Glossary: Service level agreement (SLA)

A service level agreement (SLA) is a part of a contract where the level of service is formally defined. The SLA records mutually agreed-upon conditions regarding services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees and warranties. Each area should have the “level of service” defined. The SLA may specify the levels of availability, serviceability, performance, operation, or other attributes of the service, such as billing.

It is common to append an SLA to your contract with your email service provider, regardless of whether it’s a hosted service or an in-house solution.

Why an SLA?

With a service level agreement, a client knows what services to expect and the price of those services. This makes it possible to evaluate those services and compare them with other email service providers. In case of non-compliance with the SLA, the supplier can be held to the agreement (in some cases with penalty). Service level agreements also are used as a starting point for cost control and quality improvements.

Target and minimum

The service level also can be specified as “target” and “minimum.” This informs customers on what to expect (the minimum), while providing a measurable (average) target value showing the level of organization performance.

Elements of an SLA

Consider including the following often-used elements in your SLA:

  • Definition of services
  • Reaction time & availability
  • Performance
  • Problem management
  • Reporting
  • Sanctions
  • Customer duties
  • Warranties
  • Disaster recovery
  • Termination of agreement
  • Cost control
  • Monitoring, performance measurement & audit

Related terms: Uptime, deliverability, service desk, reliability

About Jordie van Rijn


Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant and Analyst. He is the Founder of Email Vendor Selection and specializes in smart email marketing, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. Named on of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016 " by Entrepreneur magazine.