How companies can use customer service to enhance the value of M&A.
Posted Feb 1, 2006
After several years in decline, merger and acquisition (M&A) activity has been booming. Companies naturally expect these deals to result in significant benefits, from the growth of market share to new economies of scale. But these companies run the risk of falling short in their efforts if they fail to keep a close eye on a key factor-the customer.
That may seem like common sense, but experience shows that it is not unusual for companies to put customer care on autopilot while pursuing a merger. Unfortunately, the uncertainties involved in a merger often trouble the customers, so they actually need more care at such times. As a result, customer satisfaction is very much at risk during an M&A. Indeed, a 2004 Business Week study found that 50 percent of consumers reported they were less satisfied with companies' service, even two years after the merger.
Things don't have to be that way. Companies can take steps to ensure that their contact centers are communicating effectively with customers throughout the M&A process. What's more, they can take advantage of the organizational change inherent in a merger to improve customer satisfaction and transform the contact center into a customer listening post for the entire company.
Laying the Right Plans
To stay in touch with customers during a merger, executives need to plan for the weeks preceding the public announcement, the period following the actual announcement, and the eventual integration of combined customer care operations. Early on, customer care managers should work with public affairs/public relations, marketing, sales, and other externally facing functions to develop a comprehensive customer-communications plan that can quickly go into effect the day the announcement is made. In particular, this plan should address how the two companies will handle customer calls about the merger itself and what is happening to the company customers have been doing business with as well as about expected changes in products, services or delivery, and how those changes will affect customers.
The period following the public announcement can be especially difficult. Secrecy often shrouds a deal's early stages, so most employees will learn about a merger at the same moment that customers do. A spike in the volume of customer contacts is often handled by agents who are also not yet uninformed. Companies can avoid this by creating a special merger team of agents who can be deployed on the morning of the announcement to field merger-related calls for several weeks as the broader agent population is trained. Alternately, companies can draw on outsourced contact center services to handle these calls. This approach not only gives the company control over the kind and tone of customer communication, but it also frees in-house managers to focus on dealing with merger-related employee issues.
Customers will naturally be looking for answers that dispel uncertainty, so it is critical that agents have quick access to consistent, accurate information. This can be delivered via an online knowledge base-accessible on agent desktops-that includes information about current customer consequences of the merger, as well as product lines, services, service delivery, pricing and billing. Scripts should be prepared, particularly for changes customers will perceive as negative, such as higher pricing or reduced flexibility. The knowledge base can be created in advance and made accessible on the day of the announcement; access can initially be limited to trained agents (or the special agent team) and gradually broadened as additional agents are brought up to speed.
Looking Ahead: Integrating and Listening
Once the merger is complete, the customer care operations of the two predecessor companies can be integrated. Executives should see this not just as a chance to cut costs, but also as an opportunity to adopt the best best practices of both parent companies to create a superior customer care experience. To that end, executives should inventory current operations-focusing on customer care policies and practices and on infrastructure components-and then draw on the best to maximize the value of investments in customer care infrastructure, such as CRM packages and hardware configurations.
The period following a merger is also a good time to lay plans for a contact center intelligence program. Under such a program, the agent captures details regarding the specific issue the customer is calling about. This information is then used to map the problem to corresponding business functions within the enterprise. For example, a high volume of calls about missing orders may point to the delivery process, and analytics can help pinpoint specifically where the process is breaking down. As a result, the center provides a methodical way to capture the voice of the customer and use it to drive continuous business improvements across the company in order to boost customer satisfaction.
Putting all of this together is not simple and often involves rethinking processes, training and motivation of agents, and implementing of sophisticated technology. But overall, executives should understand that with the right preparation, a merger or an acquisition presents an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships. Companies willing to look ahead and make the right investments can create customer care operations that let them do a better job of listening-and responding to-the customer than they might have been able to do before.
About the Author
Tom Mangan is the senior vice president in charge of customer management professional and consulting services at Convergys Corporation. He holds an MBA from Miami University of Ohio and a BBA in information systems and quantitative analysis from the University of Cincinnati. Please visit www.convergys.com
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