November 2, 2009
LLB's Rate Your Legal Resources Vendors Survey: Customer Services Findings for BNA, LexisNexis, West and Wolters Kluwer
A Quick Note About the Survey. One survey taker asked, "Please tell me this is not a marketing technique for any of the vendors mentioned." The answer is absolutely not. As I explained in the survey announcement, "the questions asked ... are the result of what happens when you think out loud in the blogosphere. This survey is a follow-up to LLB's (1) April 2009 Should LexisNexis and Thomson West Be Worried About the Economy's Turbulence? Results of the LLB Poll; (2) February 2009 Tough Times Ahead for Law Library Budgets poll results; and (3) recent email communications from some law librarians who prefer to response to blog posts directly to me instead of by adding comments to posts."
Another way to answer the question is this: LLB is part of a commercial network of blogs I co-own. Since 2005, LexisNexis, West and currently the Aspen wing of Wolters Kluwer have paid to place ads on the 40-some blogs in the Law Professor Blogs Network. No advertiser has even asked that we promote a product in a blog post or asked that we do not criticize their products, services or business practices in blog posts. No advertiser has ever asked us to solicit information about a product, service or business practice by any means including a poll or survey like this one. If one would ask me to do any of the above, I would tell them to take a hike. The Network offers advertisers approximately 10 million page views per year so readers can see the ads the companies place in the right sidebar of each blog, nothing more, nothing less. I doubt that was the intent of this question but it doesn't hurt to clear up any doubts anyone may have on the issue.
Another survey taker asked why Hein was omitted. "What about Hein? They are awesome!" I absolutely agree. If only all vendors were like Hein but Hein's market share pales in comparison to the market shares of BNA, LexisNexis, West and Wolters Kluwer. The market is dominated by LexisNexis and West but they cannot ignore BNA and Wolters Kluwer, particularly in the private law library and public law library markets because of their fairly comprehensive product lines. Hein, particularly HeinOnline, spans all market segments now but the Company remains a niche player that satisfies fairly specific market needs. Hence the focus on the larger legal resources vendors in this survey. [JH]
On September 29 2009, LLB launched its Rate Your Legal Resources Vendors: BNA, LexisNexis, West and Wolters Kluwer. The results of the survey are in. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will be reporting them. First the data for each section of the survey, with a little commentary, as I try to sort out what I think about the overall survey findings. What do you think?
I would like to thank everyone who participated in this survey. I will be the first to admit that there is nothing scientific about the construction of the survey. See the sidebar for details. The response rates varied from question to question -- from 150-some for some questions to 130-some and 100-some for others (not counting "not applicable" responses). As a group, the institutional demographics are private law librarians made up 49% of the respondents, academic law librarians 27.5%, public law librarians 20.6% and others 2.9%. For details, click on the image, above left.
Customer Services Findings. The first section of the survey addressed customer service issues by asking two questions.
1. In terms of detailed and trustworthy information about their products and services in vendor literature and direct communications, how would you rate your vendors? BNA and LexisNexis received the highest marks. Almost 56% of the responses rated BNA as Good or Excellent. LexisNexis received 49% Good or Excellent marks. Do note that BNA also received the lowest percent of ratings for Very Poor or Poor (11.76%).
Who received the highest percent of Very Poor or Poor responses? West. Almost one-third of the West responses rated the Company Very Poor or Poor. That response rate was substantially higher than any other vendor.
2. In terms of responsiveness to issues and their prompt resolution for products and services, how would you rate your vendors? Once again. BNA and LexisNexis received the highest marks, 56.3% and 51.3% for Good or Excellent respectively. Once again BNA received the lowest percent of Very Poor or Poor ratings (10.37%). And once again West received the highest percent of Very Poor or Poor responses (34.46%) with no other publisher coming even close to that level of customer dissatisfaction with services provided.
