Two businessman shaking handsHello, your snarky Maren Hogan is back from vacation and ready to take on some seriously messed up practices in the HR and Marketing world. First up, here’s why your SLA totally stinks.

What’s that you say? You don’t have a service level agreement? I beg to differ. I submit that if you are a service provider (and you are, even if you are an internal corporate service provider) you have an implicit agreement to provide amazing serviceeven if you never signed anything stating as such.

There are a plethora of reasons for this, but two things are at the very heart of this changing business principle.

1) The consumerization of tech: People want tech that costs less, is easier to use and doesn’t bracket them into a corner when it comes to signing on (i.e. more than month-to-month type stuff). In simpler terms, they want the technology they use in their professional lives to be as easy as the tech they use in their personal lives. Don’t blame me; blame the iPod.

2) The dissemination of information: Maybe you’ve noticed it’s a whole lot easier to become an expert these days. You can be a marketing expert without a degree in marketing and a recruiting guru without graduating from high school (yes! you can!). This isn’t a bad thing, but it is a true thing and a dramatic shift in the way people think about information, knowledge and the application of both.

Because of the two aforementioned trends in the world of business, people have easy ways to see if you are living up to whatever you are paying for. I used to pay $10,000 for an email list and be thrilled when people said they liked the newsletter (they would call me up….on the phone). Today, I pay less than a third for a comparable list and I can see immediately using site analytics what my return on investment is. Guess what? If it’s bad, I expect (actually insist) on knowing the reasons why. I, and my clients want to know why they spent thousands of dollars on something nobody read.

If my service provider offers no explanation and no plan for making it right, they have broken the unwritten service level agreement. I won’t be using their service again and definitely not recommending them to my clients.

The same rules apply to you, wherever you are. If you are a third-party recruiter and find yourself collecting hefty fees for candidates that don’t stick around, my bet is you won’t be doing so for long. If you’re a corporate sourcer and you greenlight every applicant, your job isn’t going to stay secure once your overworked HR department starts realizing how very unqualified your people actually are.

This is where the service level agreement comes in. In today’s business climate, true professionals have to realize that one exists and define it for themselves and then consistently live up to it, as if it were written in stone. Why?

It raises you up. You may not be the very best at what you do, but if you commit to busting your hump to make it right, people will perceive you that way.

It builds goodwill within your industry. For years, I sold media at an organization that had pretty great results. If ever someone seemed displeased or pointed out that we were not beating our competitors in a certain area, I offered free design advice, adjusted the sending times or built new ads and tested them to figure out what we were doing wrong. As a cog in the machine, it would have been simpler to shrug and tell them “sorry,” but I didn’t and the company I worked for had a reputation for quality AND service because of that hard work.

It’s profitable. Straight up. You might lose a little money making things right in the beginning, but in the end, it will pay off in spades. I recently purchased a lead generation campaign for a client that did dismally across multiple channels. One vendor did everything in its power to fix the low numbers, while another just sent the results through weekly…after the invoice. Guess which company we’re still working with? Over the years, only companies that provide stellar service get business time after time.

For my part, I am committed to creating reasonable KPIs for myself and my team and then researching what went wrong if we don’t hit them. Then, I make it right. It’s a pretty simple SLA, but it works out well in the end.


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