4 Key Items to Include in Your Captioning and Transcription Service Level Agreement

September 23, 2016 BY JOSH MILLER
Updated: February 6, 2024


Price isn’t everything.

There are other factors to consider when crafting a service level agreement with a professional closed captioning company.

When the product isn’t exactly what you need, what does that cost you?

What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

A service level agreement (SLA) is a formal commitment, usually by a supplier, to a certain level of service or performance.

SLA may include milestones for quality, uptime, deliverable timelines, and support responsiveness within a contractual agreement. A common example is network uptime for hosting and delivery service providers since the functionality is business critical for customers.

SLAs are necessary because financial gain or loss can often be attached to hitting and missing the SLA milestones.

In the captioning and transcription space, there are several key considerations when forming an SLA. It is important to identify how to assess the financial and/or resource impact on hitting and missing these milestones.

1. Accuracy

How accurate are your transcripts and captions?

Are they timed properly? Accuracy gets the most marketing attention from transcription and captioning firms. It’s common to see promises of 98% or 99% accuracy. After all, it’s understandable that lots of mistakes make for a slew of challenges — including potentially rendering the output useless.

Measuring accuracy presents its own set of challenges. Are false starts included? What about “ums” and “uhs”? Not all mistakes are equal either. Missing a pluralization might not be as bad as getting a word completely wrong. All 99% promises might not be equal.

Plus, someone has to actually go through the output to find the errors! A transcript doesn’t come back with a note saying “I have four words wrong”.

How much do mistakes cost you? Can you still publish it? Are you susceptible to legal action? Are you paying someone to review and edit the output you receive? And what if the mistakes are discovered several months later by your audience?

Remember that accurate captions reflect the quality of your product. All these items should be evaluated within your contract. Did you get what you paid for?

2. Turnaround compliance

Turnaround compliance should be a bit easier to measure than accuracy. You either get your files back when you expect them — or you don’t!

Unfortunately, in this case, the effect of missing this target may have larger short-term costs than a couple typos.

If you’re working on a deadline and need the transcript back to continue your work, turnaround reliability is critical. What if you’re going to air at a certain time? You can’t reschedule your programming!

If a student is waiting for a captioned version of their video, how much extra time can they afford to wait before they fall behind in the course?

If you’ve paid extra for faster turnaround, what happens when the deadline is missed?

Make sure there is an agreeable process to handle this.

3. Support responsiveness

With any product or service, there is always potential for an issue to arise.

The support experience can make or break a customer relationship. Just look at cable companies and airlines. The expectations in those industries could not be lower. It’s rare to hear someone say something positive about their experience.

Does your vendor have a structured process for addressing support cases?

Is it easy to log a request?

Seek out what other customers say about working with the vendor. Responsiveness is one important component. It shows how much they care about solving problems and ensuring a quality overall experience.

4. Uptime

Any cloud-based service needs to be “online” for customer use.

How else can you order and download? Sure, some service components might be able to be accomplished in the background or during times you, the customer, don’t need to be online.

But in that critical moment, when you need your files or when your video platform is posting a file for captioning to the system, are you confident it will work EVERY time?

Do they give advanced notice of downtimes so you can plan accordingly?

Uptime is usually calculated using a defined time period. This means there is a small allowance for downtime within a given month/quarter/year.

The next time you negotiate a deal, consider these elements and what they are worth to your organization. And remember that an SLA only exists if it’s in a contract or overarching terms of service. Marketing statements don’t count as contractual obligations.

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