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Experience Level Agreements Explained: What Are XLAs?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Experience Level Agreements Explained: What Are XLAs?

An Experience Level Agreement, or XLA, is an experience metric that measures the gap between the experience you are delivering now, to your employees or customers, and the experience you want to be providing. Are you being told you're meeting all your SLAs but people are unhappy? Then you may want to invest in an XLA.

The concept of XLAs is gaining traction, a trend that has only continued to grow over the past couple of years. We want to continue providing value to our clients; therefore, we’re keen to help you understand what an XLA can mean for your organisation and how it can be effectively implemented to encourage satisfied employees and increased productivity in 2022.

Understand Service Level Agreements (SLAs) Before Experience Level Agreements (XLAs)

Before we get to XLAs, one first needs to understand what Service Level Agreements, or SLAs, are. According to the latest version of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, ITIL4, an SLA is:

“A documented agreement between a service provider and a customer that identifies both services required and the expected level of service.”

Therefore, an SLA is a contractual understanding between the IT service provider and the customer about what the two parties can expect out of a particular service. As suggested by the  VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, there are three basic parameters to create an SLA which are basically a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), a means to measure the success or failure of these KPIs, and the possible penalties that might come into play if the contractual SLA is violated by either of the two sides.

Even though these three parameters seem to be good enough to give the assumption of creating a logical contract between the service provider and the customer, in reality it is often the case that our SLA metrics are are being met but the sentiment of those utilising the service is negative. This is because the so-called green reports did not help them or their business achieve the goal they had initially expected to achieve while paying for said service. This is called the Watermelon Effect. From the outside everything is green, however, delve deeper and it's all glaring red. This negative aspect is often unseen, and this leads to unhappy employees and/or customers and eventually the loss of business to competition, possibly without us knowing the reason why until it's too late.

Therefore, we can see two major problems with SLAs:

  1. They are very IT service-oriented (ticket response times, recovery times, availability), however, they don’t share much information on how well or poorly they performed for the user

  2. Most of the metrics used to measure the SLAs are often done at a low level which doesn’t ensure a high-quality experience for the user

So, What Are XLAs?

What are XLAs?

As the IT Service Management (ITSM) industry becomes more and more user-centric, simply working on the Quality of Service (QoS) would have to be supplemented with Quality of Experience. In other words, a QoE-driven SLA can be referred to as an Experience Level Agreement (XLA).

Therefore, while talking about XLAs in line with SLAs, they can be defined as a special variety of SLA specifically altered to set up a common understanding about the kind of quality levels the customers will experience while using the services. It is important that this understanding is written in clear terms for both sides to relate correctly.

With this in writing and a clear focus on experience, an XLA becomes the bridge between technical performance and employee/customer perception and reduce what is known as the experience gap: the gap between the experience being provided currently and the experience you want to provide as an organisation.

How Do XLAs Work?

As mentioned, XLAs needed to be written clearly in a contractual form, which means experience levels are needed to be measured before categorising them for the customers to choose from. This could be done using the various aspects of the customers’ expectations. For instance, the outcomes or benefits they wish for while using the service.

Such an assessment would allow the users to choose which level of experience quality would they wish to avail themselves of while buying a service. Such segregation would also impact the various prices, and deals that the service providers would have to offer.

For our projects, we take the SLA and KPI metrics, or operational (O) data, measurements and metrics made by technical tools, known as T data, and sentiment, X data, that will be obtained via some sentiment gathering tools such as surveys to generate an overall picture of experience that can be interpreted and analysed for those responsible to suggest action against any areas of poor experience.

Why Focus On Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) in 2022?

In today’s highly competitive market of service providers, when a customer reaches out to use a service, they expect that the service will be operated with utmost reliability and for an affordable price. Therefore, from the perspective of the service providers, two parameters have reached their competitive saturation:

  1. Customers can rest assured that they will receive the best service the providers can give.

  2. The price for the service will remain similar across the market, regardless of which provides the customer chooses to go ahead with.

In order to get ahead of such a highly saturated market, the providers who put an emphasis on customer experience on the same level as service performance stand a better chance of standing out, particularly as the topic of employee experience, both digitally and physically, became more prominent during the pandemic.