Why These Two Questions. The intent in asking the above two questions was really a no-brainer. Information professionals responsible for legal resources, that would be us, need detailed information about vendor products and services (and changes being made by the vendor to our collections) and we need to go beyond the marketing literature by communicating one-on-one with a vendor rep most of the time. We need timely responses to our questions and straight-forward, specific answers stripped of marketing nonsense. Once business relationships have been established, vendors can expect that problems will arise. Once again, questions asked need to be answered in specificity and resolution of issues must be timely. This is what customer service is all about. Tens of additional customer services questions could have been asked but if the vendor can't get these two structural facets of the library-vendor relationship right, long-term customer dissatisfaction is going to be the result.
In these information budget cutting times and with so many alternative resources now available, no vendor's offering of products and services is so essential that law libraries cannot find decent alternatives. In an era where there are no sacred cows anymore, customer service is one of the factors that will play an important role in the on-going restructuring in law library information resources across the nation.
Ranking the Vendors. According to this admittedly unscientific survey, BNA and LexisNexis are doing the best jobs. With 50% of each vendor's customers giving the companies Good or Excellent ratings in this component of the entire survey and no other vendor coming close to such high marks, I'm inclined to call it a tie for best in customer service. It's a close call. If you need a tie-breaker, BNA gets the nod because the Company received by a fairly significant margin the lowest percent of Very Poor or Poor responses to each question. Alternatively, rank BNA in first place and LexisNexis in second place because they ranked first and second respectively in Good or Excellent responses to each question and, when compared to West and Wolters Kluwer, both companies did so by significant margins.
However way you look at it, BNA and LexisNexis "get it" when it comes to customer service. Congratulations to the emplyees who make this happen day in and day out and to both companies' management for recognizing that if legal information is moving in the direction of commodization even for editorial content, brand loyality will be increasing based on quality customer service. This survey's findings clearly indicate that law librarians appreciate all the hard work you do for the law library community in terms of customer services.
Wolters Kluwer is doing an OK job if you look at the Company's combined responses for Average and Good or Excellent ratings but do note that the Company came in last or second to last place in the two questions' Good or Excellent ratings. In this case, "OK" means there's plenty of room for improvement. Wolters Kluwer needs to work on ways and means to improve the structure of its customer services operation. At the vendor rep level, it's probably time to eliminate the bifurcation of tax products and everything but tax products to deploy existing staffers more effectively. Integrating Aspen probably is a good idea. Check out the comments provided by the survey takers. The Company received the highest percent of Average responses to each question. Is average good enough?
West, well when one-third of West's customers according to this survey rate the Company's customer services in these two fundamental areas as Very Poor or Poor and no other vendor comes close to this level of customer dissatisfaction, it just might be time for West to address the matter of being the worst provider of customer service in the legal publishing industry. Need additional evidence? Like Wolters Kluwer, West came in last or second to last place in the two questions' Good or Excellent ratings. This left hook and right upper cut to the solar plexus combination represents being KO-ed in the provision of customer services to the law library community. Is West punch drunk?
The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing but everyone is toeing the party line. In a nutshell, that's West's strictly regulated, Stalinistic approach to customer service. Is West still arrogant enough to believe that law libraries are captive consumers and always will be, that our libraries simply cannot exist without all their products lines, that providing customer service doesn't have to be a priority? It's not just a matter of there being plenty of room for improvement here; it's time for an attitude adjustment in the land of 10,000 invoices. Maybe these are reasons why we characterize the times we are living in as the Shed West era. (Of course, there are other reasons, too.) I personally think the corporate Kool-aid has genetically modified some of the West workforce. The FDA needs to look into this. Sometimes I actually feel sorry for West reps and middle managers for "keeping to the script" until I look at what I am spending and what I am getting in customer services for the money spent. Hey, here's a thought -- just give up and contract out all customer services to BNA and LexisNexis (and Hein).
