Service Management 

SLAs are for suckers: Why ITSM orgs should be allowed to be more human

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around does it make a sound? If you breach an SLA and no one cares, then are you putting customer satisfaction at risk?

Each year, IT Service Management organizations use a laundry list of Service Level Agreements to measure their effectiveness and to inform their ability to meet customer expectations.

According to the annual HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report, some of the most common SLAs for Help Desk teams include:

  • Response times, including average speed to answer (phone), average handle time, average time to respond (chat, web request tickets and email)
  • Tickets switched between channels
  • Time to resolve
  • First call resolution rate (phone)
  • First level resolution rate (all channels)
  • First contact resolution rate (all channels)
  • Utilization (analyst time on calls)
  • Fully-burdened cost per ticket (by channel)
  • Customer satisfaction


What if no one checked on your SLAs?  What if you breached SLAs right and left and no one cared?

What if you ignored SLAs? Could you maintain an exemplary customer satisfaction rating?

CA Technologies conducted an extensive user research study with IT analysts to better understand the way they get their jobs done. Our interviews with ITSM analysts were qualitative, driving towards the often complex motivations and goals behind behaviors.

We used a flexible, ethnographic interview technique, speaking with and observing users in their work settings, and encouraging the interviewees to tell stories about their experiences.

Guess what we found? SLAs are for suckers. SLAs drive bad behavior while discouraging other behaviors that aren’t easily measurable but do contribute to high customer satisfaction.

SLAs drive bad behavior

Once a metric has been identified as a primary indicator of success, its ability to accurately measure success tends to be compromised,” states Campbell’s Law.

Or short and sweet, Goodhart’s law: “When a measure is a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

SLAs are the measure, but they’ve become the target.  This is especially true in what we call, “Wait-In-Line” service management organizations where they are strictly focused on SLAs, and have a large customer base (internal or external) to serve with limited resources.

This is not as common in best-in-class “White Glove” organizations, where the cultural expectation is for hands-on service.

What’s worse for the wait-in-line organizations is that they sometimes see SLA violations only after the fact, which breeds the temptation to let those tickets languish – since there’s no way to un-violate an SLA, so they choose instead to work on tickets that have not violated SLAs.

Metrics create bad incentives. Speed not only sacrifices quality of the service, it also discourages good behavior like documenting tickets properly, logging common issues to the knowledge base, achieving first-call resolution – and generally serving callers well.

Additionally, while working to achieve good SLA scores, we see slipping through the cracks the opportunity to foster a trustworthy reputation within the team and throughout the business. Many teams are aware of the danger that too much focus on SLA statistics will lead to compromises in less measureable forms of service quality.

Human is better

It shouldn’t be a surprise that IT Service Management organizations view themselves as Customer Service representatives first. In our research, we found that all tier 1 analysts had an unmistakable service orientation – but all delivered different levels of service.

We wanted to find out why, so we started by partnering with TechValidate to survey our own CA Service Management customers.

We learned that most organizations indicated a higher importance toward ‘ticket resolution time’ and ‘customer satisfaction overall’.  While these metrics are important, our research shows that employee happiness in performing their job is just as important as the time it takes to handle a request.  Enabling IT analysts and teams to have proper context around their job is ultimately going to increase customer satisfaction.

It’s our vision to provide the technology that enables organizations and IT analysts to be the customer service experts they are meant to be.

Stay tuned for “SLAs are for Suckers” part two: Who’s doing it best? And what should we measure instead?


Blog written by Haider Rafique, senior principal for Product Marketing at CA Technologies.

New voices, thoughts and insights. This CA Technologies blog post features content written by an…


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