Successful mergers and acquisitions hinge on maintaining or improving the current customer service being provided. So why are so many mergers rough on both the employees and their customers? The short answer is that the customer service experience is not part of the planning process.
When Company A decided to purchase through a merger or acquisition Company B, the focus needs to be on minimal disruption to the current customer service experience. Having personally gone through more banking mergers as both employee and customer over the years than I care to admit, I can tell you that the successful ones remembered that the customer was in constant focus.
Decisions and plans need to always ask the question, what will this do to our customers? Not only our current ones, but the new ones. Yes, mergers have impacts on not only the new customers but the current ones too. How will our decisions improve the experience, or will a decision create a less favorable experience?
The Role of HR & Training:
Now having spent much time in my career in HR and Training, we are the ones that focus on the employees. Yet to use my connection to customers, let’s explore how these functions impact the customer experience.
What happens if our new employees feel disconnected, or a subclass citizen in the new organization? If they are unhappy, you can count on that rubbing off on the customers. Unhappy employees, equal unhappy customers, means customers will leave to the competition. In the same understanding, many times when employees leave, their customers will follow. In a bank merger, a major way to retain customers is to have very happy employees. So don’t assume the acquired employees are grateful to having a job. Maybe they were happy before you entered the scene, and now they don’t see any good in their future. That is the function of HR to prevent from happening!
Now with any merger, new skills need to be acquired. To continue with my banking example, new products need to be learned from both sets of current and future employees. New employees need to learn new policies and systems. Training must be thorough and delivered earlier to be learned, or the customer experience will suffer. The learning process is more than a classroom experience, and training managers must map out a complete learning process and support system. This is often the most unprepared department, and yet it is the favorite department to blame when things go wrong.
The Role of Management & Marketing:
In today’s technology age, I am just amazed how quickly the customer starts to evaluate whether they will remain or not. With the introduction of something as simple as a website, customers of the acquired company can begin to research if the other company was one they would have done business with outside of this merger. If that answer is no, often they start to change their relationships weeks after a merger is announced. In the case of banking, accounts start to close with no one tracking why it is happening.
The reason I lump management into marketing, is that often senior leaders are talking with the public, press and the new employees. When they have something constructive to say they are moving things in the right direction. When they babble on about irrelevant things, and don’t know answers to simple questions, both employees and especially customers pick this up and start to be concerned.
My recommendation for any company that is planning to acquire or merge with another is simple. Know what you plan to do for the entire merger process before you announce a merger. HR should know how compensation and benefits will work. Training should already have programs developed and ready to go. IT should have a project plan for system conversions, and marketing should be in front of what the new experience will be. Everyone that makes a decision should be asking, what will the new customers do with this information, and any negative reactions should prompt a second look.
Otherwise if you fail to focus on what the current and new customers will do, it really makes no sense to bother with the merger in the first place.