Customer Services Findings. The survey results are published below. The summary stats provide law librarian responses for each specific vendor. The number of total responses is listed after the name of the vendor and the range for each vendor's specific rating -- Very Poor or Poor, Average, Good or Excellent -- is a percentage of that vendor's total responses. On this basis, comparisons of the four vendors' customer services ratings can be made. You can compare West to LexisNexis and BNA to Wolters Kluwer if that is how you view the structure of the market. In the brave new world of attractive alternative resources, you can compare all four major vendors.
After the charts, all comments from respondents to each question are republished in full. There are a couple of vendor-specific themes repeated in some candid comments that the identified vendors might not want to ignore. [JH]
Comments to the questions
In terms of detailed and trustworthy information about their products and services in vendor literature and direct communications, how would you rate your vendors?
West's approach to customer relations is abominably poor. If I could cancel every West product for all of the libraries at my firm I would!
West perceived as being primarily about the $$, not about tailoring content or understanding our collection needs.
Really hard to get pricing information out of West. West or Thomson Reuters as they are now called, changes reps every few hours. They have decreed everything we have ever ordered to be a standing order, unless we really want it in which case they have no record of the order. Their inability to understand that we want the latest 6th edition of something they themselves have advertised but send us the 5th because the 6th is not yet published has really begun to irritate us.
How West markets Keycite and what Keycite actually does are two very different things.
West in particular sends way too much print marketing material. They put most of their resources into sales and collections; little into customer service.
Don't use Wolters Kluwer -- impossible to find customer service contact info on website; local rep is MIA. Don't think LexisNexis intentionally misleads -- just too big & growing too fast for anyone to know what is going on.
Wolters Kluwer has become one of the worst vendors with the Intelliconnect fiasco.
Not sure if you are counting Aspen as part of WK, or as a different vendor --- Aspen is the worst.
Woters is improving, but has a long ways to go to catch up to L/N and West.
Wolters Kluwer CCH would be rated a little higher than Wolters Kluwer Aspen.
Joe, this one is difficult to answer without getting pathologically specific. I can say with confidence that my customer-service experiences with Wolters Kluwer have been less than ideal, but they inherited the baggage from our nightmare experience with a dysfunctional CCH rep. West and Lexis are no better than average because of the random quality of their customer support re: electronic averaged with the historical administrative evil associated with their print (and perhaps I'm wrongly imputing evil to Lexis based on the legendary egregiousness of the West Invoice and their questionable billing practices). Both WL & LX have shaken up their territories lately and WL has downsized its staff - to our detriment. That said, LX regional manager Kimberly Brennen walks on water and can do no wrong to me, so at least I know there's someone I can go to if I'm in a corner with LX. My BNA experience has been better, but I have asked less of BNA than I have of WEXIS. BNA is always good with providing trainers, in person or by phone or web, so I have to give them props.
LexisNexis website lacks any detail about their materials - I want to see full TOC for products, be able to tell when it was last updated and how often it's updated, product descriptions, etc. They provide only a tiny bit about each product.
BNA is hopeless when it comes to conveying any information at all about products and services.
It takes a trained librarian to sort through the hype and spin and compare products, services, cost, content, etc.
I take all vendor information with a grain of salt. Each assures us that they are the best, but in truth they are all products that should be used in tandem for a truly efficient and accurate research project.
I don't have direct communication (in person sales rep) with any of these companies. As far a telephone communication it depends on who you speak with the is the determining factor.
In terms of responsiveness to issues and their prompt resolution for products and services, how would you rate your vendors?
West is the worst when it comes to true responsiveness, while West tries to say they are our partner, this is only true as long as the partnership works to the benefit of them. For example when the subject of trying to impose print limits on our students came up a year or so ago all of a sudden our partnership disappeared. Obviously print limits would serve to teach students how to be more efficient researchers (a goal of our partnership?) but print limits would also teach students how to cut their over reliance on Westlaw, so West decided this could not be done, why? To benefit our students? No, to benefit the company. I have no illusions that West is a for-profit corporation that cares about profits plain and simple.
