What Are XLAs and How To Use Them in IT Service Management

Forget watermelon SLAs, you need XLAs

Let’s talk about the need for experience level agreements (XLAs) in ITSM. Is your IT service desk a “watermelon” in XLA terms?

If so, think about how you use service level agreement (SLA) documents, customer satisfaction feedback, and IT service management (ITSM). Consider adding XLAs for better results. Let me explain.

A “watermelon” is what an overly SLA-focused IT service desk risks being in the modern IT service landscape. All the performance management stats are all green – like the skin of a watermelon – and management is happy.

But, cut that watermelon open, and underneath are red warning signs of bad customer satisfaction scores and employee resentment. It’s a significant root cause of the need for XLAs. We need to focus on what matters most to customers in order to serve them better. This responsibility is not just for the customer service team.

It’s high time for XLAs, especially for continual or continuous improvement. But what are XLAs exactly? Please keep reading to find out more on what XLAs are and involve.

What are XLAs in ITSM?

XLAs are the natural extension of better customer focus within the IT service desk. It’s short for eXperience Level Agreement. Yes, you provided a service, and you did it on time. But how, in the end, did the customer or end-user feel about how they were treated?

With the risk of using too many metaphors in a few paragraphs, imagine a really top-of-the-line restaurant experience. The food is amazing, sure! But what if the music is terrible, and the waiter is snotty?

It’s not an overall good experience, or what customers expected, is it? The same logic applies to the IT service desk and the use of XLAs.

That is to say, yes, of course you should aim to solve tickets as quickly as possible, but there’s more to it than this. Meeting an SLA doesn’t guarantee that the customer or end-user is happy. You need to put the emphasis on customer experience (CX), and this is where XLAs come in.

Future-proofing your IT service delivery with XLAs

The changing demands for better customer experience among IT service desk customers must stop being seen as the future, and start being seen as the current norm (whether XLAs are used or not).

Who are you working for? The business managers or your customers?

Well, both. But that means you’re not just in the business of performance management numbers. You’re also in the business of experience, and we, therefore, need to consider XLAs.

In fact, the biggest problem with SLAs is that it becomes target shooting. We need to hit this and that target or KPI within this time. And yes! Of course, your IT service desk does.

However, you can’t rely solely on that. If you disregard the quality of service, you’ll lose out. Especially without XLAs.

In theory, XLAs are actually a pretty easy switch to make. Instead of how many calls did we close within X amount of time? Ask how many customers are happy with their call closure time? It’s the same question but a different, more valuable, answer.

The benefits of XLAs

And remember, XLAs are not just there because they’re nice. There’s a business case for XLAs too.

The effects of customer and employee experience on business success is apparent, and business leaders are seeing the need for the better treatment of employees. Employees are more likely to be motivated and stay with the company if they feel enabled to deliver the best work they can. And IT of course plays a huge role in this, as it improves employee experiences and productivity through XLAs.

This is exactly why the introduction of XLAs matters. In a world where you need to put your end-users in the spotlight, you must also shift your performance targets to match this using XLAs.

On a different note, another cool thing about XLAs is that something that would be seen as an SLA failure may not be reflected in your XLAs. Consider the restaurant example above. Let’s say your food takes forever and comes out cold.

In SLA terms, the kitchen has already failed, as you might experience with technology that’s not user-friendly. But – from an XLAs point of view – you can still salvage the situation. Likewise, if you keep your end-users up to date about the progress of a late ticket, you can mitigate how negative the XLA feedback is (perhaps unlike with customer satisfaction survey questions).

What’s an XLA metric?

OK, so XLAs may seem really fluffy. And, of course, they are fluffier than SLAs, but that’s not really a problem. This is actually something I want to write more on over on the TOPdesk blog in the near future, but here’s a quick breakdown.

First of all, remember that you’re delivering a service and not a product. It’s intangible, so the fact that some metrics are as well isn’t really that much of a problem. Remember, we’re humans and not robots – guided by emotion and not numbers (think about how customers interact). And by all means, do keep reporting on resolution times and other classic KPIs, but add a twist of customer experience to it (improving customer satisfaction if you’re not using XLAs)!

You don’t need to jump into XLAs. You can do a lot by just adding a simple star rating system. Or send out customer satisfaction surveys at regular intervals for some more deep-digging kind of stats (perhaps use Net Promoter Score (NPS) or measure Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) or Customer Effort Score (CES)) related to high-level pain points. An example KPI for XLAs could be keeping your call closure satisfaction rate above 4.5 stars.

Here are some more XLAs-related ideas of things your IT service desk can track:

  • Consistent service quality among operators
  • Keeping customers in the loop in a satisfactory way
  • Operators being accommodating and seeing the problem from the customer and XLAs perspective
  • Clarity about products and services the department can supply
  • Professional communication.

Of course, there are loads more opportunities to collect feedback and some will be more relevant to your organization than others, but the XLAs sentiment is the same across the board. In essence, keep an eye on your customer experience, gathering feedback appropriately, and prevent your IT service desk from turning into a watermelon! Not to mention the competitive advantage that flows through to business operations.

This 2018 XLAs article was updated in 2024.

If you liked this XLAs article, please take a look at the following ITSM articles (although many of these won’t include information on XLAs).

Profile Photo of Hannah Price
Hannah Price
Head of Consultancy and Planning at TOPdesk

As a Service Management Consultant at TOPdesk, Hannah helps numerous organisations in the UK and beyond implement software and design and optimize service processes. She’s a regular presenter and speaker at industry events and a keen blogger.

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