Getting References When Selecting Your LMS

Most prospective customers ask software vendors for client references before they purchase a learning management system (LMS). It’s prudent to find out what clients have to say about performance and after sales support. Contacting at least three client references is worth the roughly 10-15 minutes spent for each call.

It’s natural to be apprehensive about system performance and customer service when you have no prior experience with the software or the vendor, or have had an unsatisfactory experience with a prior LMS. Speaking with references helps ease some of this apprehension, giving you the assurance that you’re not risking it completely.

Customer references should be offered by the LMS vendor, and if not, the prospective buyer should feel free to ask for references. If there is hesitation on the part of the vendor, it is a factor to consider in determining whether this is the right LMS choice. References are not a strong point for vendors that don’t have many satisfied clients and long-standing client relationships.

The  vendor will try to provide references that will speak highly of the system’s performance and support services, the two most asked questions of references. However, vendors can’t be sure a client will provide good feedback. It’s possible that a client may only emphasize drawbacks without highlighting positives or dwell on issues and omit assuring a prospect that the problems were resolved promptly. If a client is upset about something else, he might not be in the mood to provide balanced feedback. Either way, a prospective buyer needs to know the good with the bad.

In recent years, the LMS segment has been witness to several acquisitions and mergers. So, it’s possible that one vendor may deal in several applications. In those instances, it is a good idea to inquire whether the reference has experienced any differences in either product delivery or service.

Rather than contacting any client, it would be helpful to focus only on clients who have implemented the LMS for a purpose similar to yours.

It’s not always easy to get vendors to give you contacts of clients who are using exactly the same software you intend buying and using it for a similar purpose. One reason could be client privacy and security. Vendors are normally bound by a privacy clause in the agreement. In many cases, a vendor would have to call the client and seek permission before revealing their name and contact details.

Vendors are unlikely to put you in touch with clients who’ve experienced performance and support issues. You’ll most likely be referred to clients with whom the vendor enjoys a good relationship. However, this is better than no reference. It’s possible that the client could offer useful tips about the system based on their experience.

As a potential client you want to know about each shortlisted vendor’s record of implementing the application, delivering system updates, providing technical support and handling version upgrades for existing clients. Instead of just asking the client whether he’s happy with the system, ask open ended questions that require more than a yes or no response.  Points to consider include:

Implementation

Ask whether onboarding  was on schedule, as expected and with or without extra costs. You also want to know if administrators  received comprehensive training and were able to handle all functions.

How prompt and effective is technical support?

It’s unlikely that a client has never experienced issues. What is important to know is whether service was prompt and effective and support personnel were friendly.   

Performance

Find out how often the system was down. You also need to know whether the interface is easy to navigate and how fast the application handles content addition, course delivery and other functions.

How long has the client been with the vendor?

A customer that has used the same LMS for a long enough period is in a position to assess the reliability of the vendor over the long term.

Ask whether the client has upgraded to a higher version and what the experience was like. Find out if the higher version performs better, is capable of more advanced functions and whether it has bugs.

Frequency of system updates

How often does the company do updates. Do updates require the system to be inaccessible for your user? If so, how often and how long.

What is it about the product that most needs improvement

It is very unlikely that any system works exactly how you would like. This is not necessarily a software flaw and often more to do with specific internal workflows. You want to know what the reference would like to see differently and how it would impact your own needs.

What the client values most about the system

In conclusion, how much valuable information you obtain from a client is partly up to you. Generic questions will likely elicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, nothing specific. Ask particular questions that are open ended and try and get the client to open up so that you can learn as much as possible about the software and the vendor.

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