What is more important – time saved or time well spent?
How you think about this problem and how you’d go about measuring it is an important consideration for managers who aspire to be leaders in today’s digital workplace.
In IT and beyond, focusing on experience over service is the difference between managing the status quo and leading a change that pushes an organization forward. There is a huge difference between simply using a technology and leveraging it to address employees’ needs or desires.
Using IT to improve the digital work experience
An SLA, or service level agreement, is a commitment between a service provider and a client. It sets out the products or services to be delivered and clearly defines the metrics by which they can be measured. In IT this might be, for example, a guarantee of 99.9% server up-time, or the promise for a service desk to handle a certain amount of tickets on a daily or weekly basis.
By contrast, an experience level agreement (XLA) goes beyond what a service can deliver in purely technical terms. XLAs operate on a more human level and are concerned with how a user feels when they consume a service. They are about the impact and experience, not the process, and as such are much harder to quantify. SLAs are all about production, uptime, speed, volume, etc. XLAs are more about emotion, satisfaction, happiness, engagement—goals which have even more relevancy in today’s remote working world.
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There has been much discussion in recent years about a shift from SLAs to XLAs and the idea that the latter will top the former. However, this is not the right way to consider the issue. XLAs should instead be seen as an extension or an augmentation of the SLA. They add the experience-by-design that is missing from a standard service definition.
The difference between service and an experience can be seen in all sorts of real-world examples that extend far beyond the realms of IT departments and digital services. Apple’s first generation iPod was not the first MP3 player to come to market. However, when Apple launched it in 2001 its promise to put “1,000 songs in your pocket” spoke to an experience that went beyond the service-level offering of a portable media player with 5GB of storage.
It’s entirely possible that you can have a dismal digital experience within a fully “satisfied” service from an SLA perspective. If employees don’t like a particular application, or don’t know how to use it, or don’t think its sleek and helpful—under a traditional SLA those sentiments are discounted. While it’s impossible to build a good experience on a bad service, a good underlying service can be sabotaged by poor user experience. In the realm of IT service management, a service desk representative might be able to quickly fix a computer log-in issue over the phone, but if they are rude while doing so the experience becomes poor.
In an age of digital experience, this is a valuable lesson to take on board by anyone in a management position. Those who want to be leaders in their organization in the years to come will have to lead with experiences that they can create for their team, customer and entire organization.
Measuring a ‘work experience’ from IT’s perspective
While SLAs are usually written out in clear black and white terms, XLAs present more of a problem. How do you measure an experience on a quantitative scale?
One answer arrived back in 2019, when Nexthink launched its Digital Experience Score. Its XLA metric was devised to establish continuous service and improvement models. Commenting at the time of the launch, Nexthink CEO, Pedro Bados with whom I co-founded Nexthink, said: “We talked to hundreds of our customers with millions of end users and came up with the perfect metrics for how best-in-class organizations should measure digital experience internally.”
It was a milestone in an approach to experience that Gartner have termed Digital Experience Monitoring, and which Forrester now calls EUEM (End-User Experience Management). In 2020, Forrester qualified the growing influence and significance of this space by unveiling their EUEM New Wave Report, where Nexthink was highlighted as a leader.
Nexthink Lands Atop Forrester's Wave Report
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“End-user experience management is an emerging market that focuses on improving employee technology experience, using both quantitative and qualitative methods,” writes report author Andrew Hewitt. “Today’s leaders increasingly deliver sentiment analysis of qualitative feedback, improved root-cause analysis, and remediation directly in-product.”
What is clear is that IT and digital services are at a crossroads. While not everyone recognizes it yet, it is important to define the experience and have that as the basis and foundation of any service. By doing so we put the human at the center of whatever level of technology or service is required.
While services are a one-way offering, experiences are unidirectional and companies have to look at this whole journey. It’s the difference between an airline and a tour operator – one takes you from A to B while the other provides a full travel experience.
Building experiences combines both technical and touch metrics – how things are functioning and how the user is doing. For future managers, making an entire company care about experiences will be an important factor in achieving success. Services are important, but ultimately it is experiences that trump agreements, contracts and procedures.