Call Center 101 – The Golden Rules of SLAs [Whitepaper]

Call Center 101: The Golden Rules of SLAsCome into the classroom, sit down, and let us begin today’s four-part lesson: Call Center 101 – The Golden Rules of SLAs. As the official written handshake shared by a vendor and a buyer, it is a tangible commitment that ensures specific services will be delivered. Really, it’s a promise, one you must keep in order to satisfy clients and maintain the service levels that will keep your long-lasting relationship with them buoyed. Anyone working in the service industry, be it in retail, health or finance, should get the low-down on Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and fast.

If it’s crunch time and you’re looking to quickly study up on SLAs, look no further. In this crash course, we provide you with:

  • SLAs in nutshell;
  • How to set a winning service level for your own organization;
  • Developing 20/20 vision with the industry standard of an “80/20 service level”; and
  • Strategies for meeting (and exceeding) your service levels in the future.

Read on: You’ll be an expert in no time.

Lesson 1: SLAs in a Nutshell

SLAs in a NutshellLet’s start at the very beginning. What is a Service Level Agreement? A good question! They come in several shapes and sizes, but at the most basic level, an SLA is a written commitment between a service provider and a customer or client. The agreement can range from the general to the specific, and includes particular aspects of service – quality, availability, responsibilities – along with other components that both vendor and buyer agree upon. Like any official contract, it is a fundamental reference point for both parties in case service levels are not met.

SLAs can take the form of service-based or customer-based models. Regardless of the finer details, at the core of the agreement is the golden principle: Give the customers what you promised them, or you’ll pay for it.

For call centers who are rightfully obsessed with telephony benchmarks, a common metric involves the “percentage of calls received by the center that are answered by a human agent within a certain time frame”. The most-used industry standard is “80/20” (whereby 80 percent of inbound calls are answered within 20 seconds). As IFC has noted, this is a significant service level as it is directly related to other important metrics like:

  • Average Speed of Answer or ASA (this reflects calls not answered within a certain time frame). According to IFC, the global metric is 28 seconds.
  • Abandon Rate (this reflects calls abandoned while a customer was waiting on hold to connect with a human agent). As per IFC, the global metric is between 5 and 8 percent.

Meeting the service levels outlined in the SLA that you and your client commit to is of utmost importance, so it is prudent from the outset to:

  • Be Reasonable: Don’t commit to a service level if you do not have the infrastructure, technology, staff volume and/or expertise to meet it;
  • Prevent Financial Loss: If you do not meet your service level, you may need to reimburse clients, or worse, lose that client’s business due to a breach of the agreement; and
  • Do the Research: Understand the bandwidth of your contact center and set a service level that you are realistically able to meet, even during spikes in call volume. This takes patience, trial-and-error, and perhaps the aid of a consultant.

Lesson 2: How Do You Set a Winning Service Level?

How Do You Set a Winning Service LevelThere are several ways of setting achievable service levels in your SLA:

Manage Expectations

Simply, and most importantly, don’t promise a service level to a customer that you can’t keep. Avoid arbitrarily implementing a service level standard if it doesn’t reflect what you are able to deliver (such as the 80/20 industry standard, which you’ll read more about in the next lesson). Your service level guarantee should be based on what your contact center can reasonably achieve given its resources and expected call volume. This means ongoing research, testing, and analysis, and a feasibility study, too.

Consider Your Priorities

Every business using a contact center has a different set of goals; it’s important to consider yours when drawing up an SLA. Maybe you value customer satisfaction above all else. Maybe you’re defined by reducing abandon rates. Whatever the case may be, make your overall business goal the main event in your SLA.

Consider Your Clients

As much as your own business targets are important, you should balance the desire to deliver customer satisfaction with the cost you’re willing to bear to achieve it. Industry consultant, Stuart Crutchfield from Genesys, suggests asking these three questions:

  1. How do I want to prioritize my customers’ wait time? (This often can reflect Customer Lifetime Value or Propensity To Buy, where customers of greater actual, or potential, value are prioritized for a prompt answer.)
  2. Having segmented my customers by some measure of importance, after how many seconds in queue does their Abandonment Rate start to materially increase?
  3. What is the impact of increased Abandonment Rate on our customers’ satisfaction (compare higher abandonment groups to a control group)?

Consider Your Contact Center

While you may be quick to set a lofty service level, keep in mind the people who might be working overtime to meet it: Your agents. Ask yourself: Do I have enough agents in place to meet this service level? What is a reasonable and humane workload for my contact center employees? How will this service level impact work culture, productivity, and well-being?

Always remember the people behind the promise.

One other strategy: It is good practice to consult the certified industry standards in place (for instance, you may consult the most recent standards laid out by the COPC to measure yourself against their benchmarks or gain insight into how others measure themselves). However, what is essential is not to blindly create an SLA based on uncorroborated standards which the industry and most importantly your revered customers might take for granted.

Which brings us firmly in view of the “80/20” service level.


Don’t miss the other golden rules of SLAs! Download the full report below.

Call Center 101: The Golden Rules of SLAs

Call Center 101: The Golden Rules of SLAs