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Consumerization of SLAs: How to Meet the Demands of Today's Always-On Customer Base
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June 26, 2014

Consumerization of SLAs: How to Meet the Demands of Today's Always-On Customer Base

By TMCnet Special Guest
Randi Barshack, CMO of xMatters

People like guarantees when it comes to their purchases. It’s good to know that a service or product lives up to its promise, and that a provider will deliver on-the-spot customer service when needed.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses’ – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract. Conceptually, SLAs are about accountability and liability and over time communication of issues and outages has become a standard. As issues within IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency are as critical as the service license itself.

But it’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected consumers depend on the cloud-based services of the brands with which they engage. Small business owners halt to a standstill without access to cloud-based email, consumers can’t pay their bills, families find themselves without home phone systems (or some would claim- even worse- no on-demand TV), digital tickets temporarily disappear, and delayed directions to an important job could be life altering.  Consumers dependent on products and services expect service level guarantees on par with those historically found in enterprises. Included with these expectations is the transparency associated with communicating service levels.  

Companies can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because consumers experience these outages immediately.  They want immediate answers… …and if you don’t send them, they’ll get them elsewhere. There have been numerous cases of service issues exposed on social media and capturing the attention of thousands within a matter of minutes.

Upping the Communications Ante

If consumers are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. By 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, reports ABI Research. With more devices linked to the Cloud, consumers will have even closer connections to brands and businesses. Their expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket. Businesses will have to answer to this demand, as 82 percent of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson.

As important as responding to customers is for business—70 percent of customers will work with a company again if it resolves their complaints, says customer service expert Ruby Newell-Legner in Understanding Customers—poor or slow response can do swift damage to a company’s reputation. For example, in February 2014, Cisco’s widely used cloud-based collaboration tool, WebEx, crashed and for hours customers heard no news on the matter. They took to Twitter (News - Alert) and blogs, complaining about Cisco’s slow response, its poor use of social media to communicate, and its failure to provide any real information about the matter. 

Cisco’s (News - Alert) customers call for prompt explanation of the problem and regular updates on a solution demonstrate the need for proactive customer service protocols. Businesses need processes in place to ensure that they know of issues like system crashes and breakdowns before clients experience them and start asking questions, writes user experience specialist Jake Aaronson on ClickZ. With these precautionary practices established, companies can confidently assure their customers that they will communicate with them effectively during crises, disrupting their lives as little as possible. It’s an assurance that operates as an SLA—a guarantee of prompt attention and care.

Now, how can companies deliver on these customer service promises to consumers?

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is key to speedy resolution of customer service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated customer interaction. If companies put these systems in place before any problems occur, they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time at crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audience. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Aaronson cites the example of consumer-facing credit card companies and the proactive, automated measures they take to keep their customers’ credit safe: asking customers how they prefer to receive messages, then, at the first hint of suspicious activity, sending alerts via text, email, mobile app or phone with simple response options that customers use with little inconvenience. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit the customers best and then keeping those customers informed regularly throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

To ensure businesses doesn’t fall victim to a social media blood bath, executives should be asking themselves - how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” customer service? How can rapid communication help me meet their customer service goals? If one or all of these answers involved the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate customer and end user satisfaction.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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