Experience-level agreements, or XLAs, have the unique ability to tie software and platform metrics to end user satisfaction, rather than the more familiar service-level agreement, or SLA. For those unfamiliar with the term, an XLA is an agreement between a customer and a service provider that uses the quality of employee experience with the provider’s services as its basis.

In order to understand some of the benefits of an XLA, it is helpful to review how SLAs are typically structured, and where their shortcomings can impact the customer experience. SLAs traditionally deal with availability (uptime of a service), capacity (how many concurrent sessions or users), and reliability (how frequently there are issues with connectivity, and how quickly technical support is made available), though an agreement may have many other components.

XLAs primarily use customer feedback similar to Net Promoter Scores (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) metrics in order to measure their effectiveness. This can often be a better indicator of the true value the software or platform provide both to the employees that use them as well as potentially to the end customers and their customer experience.

In this article, we’ll discuss three key ways an XLA can help you create a better customer experience within your organization.

1. Customer Satisfaction Drives the Outcomes

One of the benefits of an XLA is that customer satisfaction is the key indicator of success or failure. This can be tracked using methods such as:

Net Promoter Score, a qualitative measure that asks how likely a customer is to recommend the product or service on a scale of 1 to 10, or similar measurements such as Customer Effort Score (CES), or CSAT. This is measured at the end of each request or issue, as well as at regular intervals over the relationship.

The Customer Experience Connection: Thus, instead of purely quantitative numbers driving the fulfillment of a contract as is the case with SLAs, an XLA also takes into account the subjective user experience. While this customer satisfaction is based on employee satisfaction and not your end customer, there is a strong correlation between employee experience and customer experience. In other words, happy employees are able to create happier customers.

Related Article: Why IT Is Moving Beyond Service to Employee Experience

2. You Can Measure Things That Often Slip Through the Cracks

While the SLA's quantitative measures ensure your application has the uptime and connectivity needed, many things can slip through the cracks between those types of analytics.

For instance, what was the experience of getting help like, or how consistent is the quality of service? This means the difference between simply receiving a timely response, and getting a response that was professional, meaningful, helpful and ultimately solved the issue.

In the case of the former, an SLA can be achieved by keeping a record that a response to a support ticket was timely, but if the response itself was of poor quality, that can slip through the cracks because it is more about customer satisfaction. Additionally, there are some requests for which a “standard” response time is satisfactory, yet others where a two minute delay means much more. While an SLA rarely deals with such nuance, the customer satisfaction varies greatly.

The Customer Experience Connection: Again, while in this case we are talking about customer satisfaction from an employee perspective, think about some of your biggest frustrations as an end customer. Often, end customers get frustrated because employees aren’t able to “connect the dots” on their end. Many times this is due to a disconnect between the processes and platforms these employees are using to provide customer service.

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When employees are dissatisfied with the level of service they receive with their core products and platforms, the customer will end up feeling that disconnect as well.

Related Article: How to Start Connecting Customer Experience and Employee Experience Insights

3. Allows You to Track the Experience During the Moments That Matter

Connectivity and uptime are common measurements within an SLA. While both are important, the way they are measured can often gloss over important issues, such as decreased performance during critical times or peak seasons, or even the quality of the experiences that occur between an issue getting raised and when it is resolved.

The term “watermelon effect” is sometimes used here, to describe metrics that, on the outside appear good (or “green”) because they match the exact specifications on the SLA, but on the inside are less than stellar (or “red”), because of the employee satisfaction at critical junctures.

The Customer Experience Connection: Because your customers don’t care about the other 99.999% of the time your application may be available, they only need it to be fully functioning when they are using it, or need your employees to use them in order to provide customer support. Thus, despite stellar metrics that fall well within the confines of an SLA, your end customers could still have a less than satisfactory experience.

As you can see, XLAs can provide a valuable benefit to organizations that want to hold their vendors accountable to more than the standard reliability, availability and capacity metrics of an SLA. XLAs allow an organization to ensure a standard of excellence for the experience of those using the product or service, which often covers gaps that an SLA does not.

Let's be clear: SLAs still have a place. But by using both SLAs and XLAs together, you can ensure you are managing and measuring all of the important aspects and getting the most out of your platforms.

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