Many telecom departments and IT groups are focusing on what I call "operational excellence." In a nutshell, that means providing top-quality services to internal customers: the lines of business and end users within their organizations. Operational excellence requires vision, customer intimacy and the ability to execute flawlessly.If that doesn't describe your IT group yet, where should you start? You might think it's with the service-level agreement (SLA). Well, yes and no. SLAs are important, but many organizations implement them too early in the process, without knowing what their customers actually require, or why they're not delivering. Frustration and failure result.Instead, start by benchmarking your existing internal service delivery. Find out how you're doing - from the customer's perspective. That means gathering qualitative and quantitative data. Yes, network engineers need to measure downtime, availability and performance, and the help desk needs to know mean time to respond and mean time to repair. But that's not all.Take the time and energy to find out your users' main concerns. You'll probably uncover surprises. Users often blame the network for application difficulties. Or they complain that a service is difficult to configure and use, rather than unreliable or unavailable. One client found that his internal users perceived videoconferencing services to be at fault because users couldn't figure out how to set up calls. You might even discover that an area in which you've been investing considerable resources - obtaining that fourth or fifth availability "nine" - isn't even an issue.Once you've compiled this information, review it internally. Where does it seem your organization could use the most improvement? Dispatch a "tiger team" to understand why you're below par and propose solutions. If you're severely understaffed, that tiger team might be you. Trust me, it's worth the late nights and weekend work.Now that you have a baseline understanding, you're ready to talk about your efforts publicly. Prepare a set of reports tailored to your disparate audiences: senior executives, network engineers and help desk personnel. And don't just e-mail this information: Make sure to review the data with your customers, preferably in person. This lets you defuse potential issues early. And finally, commit to providing this information regularly, along with an update on the progress of the tiger team.Only once you know how you're doing and why you're falling short are you finally ready to craft SLAs.Do this collaboratively. Before setting SLAs in stone, get another round of user feedback to make sure you're focusing on what your customers think is important. This also lets you apprise folks of any necessary trade-offs. Let's say you can deliver either 5-minute response time or 5-hour resolution time, but not both: Have your customers tell you which matters more.Remember that the best route to customer ecstasy is delivering 110% of what your customers have told you they need.