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Service Level Agreements (SLAs) help print room management determine what’s important to customers in a way that can be defined and measured.

But where do you start if you need to draw one up?

The first thing to remember is that you already enjoy some significant advantages in the process. From your day-to-day workload, you already know your customers’ requirements, probably better than they do, and if you’ve completed any benchmarking exercises then you’ll already have a lot of the input data needed. Finally, if you have been conducting customer surveys to assess how the print room is perceived and used by the wider business, you will already have established channels of communication with your customers, who are likely to regard an SLA as a logical next step.*

When deciding what the SLA has to cover, it is invaluable to take a 360-degree view of the relationship between print room and customer, which means going beyond guarantees of job turnaround and addressing things like opening hours, ordering procedures, how frequently you will benchmark, and so on. A 360-degree view should also include non-standard jobs and, if these are especially complex, consider breaking them down into distinct steps that you can measure, proofing, for example.

Setting the targets is where you really get down to business, so take care to get them right at the outset. If they’re easy to measure it makes the whole SLA process easier to manage. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so if you encounter something like this, omit it from the SLA or find a substitute.

As for the targets themselves, get SMART! Follow this handy acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely and you won’t go far wrong.

  • A Specific target is one that is clearly defined: for example, “Proofs for stationery will be delivered within 24 hours of the order being placed“ is more precise than “Proofing will be done before printing“.
  • Measurable targets can be quantified, numerically or against an agreed scale, and Achievable targets reflect the print room’s capabilities.
  • Likewise, Realistic targets give you the best chance of meeting them in normal operating conditions, an example here would be committing to “next-day delivery of volumes <1,000 items“ rather than the blanket offer of “next-day delivery“.
  • Finally, targets need to be Timely, that is, the print room can meet them within the agreed timeframe.

One of your customer departments might ask for the SLA to include penalty clauses for below par performance.

While these are a common feature of contracts between commercial printers and their customers, in-house printing is more of a family affair and penalty clauses don’t generally have a place. If your customer insists, then make sure the instances when a penalty clause is triggered can be easily measured (and thus avoided). It’s also worth putting forward the argument that while imposing a penalty might help an individual department, it delivers no positive benefit to the organisation – in fact, the opposite is true: they represent an overall administrative drain.

While establishing an SLA needn’t be onerous or all-consuming, the process will involve a lot of the print room manager’s time, and also depend on customers’ willingness to make time for negotiation. But a lot of the value comes from the process itself and the increased level of communication with customers, and that may well drive new business and improve relationships.

To help you get the drafting process under way, we have produced an easy-to-use checklist that breaks SLAs into manageable bite-size chunks entitled Service Level Agreements: 5 top tips.


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