Service Level Agreements: An in-depth guide

What are Service Level Agreements? 

Service level agreements (SLAs), popularized by telecom operators in the late 1980s, are a type of contract that serves as a critical step to establish and measure expectations within service-related legal relationships. IT organizations quickly adopted them to standardize their service offerings, yet their use has become present across most sectors where services are exchanged.

These legal documents define how a service will be provided, describing its expected fulfillment. SLAs establish a framework to ensure accountability between partners, and they arise from the need to have set standards between service providers and other parties. These documents usually oversee three critical aspects of the service: its availability, quality, and responsibilities. This type of contract also outlines the consequences when a service is not correctly met or performed.

What are the benefits of an SLA?

Service agreement documents are essential tools that provide much more than a mere service outline. Their most important benefits include: 

  • Setting Clear Expectations: These contracts explicitly outline the service level and ensure parties understand their required levels. Establishing clear expectations is essential to provide a seamless and efficient experience.
  • Establishing Accountability: Creating a clear understanding of who is accountable for various aspects of the delivery defines responsibilities. Both parties can meet their obligations through a framework for measuring service quality.
  • Enhancing Communication: SLAs encourage parties to regularly check in with each other to ensure that key indicators are being met by setting milestones for targets and their expectations.
  • Mitigating Risks: Specifying the expected level of service and the consequences of not meeting those expectations allows providers to reduce risks and resolve potential conflicts. 
  • Aligning Business Goals: In both internal and external cases, SLAs help ensure the vendor’s performance aligns with the client’s business objectives, maximizing the value of the outsourcing relationship.

What are the types of Service Level Agreements? 

There are three different types of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that businesses can choose from, each with their specific traits and advantages:

Customer SLA: 

This is a service-level agreement in its purest form, outlining all the elements and responsibilities of a provider and another party. For example, a wireless provider company specifies the quality of voice and data services, network coverage, and customer service response times. 

Internal SLA: 

This type of contract is commonly used in organizations and companies to promote accountability and communication between different departments. For instance, an SLA can be established between the HR department and other departments to define specific timelines for handling new hires, addressing employee concerns, and outlining onboarding schedules.

Multi-Level SLA: 

Multi-tiered agreements are contractual arrangements encompassing various organizational, customer, or provider levels. They are designed to be all-encompassing, addressing the needs of multiple parties or departments within or outside the organization. 

Elements of an SLA

The contents of a Service Level Agreement may change depending on the nature of services provided and the parties’ specific needs. However, most SLAs share a set of fundamental elements that are crucial to their effectiveness. Zeal allows you to draft detailed and clear agreements of any type. These elements work in tandem to establish the framework for the agreement:

  • Scope of Services:  A clear and detailed description of the services covered by the SLA is essential to avoid any confusion and ensure clarity about the scope of the agreement and its lifecycle.
  • Service-Level Metrics: The success of a service can be measured by a specific set of metrics and performance indicators tailored to each individual case. These measurements are carefully chosen based on the type of service being provided and designed to provide accurate insights into how effective and efficient the service is.
  • Responsibilities: To ensure any service’s successful delivery, the provider and the client must clearly outline responsibilities. These responsibilities should explicitly detail the essential actions that are required of each party. This can include tasks such as outlining project timelines, defining project deliverables, providing necessary resources, establishing communication protocols, and identifying potential risks or issues that may arise. 
  • Monitoring and Reporting: This refers to the process of establishing a framework for monitoring, evaluating, and communicating a service’s performance. The framework outlines the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to measure the service’s effectiveness and the frequency with which these metrics will be reported.
  • Escalation Procedures: To maintain a consistent level of service quality, it is essential to have a well-defined process that outlines the steps to be taken when the service quality falls below acceptable levels. This process should provide a clear roadmap for addressing the issue and restoring the service quality to acceptable levels.
  • Penalties and Remedies: When a service provider fails to achieve the service levels agreed upon in the service level agreement, there can be severe outcomes. These consequences can take the form of penalties, which may vary depending on the severity of the breach.
  • Review and Revision: A defined schedule for reviewing the SLA and its metrics and procedures for making necessary adjustments. This ensures the SLA remains relevant and effective as business needs and capabilities evolve.

Final Thoughts 

Service Level Agreements are powerful tools for any organization, whether you seek to clearly define external service relationships or optimize internal processes. They are the foundation for transparent service delivery, driving accountability, communication, and alignment between all involved parties.  By carefully considering the benefits, types, and essential elements of SLAs, businesses can establish effective agreements that protect their interests and maximize the value of their services.


If you are currently operating without SLAs, or your existing agreements need refinement, schedule a demo with us by clicking here.