West has some type of policy to apply payment to whatever is outstanding, totally disregarding instructions sent with check. For years we had a single person that took care of our account, now they have discontinued that service. There are repeated phone calls, emails, faxes, with all different names of people looking at our account.
As for West, several times now I have had to contact them to find out who our in-house and field reps are; they play musical reps without telling us. My current field rep is responsive enough but is very overworked, and I always have to reach out to him rather than the other way around. He's been our rep for two years now and I still haven't met him.
This ranges from very good at times to no response at other times. It's hard to rate because nobody is consistent. I've had good luck with West customer service reps giving me the benefit of the doubt when the situation is confusing, which is nice.
West's gap between their ordering, payment and fulfillment departments makes for hit-and-miss customer service.
We have an excellant West and Westlaw rep which is why West gets such a high rating
West print would be rated Good-Excellent. Westlaw (online) is rated very poor to poor.
West customer service is lacking !!!
I heard a rumor about a new West interface. Hopefully they learned from Wolters Kluwer that having your product name as part of a gerund-based epithet is not a good thing.
I'm basing the majority of my reactions on my experience with database services. Until recently, our WL and LX experiences were both really good, but then both companies rearranged their territories and we're on a rollercoaster re: account reps.
Lexis is very responsive, and I have access to an account rep (by name) and other resources. West provide contacts but I often wait for weeks, and sometimes months, for any kind of a response.
Wolters Kluwer /CCH is the only publisher who is still trying to penalize subscribers for cancelling print by imposing excessive price increasese for electonic products. In other words CCH will not allow you to manage your budget at you see fit. They want their revenue and they will get it no matter what you do. Only solution seems to be to cancel all their products and start over as a new customer. Their billing rationale for pricing of electonic products is completely opaque. They were also the only publisher that chose to be willfully blind to the economy and pressed for pre-recession double digital price increases. The reps are incapable or uninterested in providing useful billing and usage analytics. Many they are getting ready to see the company since they are completely focused on revenue and not at all focused on building long term good will and respect of their customers.
Wolters Kluwer trainers have failed to show up for scheduled training sessions for law students. Lexis trainers have cancelled training at one of the law schools I worked out (lacking ABA accredidation at the time) no more than days in advance, admittingly altering us that another law school with ABA accredidation needed them to come in. Moreover, it is often impossible to get a Lexis rep on the phone and when you do, they tend to be condescending.
Again, high marks for Aspen and Average or Poor for CCH
Including Aspen as WK, we are still trying to convince them that we are tax-exempt & daring them to sue us for the tax owed. There has been no reply to letters, notes, email.....just more past due notices.
West Lexis and Wolters Kluwer still have acct reps After 25+ years I still don't understand why my BNA newsletter rep can't run interference for me on the books side.
BA is abysmal. It took 5 months and 2 account executives to get an answer to the question: We see 3 orders at our firm for the same product. Who are the recipients?
BNA has good customer service but products are WAY overpriced.
BNA customer support is very spotty. The sales reps never know prices and use smoke and mirrors to obfuscate what something will cost.
Good article and nice survey!
Posted by: Kilua Freccs | Dec 28, 2009 11:30:35 PM
Fascinating initial data from the survey!! I work in the patent information side of things (rather than caselaw) but Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis both have major products in my area also. I would love to do a similar survey on the patent side some day. I can completely relate to the problem of musical chairs with reps that some of your participants reported. Thomson Reuters has a lot of products to juggle (they've acquired multiple products over the years in patent information) which probably makes communication between the various departments even more difficult.
By the way, I love the comment from one of your participants that "It takes a trained librarian to sort through the hype and spin and compare products, services, cost, content, etc. " That's one of the major reasons my company started the Intellogist website to review patent search products. It's a full time job to sort through product claims!
Posted by: Kristin at Intellogist.com | Nov 2, 2009 7:51:38 AM