Insights Session – Creating a Partner-based Service Level Agreement

On Thursday, May 20th at 8:00am at Sage North America’s annual partner conference, Insights, I will be presenting a session entitled Creating a Partner=based Service Level Agreement (GEN58).

This session will be dedicated to the possibility that we can create high quality service level agreements with our current customers. Creating such agreements is hard work and not for all partners, as it requires us to think differently than we have in the past about the nature of our relationship with our customers. You are hereby invited to open a dialogue on a new model for servicing your customers.

For those of you who plan on attending the session, please comment below with any thoughts or questions that you would especially like me to address during our time together.

9 thoughts on “Insights Session – Creating a Partner-based Service Level Agreement

  1. 1. What is meant by Partner Based Service Level Agreement?

    I assume this is what most/many of us refer to as a phone support agreement – only perhaps modified to include more than just phone/remote support.

    2. Dealing with issues outside the scope of the agreement

    This seems to be one of the biggest questions that holds people back from doing this.

    3. Your concept of options has been VERY well received and I use it all the time. I think it cannot be emphasized too much.

    4. As someone who has a fair amount of contact with customers who come in via the Internet I think an overview of the best way to deal with these customers who bought and implemented the software through another VAR but now turn to your company for assistance.

    The big issue that I deal with on a daily basis — and that I think really hurts most VARS — is that these “orphan” clients are usually looking for a free handout and not a paid relationship.

    I think developing a process for addressing these inquiries (without by default answering the question for free and never hearing from the user) would be wonderful.

  2. Wayne, thanks for the comment. My thoughts:
    1. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) can incorporate support type calls, but not necessarily. The basic idea is that the customer is given a choice as to the level of service they would like to receive. To me the most important element is response time. (How quickly would does the customer want to speak to a warm body?)
    2. I agree, this does hold folks back. I think it is misguided. It requires a level of self-esteem (another session) that many folks do not have.
    3. Thanks!
    4. Great thought. I will plan on playing the Don Draper video at the session. I think this will provoke a good dialogue.

  3. Another thing that I did this year was create MY definition of “oh, do you offer pay as you go because we never ever need to call for support”….

    I find that having a document available to be supplied to the customer who “never needs to call” – and outlining that under OUR definition of pay as you go that they will not receive a call until:

    1. We receive payment
    2. 24 BUSINESS hours have passed

    You’ve pointed out before about the importance of #2 above. If you hold fast to that time delay (as per the CLIENTS CHOICE) then you will be amazed how many convert to a regular plan.

    In most instances if the customer was truthful instead of telling you they “never need to call” they would say “WE NEVER WANT TO PAY” …..

  4. Ed, in addition to our implementation projects we offer pay as you go support and Help Desk contracts. Most new clients take the Help Desk contracts because the contract also gives them a discount on our standard rates.
    The key challenges with Help Desk contracts is defining what is NOT covered and, after the client gets billed a few times for support, it can be a challenge to get them to renew.

    However, Help Desk contracts are not really Service Level agreements. What I would like to get from this session is a good discussion about the difference between support contracts and Service Level agreements. As we move to large clients, SLA’s are becoming expected – not just Help Desk.

  5. Paul, to me an SLA is proactive, it includes some scheduled maintenance, whereas help desk is reactive. In fact, I think a help desk contract should be MORE expensive than a SLA. Why? The customer is asking you to reserve capacity for them; they should pay for that.

    I disagree with giving a discount on rates to these customers, but then again, I disagree with rates, period. I suppose this will make for good conversation at the session.

  6. This is just what I was hoping for.

    I am with Wayne on his point # 2. Defining what is/isn’t included is hard. I’d love to get brainstorming with others on this.

    We have clients that don’t want to commit to an SLA because of previous bad experiences (perhaps, but not necessarily within our industry). Getting them on board is a challenge. These clients have seen our value and love the up front pricing. We get to know them and their needs but it is still hard to plan capacity.

    We have clients that think they don’t need support calls because they have fallen off of maintenance and they “know what they are doing”. Those are the clients who call maybe twice a year because they have to figure out how to do something new. We want to keep them as a client because they want to grow their business and when it turns around, we want to help. In the meantime, when there’s a change they don’t think to tell us about that becomes an emergency. “The IT dept decided to install a new server over the weekend because the backup drive was failing and we had a little money, but now the ERP system doesn’t work.” This is the stuff that makes us crazy.

  7. This is an interesting and great dialogue and one that has prompted me to comment – Both Pamela & Wayne makes a great points that customers often say they don’t need support when they actually mean they don’t want to pay – I see this time and time again. However for software businesses there is an important feature that I often find ensures that customers take out support plans.

    The type of support plans that always ensure a customer takes it out are generally the ones where for their support fee they receive “support” under an SLA “AND” entitlements to routine software maintenance (RSM, Hotfixes, Service Packs etc) and maybe upgrades. Therefore if they don’t take out the support plan they neither get any support OR the ability to take advantage of product changes.

    The support fee covers support and continous development.

  8. Pamela and Kevin, thanks for joining the conversation. I am thrilled that we are talking about this as a prelude to the actual session. I cannot tell you how helpful it is as a presenter.

    In any case, I think Kevin is onto something. There must be elements that are in a SLA that are proactive (system reviews, service packs, some routine maintenance come to mind).

    I have become convinced that there needs to be a basic plan at the extreme low end, that is priced at something like $50 a year. The key is that it would define the emergency situation that Pam described as being outside the plan and with a fee of $2,500. I think this might encourage people to take the next level plan.

    More on this at the session. Thanks again!

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