Epik’s Guide to Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is your provider’s promise of network performance. When you know what to look for, it’s a fast and reliable way to tell if you’re engaging a reputable company for a quality service. Leading VOIP providers tend to be confident and forthcoming with their SLA, ready to offer hard numbers and fair compensation.
Here’s a quick guide to the questions to ask and things to look for when talking with a new provider. With these in mind, you’ll quickly be able to tell the best services from the worst.
Does Your Telecom Provider Have An SLA?
First thing’s first—does the provider have an SLA? We’re always surprised to hear from new clients that their previous service didn’t come with an SLA at all. This should set off an alarm in your head. It means they can’t or won’t guarantee any quality of service. No accountability whatsoever is as good as a guarantee that problems are coming and often.
And if you’re locked into a 2 year contract? That’s countless hours of downtime, dropped calls, and choppy voice. Make sure there’s an SLA!
What does (or doesn't) the SLA guarantee?
Installation, uptime and latency are the fundamental services outlined in an SLA. Together these tell you how well the provider knows the technology, their team, and their service.
Look for an outline of installation times organized by product or service. A smooth, quick switch is one of the advantages of Hosted VOIP, so look for efficiency. The more specific - including any project exceptions - the better. The last thing you want is to be caught in a never ending network transition with everyone giving you the runaround.
Network Availability (Uptime)
Network availability or uptime tells you how often your network will be running and accessible. While 100% network uptime is impossible to guarantee, leading VOIP providers offer are really close at 99.9% guaranteed uptime. Even a difference of tenths of a percent have a significant affect on your office operations. Anything below 99.8% uptime is to be avoided, as it is substandard for Hosted VOIP.
Also, make sure the uptime guarantee pertains to the service you’re interested in. In some cases providers present 99.9% but only in highly controlled situations or for specific services. Uptime will usually come with exceptions in the fine print, but shouldn’t rule out main options.
Network Latency (Call Quality)
Latency is critical because it essentially describes voice and call quality. Generally, the lower the better, but you can expect leading providers to be at about 70 milliseconds of latency or lower across the continent. This is the measure of how long it takes voice data to travel the entire network between users.
High latency will result in a number of issues ranging from voice delay to echo to dropped calls. The best installation and network availability won’t make up for poor voice quality.
Is the Compensation Fair?
SLA compensation is what holds a provider to their guarantee.
You’re paying for reliability in an advanced technology and so unexpected issues shouldn’t be at your expense. The service compensation should always outweigh the service issue, otherwise there’s no hard incentive for the provider to stick to their SLA figures.
Look for the details on when and how the credits apply to make sure you are properly compensated. The key here is finding credits or options that directly benefit you in the future and make up for the loss.
Is the Contract Transparent?
Lastly, you want to make sure the SLA isn’t riddled with exceptions. Some amount of fine print is necessary for a company to protect itself, but it can sometimes be abused. SLAs may outline a number of desirable guarantees that actually exclude the provider’s main products or services. This is an attempt to inflate the guarantee and gain new business.
This is often accompanied by a lot of jargon that will usually leave non-tech managers or business owners somewhat confused. Again, with any technology service you will find industry-specific terms, but a conscientious provider will point you to the definitions in their SLA and actively clarify terms as part of the sales process.
Don't Hesitate To Ask Questions
Representatives should happily address them and explain exactly why the fine print is there, and how it will affect your service. A telecom company with a solid SLA will willingly talk about their SLA and show it off, probably before you ask. It’s a sign they know what they’re doing and confidently show you the papers that hold them to their service quality.