Having a lack of experience for the customer results in a market gap for IT service providers. Those who strive for good customer experience can get a competitive advantage in the industry and increase their customer loyalty, reputation and revenue by offering their customers a certain level of experience based on the contract the provider and the customer sign. These are Experience Level Agreements (XLAs).

XLAs are therefore ideal for conveying the kind of expectations a customer can look forward to while using the services of the provider on the basis of employee experience.

Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) In The ‘World From Home’ Culture In 2022

XLAs and working from home - 2022

As the corporate world is adapting the Work From Home model or mixing it up with the Hybrid Work model, internal and external IT services are becoming more and more dependent on XLAs with the objective of making employee experience more efficient and keeping the productivity high while connecting everyone remotely.

During 1E’s 2021 conference discussing the Work From Anywhere conference, VP of Digital Operations, NTT Data, John DuBois spoke about the most essential use of XLAs even while working remotely.

DuBois said:

“XLAs enable us to collect data, automate, and take actions so that employees feel they are being empowered and supported by IT.”

It's critical to guarantee that end-users feel supported, as a terrible employee experience will leave them frustrated and uncared for, prompting them to look for the exit! Gallup suggests that high-engagement teams are 21% more efficient and have 28% less internal theft than low-engagement teams.

Employee satisfaction and retention are arguably more important than ever before in today's climate, according to John, because employees are worn out. Many people have worked harder and, in some cases, longer hours in the previous year or so, and while this boosted production during the peak of the pandemic, it isn't sustainable.

This is where XLAs come in to help explain how employees feel about their IT system, their technologies, the processes they have access to, and most importantly if they believe they are receiving the assistance they require to be productive. Monitoring and eliminating friction, automating or eliminating repetitive chores, and allowing staff to focus on innovation and business goals will go a long way toward improving employee experiences and lowering turnover.

Jamie MacKenzie, Director of End-User Computing at WBM, discussed how the nature of work is changing as a result of the epidemic; we now have less direct face-to-face interaction and support and instead, rely on a range of new technologies and routines. As a result, we must modify how we work, cooperate, and innovate – and XLAs are a perfect example of how to adapt to the changing workplace.

Workplaces will continue to evolve and become more focused on employees. The traditional workweek, as we know it, isn't the way of the future; instead, hybrid work, which allows individuals to work from anywhere while preserving a healthy work-life balance, is the way of the future. And going beyond typical service measurements is the best way to support this employee-centric hybrid working model.

It's vital to use XLAs to go beyond typical service measures and acquire insight into how consumers genuinely feel about their devices and applications in order to generate innovation and value within your company. Businesses will be able to keep their employees productive by using this knowledge to better understand how to give the devices, tools, and support they need to make their tasks easier. Whether we like it or not, the workplace has evolved, and it's time for us to change with it.

XLA Failures That Can Harm End-User Experience

Man observing documents

According to Bright Horse Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer Neil Keating, there are four bad XLA practices that can be counter-productive:

  1. Uncontrolled IT Service Management Structure: When a company wishes to hop into XLAs while their basic ITSM structure isn’t stable.

  2. Wrong KPIs: When the company focuses on the incorrect KPIs to measure an employee’s success or failure. For example, enforcing a 15-minute time limit on a service desk agent to resolve a user’s problem. Instead, allow him the time to solve the problem thoroughly and without any rush.

  3. Depending Too Much On ITSM Tools: While ITSM tools are helpful in determining where the problem lies, they will not be able to solve everything. See what the tools have to say and then analyse what you are doing to do about the tool’s diagnosis.

  4. Ignoring The Experience Management Office (XMO): A company needs to show that the Experience Management Office is at a senior level for it to be taken seriously. If the experience management office is too low down on the organization, it will just become a data repository.

Learn More About Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) With Bright Horse

Our partner, Nexthink have demonstrated how their tool takes the users’ perspective in, rather than the IT perspective outwards. They combine hard metrics with user sentiment. This is a huge step for many IT functions, moving from a reactive position to a more proactive stance.

User sentiment is hard to capture. Service is consumed at the point of the experience, it’s about how you make someone feel. Another huge part of delivering service effectively is actively managing expectations.

If you feel you need to explore we would be delighted to help you on your experience journey. We have experience courses and webinars to attend, various consulting options to support your organisation in all things experience, and various Nexthink consultancy and managed services to learn about. Alternatively, if you'd like to chat over email, feel free to contact us.

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