September 10, 2009
Not a West! Moment: Hi, my name is Jen and I'm your Matthew Bender Account Manager
Jen has been my Matthew Bender account manager for about a year now but I haven't needed to call on her services much because, unlike the folks from the land of 10,000 invoices, you don't need to be a brainiac to understand the LexisNexis billing system. A few weeks ago I did have an occasion to call her for help (and it's ever so easy because her name and phone number is on every invoice). I was trying to buy a title online as a government buyer but the online registration system wouldn't accept my email account because our county domain is registered as an .org instead of a .gov. So I dropped Jen a little note, thinking I would get a reply back in a couple of days.
Not! Jen emailed me back the same day to say she would rather I order titles by contacting her directly because she could then offer me a 10% discount. Now, I have learned that if you have a real live person as your vendor rep and you ask the rep what he or she can do for you, you can sometimes get a quick 10% off, but you have to ask. I forgot to in this instance because I was having a senior moment. So thanks, Jen, even a $35 savings matters.
A Rock Star. But that's not the point to this story. We're in the process of changing our internal accounting system to better track where our spending is going, literally, to which location, our main library, our branch library, our courts, etc. Under our current system we have a pretty clear but not crystal clear picture of what we are buying, for whom, etc., so it was time for a reality check with some of our vendors.
I wanted a 12-month analysis of our accounts by ship-to address for titles, number of copies and total annual cost. I started the phone conversation with Jen by joking that this is the sort of call one gets when one provides good customer service. I explained what I needed, even mentioned that we probably will be following up with some cancellations once I compared her information to mine, told Jen I didn't need the information immediately and hung up the phone, hoping I wouldn't have to make a follow-up request for additional information. Yes, I was in a West frame of mind.
That was a Thursday afternoon phone call. First thing Monday morning, my email in-box contained a spreadsheet from Jen along with an apology for taking so long (you got to be kidding!) because to meet some of my data specs, she had to pour some info into the spreadsheet by hand. And the data? Everything I needed to confirm our own analysis. My rep is a rock star and I let Jen know that. I also called her supervisor to let him know I was in love with Jen in an Excel sort of way.
My West! Moment. Meanwhile, back in the land of 10,000 invoices and account reconciliation (AR) reports that take a set of colored pens to map, I've been waiting almost two months for one human being to be appointed my primary West rep for billing purposes. I know they exist ... somewhere ... Having reached a breaking point, the West! moment, other library directors have insisted and some have even managed to get one human being assigned to their accounts. After a fiasco with West's billing department that lasted several weeks, I really, really, really want to get on a first name basis with one.
Plan A. About the fiasco, I will say up front that it was mutual. We messed up some and that was a "my bad" because I didn't sufficently explain how to draw down aged payable credits for a Westlaw account that including print invoices, but so did West. On our part we missed paying a fair number of invoices over the course of several months after making advance payments to three accounts totalling $149K. We knew the problem existed and also knew that the best way to perform our analysis was to wait for West's "Second Notice" because the publisher's AR reports are an unmitigated disaster. If you have never seen one, imagine a horde of fire ants feasting on a dying worm baking on a hot sidewalk consuming what remains of any motivation you may have had to send West a check.
On their part, one West billing clerk didn't know which invoices to credit a $3,700 payment she received from us because she said she doesn't get the backup that itemized the invoices covered by our payment. After weeks of repeated phone calls between this person whose calls consisted of repeating the same questions to my library's bookkeeper -- did I mention the phone connection was always terrible, her email account didn't work, and our faxes may or may not have gotten into her hands -- I did the "director thing" by stepping in to inform her:
we were working out the accounting at our end;
we would have a check to West as soon as it was sorted out;
we did not want her to touch the payment she did not know where to credit because we would inform her of the invoices it should be applied to;
we do not want a call from her again about this matter (because each prior call was just a reiteration of the same questions); and
we do want a call if some other unrelated problem arose in the meantime.
I thought I got the message across when I hung up the phone (I used my "stern" voice -- hell, it sort of worked with my teenage step-sons).
Plan B. Wrong! She (hereinafter as "No. 1") called back twice with the same two questions in a span of 10-minutes after I hung up the phone! Time for Plan B. I emailed my Westlaw rep because he is the only person at West I know by name, saying I never wanted to hear from No. 1 again or to hear from anyone else about this particular billing fiasco again because we almost had it sorted out. I followed up that email with another to him explaining: (1) I had used my "stern" voice in the first email so he could push it up the chain of command; (2) I wasn't upset with him; and (3) I knew that this whole matter wasn't really his job but I had no one else to turn to for help.
