Experience Level Agreements – what they are, and why you need them

September 7, 2022

IT Service Management (ITSM) best practice has undergone a sea change over the past couple of years. Businesses realise there’s little point in capturing what happened if you don’t also capture the experience of it happening – in other words, how the resolution or interaction made the end-user feel. This is where Experience Level Agreements have made their mark. 

What are Experience Level Agreements?

Experience Level Agreements, or XLAs, are agreements between service providers and their customers that define the level of service provided. Using them ensures both parties know what to expect and helps prevent misunderstandings during or throughout interactions. And collecting a significant amount of data arms organisations with the information they need to make effective process decisions.

Think of an XLA as a multi-stage review. For example, when you leave a video call, you’ve probably seen the screen that asks how the call went – or received the post-purchase emails sent by retailers containing stars requesting you to rate your experience. These are XLAs in action – quick, simple check-ins, often appearing at multiple touchpoints across the user journey. Instead of capturing just a single point in time, they build a broader picture of the entire user experience. These measurements of satisfaction cover nearly every industry, and they’re designed for clients, consumers, and team members, too.

XLAs vs SLAs

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Experience Level Agreements are similar in that they’re both ways to measure the outcome of a service. However, there’s one key difference between the two metrics. While an SLA captures a moment in time – checking goals are achieved and targets met within a time frame – an XLA captures the journey leading up to, and away from, that moment. In other words, an SLA looks at what happened, while an XLA looks at how it happened. 

This distinction is important as it highlights how XLAs can be used to improve businesses’ workflow: by helping them understand how a process made their users feel. This data point allows organisations to make changes to improve experiences rather than making alterations that result in little impact.

SLAs can be gamed

While we’ll never tell you to avoid SLAs entirely, we won’t suggest using them as a sole measurement of success. Why? Because they can be gamed. For example, a team might focus on meeting a target, such as resolving an issue within four hours. But if that results in poor-quality service – for instance, if the agent rushes through the call or resolves it in an unmeasured time frame, like the weekend  – it’s likely the customer will still be unhappy.

Because your IT service metrics may look positive, digging a little deeper may reveal the end-users perception or experience of that service resolution might not have been great. And it’s those metrics that should raise red flags in your business.

Measure IT service efficiency using agreed KPIs and metrics e.g. connectivity, uptimeMeasure end-to-end employee satisfaction with IT services using Experience Indicators (XIs)
Objective, quantitative dataSubjective, qualitative data
Implementing requires SLA software that includes time-tracking, breach alerts and reporting functionalityImplementing requires process mapping, analytics, digital experience monitoring
Track service availability, reliability, and capacityTrack employee satisfaction regarding IT services using Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Effort Score (CES), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
Target levels are the sameTarget levels are constantly changing

Some specialists see XLAs and SLAs as two sides of the same coin and use the terms interchangeably. However, in our opinion, it’s best to think of them as two very different but complementary approaches to service delivery. Used in tandem, they can produce a far more rounded picture of employee satisfaction on an ongoing basis – and employee satisfaction plays a crucial part in workplace productivity.

How to introduce an XLA in your workplace

Who will run it?

In their report Embrace Experience-Level Agreements, Forrester explains, ‘XLAs require a thoughtful approach to implement correctly, especially when the XLA aims to quantify difficult-to-measure, intangible business benefits, such as increased employee satisfaction or innovation.’ Essentially, you’re asking your IT department and employees to adapt their mindsets from output-focused to outcomes-focused.

Changing habits can take time, but implementing an advanced XLA tool will provide the data and analytics necessary to improve user and employee experience with zero disruption.

Regardless of whether you choose to develop your XLA in-house or outsource it, you should:

  • Have a clear objective for your XLA. What exactly do you want to improve for your employees?
  • Involve your end-users. Explain the increase in requests for feedback and how you’ll use it to improve the overall IT experience.
  • Be prepared to be flexible. One significant benefit of XLAs is continuous monitoring to create an in-depth picture of your business. Over time, you’ll need to adjust your goals or targets according to end-user feedback.

What’s being measured?

XLAs involve gathering, measuring and sharing as much experience data as possible. The precise data captured will change from business to business but may include all or some of the following:

  • Customer satisfaction 
  • Time scales
  • Responsiveness
  • Outputs against expected outcomes
  • Moment in time events

Experience management software will allow you to see this data by country, city, or business department.

XLAs are the future of IT

As the world continues to get to grips with the changing nature of work – increasingly remote, hybrid, and flexible – the importance of measuring end-user satisfaction alongside service delivery will only increase. Employees who feel supported and empowered by their technology, not hampered by it, will be able to work smarter and more productively, which is excellent news for both business and the bottom line.

We want to set you up for transformative business success. If you’re interested in introducing an XLA to your organisation, let’s talk.