Field service management is a vital part of any organization's business strategy. No business can enjoy continued success without providing high-quality field service, while a remarkably good field service raises customer satisfaction and brand reputation. Offering a great field service not only removes the risk of tarnishing the brand image that goes along with a poor service, but it also increases customer loyalty and revenue as a consequence.
There are several factors that should be taken into account in field service management. Customer expectation is king, such as reliable access to services without disruption and readily available follow-up when required. A lot of thought and effort goes into setting up an efficient field service. When choosing to outsource your field service operations, a well-rounded service-level agreement (SLA)is the best way to ensure that the third party that the service is being outsourced to understands what will be required to keep the customers happy.
An SLA is a contract that establishes the relationship between the service provider and the customer. It helps establish the scope of a provider's obligations. When firms decide to outsource field services to third parties, SLAs constitute an important part of the outsourcing relationship management (ORM). In fact, the success of the outsourcing arrangement will rest heavily on the SLA, as it will be the document that defines the expectations of all parties concerned. SLAs facilitate functions by setting standards for communication, monitoring and reporting of issues, and performance quality.
SLAs are meant to define exactly what the client and service provider expect from each other and confirm that both parties agree to fulfill the responsibilities according to the criteria outlined in the agreement. The term 'SLA' only applies to agreements made between the provider and the customer directly. Any additional arrangements with internal groups or other third parties are designated as contractsor operational-level agreements (OLAs).
So, technically speaking, the relationship between the firm offering the product and customers is governed by the SLA, and the relationship between the firm and the third party that it outsources its field service to will be governed by the OLA. However, the key document will always be the SLA because the third party will have to uphold the clauses of the SLA to provide a satisfactory service to customers on behalf of the firm, and this is what the OLA would be based on as well.
Here's a simple graphic to understand this:
Key components of SLAs
A comprehensive SLA would generally cover the following points:
- Type of services– the details of the type and scope of services to be provided.
- Service performance level– the desired level of reliability and responsiveness of the services is specified. Defining the level of reliabilitymeans establishing when the service is expected to be available and to what extent service outages have to be limited. Responsivenesssignifies the average amount of time needed to perform the service.
- Monitoring and reporting– This part of the SLA defines how service performance is monitored and supervised by determining the frequency of gathering statistics and how the client will be able to access these statistics.
- Reporting problems– Who to contact in the case of issues occurring, how to do it, and in what order, should all be specified in the SLA. Contact information is given as well as the format for filing complaints and the exact steps for resolving an issue.
- Time frame for resolving problems– SLAs should include a specific time limit within which someone should start working on the problem and within which the problem should be solved.
- Consequences for not following the agreement– SLAs also define what actions can be taken by the client in case the service provider does not fulfill the obligations specified in the agreement. These actions can include terminating the contract or asking for a reimbursement for losses caused by the service provider's failure to meet the agreement's requirements.
- Exemptions from adhering to the agreement– Escape clauses are determined so that the service provider is freed from the obligations of the SLA in extreme circumstances such as natural disasters or other states of emergency.
The exact composition of an SLA will vary according to the nature of service providers as well as customers, but the key focus of any SLA will always be apprehending any potential issues that could arise and specifying solutions for the same.
Service-level objectives (SLOs) are the core of any SLA. They are clear and concise specifications describing how each component of the agreement can be fulfilled in measurable terms. In other words, they are the quantifiable part of the requirements listed within the agreement.
SLOs in a sense represent what a client expects from a service provider. Setting down SLOs facilitates the achievement of desired outcomes and prevents misunderstandings between the client and service provider, which have the potential to end up in disputes.
It has been recommendedthat SLOs should be
- mutually acceptable
SLAs also contain clauses that determine how an existing agreement will be managed once it has been set into motion. These include
- Modifying the agreement– In case there's a need for any modification of the original agreement, changes are made based on a consensus between both parties. Regular reviews of SLAs at least once annually ensure that any issues that can be resolved by alterations to the agreement are identified and addressed.
- Maintaining communication– Continuous communication between the service provider and customer is highly desirable for smooth cooperation. SLAs can facilitate this by including clauses which define exactly when meetings between the two should take place.
- Reviewing reports and other documents– The relationship between providers and users can be improved further by defining the frequency of reviewing documents concerning all parties.
- Reevaluating service activities– The frequency of reevaluating service activities can also be included in an SLA in case there are concerns regarding the optimization of a particular service.
- Assessing performance– Yet another useful clause which deals with the frequency of reviewing performance indicators.
Medical device field service agreements
Just as for any other industry, a medical device field service would essentially be guided by an SLA. Since SLAs concern the basic expectations and relationships between firms and their clients, their core components would be similar across industries. This is not surprising, as almost any client would want a product, whether it's a medical device or something else, that is reliable and comes along with a dependable field service. Therefore, what we described above as the key components of SLAs and SLOs would be applicable in the medical device industry as well.
This AAMI templateis a good example of what an SLA looks like for medical devices. Just keep in mind that this template uses the terms 'service provider' and 'customer' in a slightly different context: equipment manufacturers are equated to service providers and healthcare delivery organizations to customers. When we are talking about medical device customers we are often referring to the end users themselves often in the confines of their homes. Having said that, we at BHN do deal with healthcare setups and clinical practices as well. Nonetheless, the AAMI template is a good starting point when planning your own SLA. Some othermore generalSLA templatescan also be useful, just remember to be clear about your firm's goals and requirements when customizing templates.
Field service outsourcing for medical devices
Medical device companies often have to choose between setting up their own field service vs. outsourcing the work to a third party. Considering the advantages associated with outsourcingthe field service, the decision is often a no-brainer for many companies, especially startups that already have their plate full. Under such circumstances, an SLA becomes an invaluable tool to make sure that all parties involved are on the same page.
At BHN, we fully understand the value of the client-provider relationship. When you outsource your field service to us, we take care of your customers as if they were our own, in a manner of speaking. And in the delivery of all services, we conform to what has been laid out in the SLA, so that you have happy customers who will bring in more referrals.
If you are interested in the possbility of outsourcing all or part of your medical device field service work, please click on the button below to receive more information: