Customers versus LMS providers

What are the things that customers hate from LMS vendors? What do clients expect from them? Lee Watson analyses the difference between a vendor providing support and a vendor providing help, giving suggestions on how they can improve their customer relationships, working together with the clients. What will be the keys to developing successful training projects in 2014?

Interview to Lee Watson - author of MedEMT and Training You and Health & Safety Trainer for Virginia Tech


What are the things that customers hate from LMS vendors?

There are a number of stressors in the relationship. Learning management systems are major investments. The top reasons can best be characterized as mismatched expectations or communications difficulty.  Those are followed closely by billing and support issues. The problem is that once a contract is signed, it is typically for an extended term. Although purchasing an LMS is expensive, changing vendors is often far more expensive.  Both parties wind up stuck in an unhappy business relationship.

A lot of what winds up driving a customer’s feeling toward the vendor can actually be traced all the way back to the purchasing process.  Prior to any purchase, the customer needs to be highly specific about what is expected from the LMS and lay those expectations out in a technical document.  To give you an example, let’s consider the statement “automated registration confirmation with calendar integration”.  The customer reads that statement and accepts that, thinking that the confirmation e-mail can be edited and the registrant can add the class to his or her Outlook or smartphone calendar. In reality, the vendor’s email is not editable and only shows on the internal calendar that’s part of the student portal within the system.  The vendor’s statement is truthful, so now the training center is left either paying the vendor to make changes or simply using a product that doesn’t meet their need.



What expect the customers from a provider of LMS?

Expectations are such a broad element of customer satisfaction.  Explicit expectations are laid out in the contract, service level agreement, and technical requirements documents.  Implicit expectations are the intangibles – promises made during phone calls, statements from sales materials and the like.  A customer’s past experiences and word-of-mouth all contribute as well.  The point being, a customer forms broad range of expectations yet the only thing within a vendor’s control are the ones explicitly defined.

In the broadest sense, customers expect three things.  They expect the product to work as agreed upon. They expect a vendor to be responsive when things don’t work as expected. Finally, they expect the cost to be as agreed upon.  When the expectations are clearly defined there is usually a lot less friction.


What's the difference between a vendor providing support, and a vendor providing help?

This is often a huge stressor. Your LMS vendor considers it support when a function, feature, or service of the application does not work as it was designed or implemented.  Examples of true support issues are:

  • Your hosted web site is down
  • An error page displays after pressing a function button
  • You make a change to one data element, and all the records are affected

Help is best defined as when a client needs assistance using a function, feature or service of the application.  This is an important distinction – the vendor views support as their obligation, and help as a courtesy. Examples of possible help issues might be when the wrong registration document is being emailed to students, or you need help to change staff member permissions or passwords.

Asking for help is frustrating because in the vendor’s eyes the answer may already be out there in software documentation or knowledge base.  I’ve heard many stories of training personnel frustrated by complex technical documentation, only be to be spoken to condescendingly by the vendor’s “support” person when they call in and ask a question.  It’s a challenge for the vendor too, since some customers repeatedly tie up support resources for problems that are more help than support.  In short, a customer that calls for help occasionally is no problem at all.  A good vendor tracks these “help” requests and uses them to improve documentation and training.  A customer will eventually have a harder time getting a vendor response if they frequently call before even looking at documentation.

Sometimes, a problem may not be easily identified as support or help, or may be a combination of both.


What suggestions can you make to LMS providers to improve their customer relationships, working together?

Really, there are five things you can do to dramatically improve the LMS vendor-customer relationship:

  1. Understand the contract, including any technical requirements or service level agreements that are included.  The more detailed the technical requirements, the better chance that both sides are happy.
  2. Educate your vendor about your business processes.  Remember that they are not in the training business – they are in the software business.
  3. Understand the difference between support and help.  Be more patient when asking for help, especially if you haven’t taken advantage of the vendor’s training program.
  4. Report software bugs and quirks, even they appear minor.  Your LMS is complex, often having more than a half-million lines of code, and when you report bugs it demonstrates your commitment to improving the product.  Include screen shots when possible.  The vendor has to be able to replicate a problem in order to fix it.
  5. Remember that software cannot fix things that are truly a training problem.  The LMS software is there to assist you in managing training, not replacing it.


What are the ways to improve one of the most challenging aspects of working in training?

Working in the training profession is challenging because you have to fill so many different roles effectively.  Regardless of whether you’re an LMS Administrator, training manager or instructor you should be constantly doing self-evaluations and taking steps to improve weak areas.

One other aspect that makes training management challenging is the constant barrage of buzzwords and “the next best thing”. Many training coordinators get drawn into the training industry and gradually lose sight of the real function of their job.  While one should certainly stay abreast of technology and best practices, any changes should be carefully evaluated for actual value and business impact.


What will be the keys to developing successful training projects in 2014?

The keys to developing training in 2014 can be summed up pretty easily by the five “rights” of training.  Deliver the right information to the right people at the right time in the right environment using the right methods.



Lee Watson, author of MedEMT and Training You, is currently the Health & Safety Trainer for Virginia Tech and previously a Training Manager for NASCAR. A twenty-year veteran instructional designer and training manager, he brings fun and passion to training discussions. As a consultant with Oak Tree Systems, he focuses on giving training organizations real tools and ideas.  He can be reached via e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and can be found on LinkedIn (