Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Online Reputation Management

This writing is dedicated to the subject of taking the next level of online reputation, within the use of service level agreements (SLAs). If the responses are positive, I will write the separate articles regarding the particular SLA issues in areas of online PR and Internet marketing.

Back to the basics and research…

At the IBM Website there is the interesting article about Web services SLA and a competitive market of services, which drives the need for service level agreement adoption:

“Many businesses (customers, clients) are demanding service-level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee the reliability of the online services they pay for.[…]

SLAs offer service providers a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors in today’s volatile and competitive market.â€?

I did a little observatory online research on six search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, Alltheweb, Live, Technorati), and for the academic research papers related to service level agreements and online reputation I consulted Emerald Archive. In this research I went through more than 100 Websites per search engine, and I examined more than 200 articles in Emerald Archive.

The goal of this research related to SLAs and online services

I wanted to (primary) find relevant online business resources with the practical guides and examples of SLA use in the areas of online PR and Internet marketing, as well as in other e-business areas (secondary). In addition, I wanted to find the connection between practice in online environment with theoretical works related to SLAs and online reputation management.

The reason why I am interested in this subject is the logic between the levels of quality of provided service (QoS) and the legal assurance of a customer. In another words, if my company provides a service with a great (and measurable) quality, why we cannot put that service in the service level agreement. We can get more trust from a future customers, and we will be more competitive then thousands of other companies. I did not found any online PR and e-marketing agency that have such agreement visible on their Websites (maybe I did not find well).

The presentation of research results across some e-industries
(Some SLA texts, templates, examples… and other resources)

1. Real Service Level Agreement (SLA) examples – Web hosting services
It is obvious when you start to search in online environment, the most number of examples of working SLAs are in Web hosting industry. One of the examples of Web hosting SLA can be found here: http://www.verio.com/shared-hosting-guarantee/.

It is the recommendation to look for a Web hosting services which have the SLA as the guarantee of their quality of service.

2. Service Level Agreement (SLA) templates
– There is the SLA definition template from Microsoft Download Center.
– Much better choice for the SLA template can be found of the Web site of Alaska State.
– You can see the suggestion of the SLA structure @ sla-world.com. In my opinion there is no need to purchase that kind of templates.

3. Service Level Agreement (SLA) texts
– Here is nice text about constructing SLA, from builderau.com.au.
– It is the recommendation to read the SLA roundtable findings (2005) from E-consultancy.
(off/on topic) This is only e-marketing related resource where I found very serious articles about SLA issues. E-consultancy content is the best case scenario for the winning the online reputation through the level of seriousness in their texts.
Crafting a Service Level Agreements at schoolcio.com
Achieving Service Level Agreement by Virtualization at developer.com
US patent for E-business Service Level Agreements at patentstorm.us

4. Service Level Agreement (SLA) in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) resources
– Here is the podcast from Webservices.org about SLAs in SOA.
– Amemca on SOA and SLA at blogs.ittoolbox.com

5. Service Level Agreement (SLA) in Software as a Service (SaaS) resources
Why SLA in SaaS at out-law.com
Saas vendors and SLAs at blogs.zdnet.com

6. XML based SLA languages
Rule based SLA language
Web Services SLA from IBM

7. Service Level Agreements, e-services quality and online reputation academic texts

Determining and assessing the determinants of e-service operations, from Managing Service Quality Journal
Internet users’ perceptions of online service quality: a comparison of online buyers and information searchers, from Managing Service Quality Journal
Introducing a service level culture, from Facilities Journal
Process-oriented taxonomy of BPOs: an exploratory study, from Business Process Management Journal
The role of service level agreements in IT service delivery, from Information Management & Computer Security Journal
Practices and problems in managing electronic services using SLAs, from Information Management & Computer Security Journal
– … [there is more…] – Emeraldinsight.com

The findings about the online reputation management and SLA

1. There is the on-site and the off-site online reputation management activities. Developing Service Level Agreement(s) is on-site online reputation activity.

2. The majority of today’s SLAs in e-services are legally oriented, not PR/Sales/Marketing oriented.
The purpose of SLA is to be a customer oriented sales tool, which means to be very clear in customer assurance, not legally “clouded�. To achieve this, it is recommended that people from sales/PR/marketing departments have to create SLA framework, and after that the document has to be legally “spiced�.

3. To establish SLA in your e-services offer, it is paramount to determine what the accountable services are, and after that you have to assure that those services are determined by measurable business procedures (operations management). The goal is to have the same results per service for all customers.

4. It is important do determine the exact service level which you can always reach to your customer, but that level has to be high, comparing to the majority of your competition.

5. The recommendation is that SLAs has to be visible to potential clients, but with the emphasis that SLA is the additional reputation/sales tool.
The meaning of this recommendation is that the SLA is very easy to be copied, and the advice is to put it not visible to all of your site visitors.

It means that when site visitor is in the “sales path� (you have to research the visitor’s path’s through the Website), then on the one or two steps before the actual sales, there is suitable to put SLA link/info. The easier way is to put SLA info/link at the services section of the Web site. You can always create draft of SLA, and you can give complete SLA info to the potential customers which are very near to the sales.

6. If you can provide high quality of services, the best way to present SLA is the transparency.

It means that it is no problem that some other company will steal SLA text, because the provided services’ levels are very hard to be achieved through some other company. In this situation you act as the industry leader.

7. All of previous recommendations say that the SLA by itself is not reputable, the reputation is reached through the actual SLA content!

If you know your business very well and if you have accountable results of your services, you can create service level agreement.

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