
- Agent Work Time – the combined total time agents are working on the ticket, measured by the amount of time in the New and Open statuses. The SLA will pause on Pending and On-hold. It measures the company’s efficiency at responding to customers.
Here’s five things to consider when refining SLAs in Zendesk:
Deciding how quickly your team can consistently reply and resolve tickets can be difficult. You want to be responsive, but you also don’t want to set unrealistic expectations that you can’t meet. Plus, you might not always have to respond super quickly.
Consider the industry you’re in: if you deal with business critical software, customers need responses fast. A store with a broken cash register is losing money every minute and the SLA needs to reflect that urgency. However, if you work with consumers on a free app, maybe you can respond a little slower.
Look at customer satisfaction responses: if customers are consistently complaining about slow responses, it’s time to pick up the pace. If you aren’t seeing any concerns about response time, it might actually be worth slowing down a little and focussing on quality over speed. Faster isn’t always better.
Identify the most urgent channels: Zendesk will allow you to set SLAs based on the channel the customer contacted you through. For example, a ticket sent into Zendesk from Slack might not be as urgent as responding to public tweets.
Be realistic about your resources: ideally we’d love to always be at inbox zero, but we don’t always have the team size to respond instantly. Set a realistic goal that your team can hit without sacrificing their mental health and then improve from there.
For example, Domino’s actually ended their 30 minute guarantee in 1993. They found that delivery drivers were taking unsafe measures to get pizzas delivered on time. Being realistic about what you can deliver is critical to setting good SLAs.
Internal vs External SLAs
Underpromise and overdeliver. By setting separate SLAs internally and publicly, you can build in a buffer zone for busier periods. For example, even if you publicly agree to answer all emails within 8 hours, internally your team should be shooting to answer in 6 hours. Missing an internal SLA is disappointing, while missing a contracted SLA could cost your team a contract, or fees.
Internal SLAs can also help identify when it’s time to start hiring. If you’re consistently missing an internal SLA, it’s time to think about recruiting before you start breaking promises to customers.
Zendesk lets you set multiple SLAs, so you can create both internal and external SLAs to track breaches. Just make sure you use the right ones for reporting and workflow building (more on that later!)
Business vs Calendar Hours
SLAs can be run on either business hours (which are set by your company) or on calendar hours. Business hours are great for measuring how teams perform when they are on the clock, and work well for business to business companies.
However, calendar hours are great for knowing how long your customers are waiting in real time. To your customers, it doesn’t really matter if you’re in the office or not. If they live in Australia, and have to wait until American business hours every time they have a question – that’s an issue you’ll need to fix.
Building a notification system
Creating SLAs are only the first step. The real power comes from creating a workflow around them. It’s not possible to watch every ticket as the clock ticks down. Using SLAs in a workflow draws your attention to the right ticket automatically.
Zendesk Triggers are really powerful for escalating tickets that have breached an SLA. You can send a notification to Slack, email a team lead, or escalate the priority. Because Zendesk triggers run in hourly time periods, it’s only possible to trigger a notification 1 hour before an SLA is breached, or 1 hour after. I recommend being proactive and getting notified before the ticket expires so that you can jump on it.
You can also create views to organize tickets by those closest to breaching their SLA. This helps team leads keep a close eye on volume and assign agents to the tickets that need attention, pronto.
Reporting on SLAs
SLA achievement is measured in percentages for each policy. Achieving between 90-95% is very good. Achieving less than 80% means that you should start looking into ways to improve on service delivery.
If you have contracts requiring a standard SLA, it might make sense to set up each of them on a separate SLA. That way, account managers can easily check to ensure their client’s SLAs have been consistently met.
Deliver a better experience with SLAs
It might be a tired cliche, but it’s true: what gets measured, gets managed. Building in SLAs to your help desk will help build trust with customers, set expectations with agents and improve efficiency.
If you haven’t refined your SLA policies in Zendesk yet, it’s time to dive in!