Lets accentuate the positive…
I spend a lot of time and have done for many years, talking to and working with organizations who are trying to set up IT services and Service Level Agreements.
Usually what’s involved is for me to provide a good amount of information and ‘know-how’ on how to approach doing this, accompanied by loads of encouragement and support – in order to give the client both the understanding and the confidence to drive this through.
For me the assimilation of this ‘knowledge’ has come through the medium of many prolonged and difficult projects – generally where negotiation or communications have failed and/or expectations have in some way been missed.
Like many in the industry, I have of course compiled a lot of this information together in written form to try to provide as much advance expectation of things that go wrong – much of this is available. However recently, one thing occurred to me that I really hadn’t thought of quite so explicitly before:
All of our SLAs (and often services) are described and defined in really negative terms…
If you go into a shop or say a car showroom, the salesperson doesn’t immediately start telling you about the liability associated with the product, or how often it is expected to fail, or when you might expect it to be unavailable.
The car salesman doesn’t start to tell you about the car’s handling faults before they’ve got you interested, or if you are buying clothes they wouldn’t tell you that the clothes
you are interested in were made using slave labor, or that the material is cheap so won’t last more than 5 washes…
If you are trying to sell something then you need to (emotionally) engage your prospect first before you give them any bad news. Ideally, if they are interested and sold enough on the positive aspects of the product, then they will accept the negative ones. However, if you start out by focusing on the downsides, you may not get the chance to sell the up-sides and will lose your prospective customer.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that sales should be devious and not mention negatives, and we need to be open and honest about what we are selling. However, in terms of emotional response, first impressions count and are lasting, so it makes sense to start off trying to win people over.
It’s much easier to give them bad news once they’ve emotionally engaged, rather than trying to sell them something that they’ve already discounted. I know – it’s basic sales technique.
So what’s this got to do with IT and SLAs?
We tend to write and present SLAs and service descriptions that simply refer to how we react and manage issues, or how long it will take us to respond (or not), and how long our service is available (or not). We don’t often write SLAs that tell our customers how much we are doing to help them do their job, or how fast/efficient/cost-effective the service is, or how it delivers value to them.
This of course is easier said than done as often IT services aren’t the most exciting or engaging of ‘products’ to sell. However, we should be trying to present and define our services in as much of a positive and user-engaging way as possible.
So how can this help with SLM?
By far the biggest hurdle to climb in developing SLAs is getting people on-side, on-board, on-message – and to ‘buy-in’. Everyone will tell you that the ‘business isn’t interested’, ‘we can’t get them involved’, ‘they don’t want to know’ etc.
Well maybe it’s no wonder if any previous attempt to look at this has resulted in a turgid list of negative and dull IT support tasks and responsibilities that say nothing about the customer’s business.
We need to present information on our services and service levels in a format that engages and enthuses people where possible – we can start on this by focussing on the positive – i.e. what does the service delivery in terms of value to the business and/or our customer’s ability to do their job?
Sure we will need to include information on support and what happens when things go wrong, but we really also should be thinking about how we can get customers on-side with us – so lets be radical and start with the positive…!
So as an example – rather than saying:
We provide you with Email services that will fail at some point. When they do we react pretty well and won’t make your life miserable for too long (although we can’t say for how long)
Why not say:
Your E-mail service helps you to communicate instantly and globally with your customers and contacts, wherever and whenever you need to. We help each employee to make an average of 400 email contacts per day, as well as manage your schedule in synch with your on-the-go PDA. Your IT dept also delivers this at a very competitive cost compared to domestic services and with high standards of security and safety. If you have any issues with this service please contact our award-winning service desk for support… etc etc.
OK maybe I’m just dreaming but the message has got to be: let’s be positive