What Exactly Are XLAs and How Do You Use Them?

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, it may mean that you need to reconsider your use of service level agreements (SLAs) and IT service management (ITSM) and add in XLAs. Let me explain. A watermelon is what an overly SLA-focused service desk risks being in the modern IT service landscape. The performance management stats are all green – like the skin of a watermelon – and your management is happy. But, cut it open, and underneath are red warning signs of bad customer satisfaction scores and resentment. It’s high time for XLAs, says the industry. But what are XLAs exactly? Please keep reading to find out more on XLAs.

What are XLAs in ITSM?

XLAs are the natural extension of better customer focus with the IT service desk. It’s an eXperience Level Agreement. Yes, you provided a service, and you did it on time. But how, in the end, did the customer 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? Not an overall good experience, 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 that. Meeting an SLA doesn’t guarantee that the customer 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

At this point in time, the changing demands for better customer experience among service desk customers must stop being seen as the future, and start being seen as the current norm. Who are you working for? The business managers or your customers? Well, both. But that means you’re not just in the business of 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 and KPI within this time. And yes! Of course, you do. 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? Same question but 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 CX and employee experience on business success is apparent, and business leaders are seeing the need for better treatment of employees (see this Harvard Business Review study for example). 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. This is exactly why XLAs matter. In a world where you need to put your end users in the spotlight, you must also shift your targets to match this using XLAS.

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

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. And by all means, do keep reporting on resolution times and other classic KPIs, but add a twist of CX to it (even if 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. An example XLA KPI for XLAs could be keeping your call closure satisfaction rate above 4.5 stars.

Here are some more XLAs-related ideas of things you 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 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, and prevent your IT service desk from turning into a melon!

If you need more help with XLAs, you can check out our blog post about getting better customer satisfaction feedback. Alternatively, you may be interested in downloading this eBook on Developing a Customer-Centric Service Department as a route to XLAs

This 2018 XLAs article was updated in 2022.

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

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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