So ... of course, a couple of days later I get a phone call from a new billing person, oh, let's call her "No. 2," who wants to go over this. I repeat everything I had told No. 1. See i-v above and note the number of ordering systems being used in this post: alphabetical, roman and arabic but not yet chinese numerals.
"By the way, No. 2," I added, "we still have over half of last year's $149,000 advance payment in three accounts unspent -- sitting in West's bank account -- so 壹 I think we're good for 'it' (hint) and 貳 if my instructions are not followed we will never make another advance payment to West again (threat)." No. 2's response, "oh." She did not call back so it was looking like real progress was finally being made. We could finish the task at hand without repetitious interruption.
So everything gets sorted out at our end. We've itemized our invoices for cutting a $29K check -- remember, this ended up taking a couple of months to sort out because of the maze that is West's accounting system, all the communications problems we had with No. 1, and our need to tie payments to specific invoices -- and we identified the invoices to apply the $3.7K payment West received but had not yet credited. I was feeling this long ordeal was about to be over until ... wait for it ... I pulled up a new AR report to compare it to the the old one I was using. Silly me, other than have a few new invoices, I thought they would be the same.
Not! Someone in West billing, No. 1 or No. 2 (or No. 3), applied the credit I asked be left untouched and did so by picking invoices out of thin, namely older ones we were about to pay. Yup. We had to readjust our accounting records, list of invoices for the special check we were a nanosecond away from writing, and that check's amount.
Plan C. Enough was enough. Time for Plan C. Once again I contacted my Westlaw rep. This time to tell him to come to my office because I was hand delivering the check to him along with every shred of backup information the land of 10,000 invoices and lousy online "My Account" system could conceivably need for their end of this transaction. Backup information included but was not limited to an annotated and color-coded AR report that mapped out everything. You see, I was a bit concerned because I was also providing a second check to pay our current invoices. Two checks to West at the same time for the same account might be problematic. By this time my library's bookkeeper was recommending that we only make advance payments to vendors who have relatively straightforward online accounting systems and procedures for crediting all payments that include following our instructions.
It may not be my Westlaw rep's job to pick up checks but when I have to spend this much time in addition to the time spent by my library's bookkeeper and professional accountant along with my instructions to West not being followed, this was the only way the Company was going to get paid. So we turned back the pages of legal publishing history to the late 19th century when John West hit the road to acquire subscribers and payments. The only difference being that West traveled by train and horse and buggy, and my Westlaw rep drives a car.
Yes, he got an earful in my office. In addition to hearing that I would never again make a six-figure advance payment on future invoices to West, I demonstrated how straightforward Matthew Bender's online "My Account" system was. Need we mention that West has had a hundred year head start on LexisNexis in establishing an accounting system? This is when my Westlaw rep, finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and listening to my "stern" voice, suggested we realign some of our accounts (fine by me) and have a single person manage my billing at their end (great!).
A + B + C = So where do we stand? Looks like we're transitioning some of our accounts but no dedicated billing manager yet. The two month anniversary of our face-to-face meeting is just around the corner. In payment processing, I've noticed a couple of credits but I haven't canceled anything. So I've got a question or two if I ever get a rep assigned (I promise I won't hold this West! moment against you). Until then, I'll take credits from West any day of the week. At least that shouldn't result in endless phone calls from No.1 or No. 2.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that the reason given for the overly aggressive collection activity was that the folks who do billing for government accounts for West also do billing for law firms and sole practitioners, some of whom aren't paying their bills. Apparently having the words "county" and "law" and "library" strung together in an account name or on our checks doesn't register.
Hi, my name is Joe and I'm the law librarian who pays West invoices but I'm not the only law librarian who has experienced a West! moment, nor the only one who is shedding West from his library. Indeed it is about pricing but it is also about customer service. Maybe I'll start writing 10,000 checks to the land of 10,000 invoices (a/k/a Plan D) or just stop writing checks to West (that would be Plan E). I don't think John West would be real happy about any of this.
Love you, Jen.
Okay, okay, you too Pete (BNA) and Rob (Aspen) and maybe you too Rob (Westlaw) if I get my own billing rep by the time our Westlaw contract comes up for renegotiation in December of 2010. [JH]
Wendy is my Jen at Lexis. Had a situation with online access, something about a federal government (Big Brother) requirement for verification. It was a mess, called Wendy, she got on the job and by the end of the day we were back up and running.
Posted by: bridget weller | Sep 17, 2009 11:32:22 AM
Jen and Susan at Lexis Nexis are both fabulous! They do things so fast for our library that my head nearly spins. Thanks a bunch girls for your terrific customer service! I have a West moment nearly every day. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one. As one more experienced librarian told me, "Dealing with West is a jouney, you have to pace yourself."
Posted by: vicki | Sep 16, 2009 7:52:38 AM