Mergers & Acquisitions: It's All About the Customer
Multi-billion dollar mergers and acquisitions are headline news. With the
battle for MCI taking novel twists, bubble companies still consolidating
and the renewed discovery that slugging it out with your competitor often
ends up serving a quiet sideline player, it is easy to get caught up in
the 'bigness' of it all. Call it "revenue stream" or "footprint density,"
but all of these situations have a common player: the customer base.
Whether you're acquiring, being acquired, or merging as equals, don't
forget about the customer, during due-diligence or post-merger
When acquiring a company, look at customer churn to help determine your
return on investment. For a situation without a significant number of
tangible assets, you are most likely relying on the health of the customer
base. Ask questions such as: how often does the customer base churn; what
dollar value does that churn cost; and, what efforts have been made at
reducing churn? The lower the churn, the higher the value of each
customer. Along these lines, do you anticipate being able to slow churn?
If so, you may be able to pay for a high-churn customer base and slow its
turnover rate, thus increasing your return.
When being acquired, highlights of customer base stability will help you
increase value. You have heard it before: the cost of customer acquisition
far outpaces the cost of keeping a customer. Churn reduction investments
not only contribute to immediate incoming cash, but increase the value of
the transaction. Investing time to highlight low churn (rates as a %),
value ($ over time) or some other way is time well invested. Ultimately,
the more in order your metrics are, the easier it will be to convey your
Post Acquisition/Merger Integration
Merging disparate personnel, procedures, systems, and cultures can be a
daunting task. Often, integration is driven to achieve bottom-line ROI
results projected to justify the transaction. This means cutting and
consolidating as quickly as possible, often without regard to how this
transition is perceived by the customer. With so many aspects to consider,
it's easy to forget about the customer. Keep in mind that customers don't
care that your personnel costs are reduced; they care that they continue
to get the same good service they've always received. This means customer
touch-points and operational procedures need to be uniform, and where
they're not, their differences must be transparent to the customer.
There are literally thousands of considerations related to mergers and
acquisitions. Customer Centricity can help you through any stage of your
merger/acquisition activity. While the bottom line matters, your success
will be measured, in part, by the health and stability of your customer
Becoming Customer Centric - Respond to the Customer
by Craig Bailey
This step in your Voice
of the Customer program could be considered the icing on the cake. Now
that the organization is performing various elements of the VoC program,
it is time to share the results with the customer. In summary, this will
demonstrate to the customer that your firm truly values their feedback by
responding in ways to improve the experience they have with your firm.
Responding to the customer has two main aspects:
Responding to immediate needs
Letting customers know individually (where applicable)
and overall (the broader customer-base):
What has been done
What will be done
We will start by providing an overview on how to
effectively respond to the customers' immediate needs uncovered in your
Immediate Response Required
During the process of administering a VoC program, the customer may
express items requiring immediate attention. These items could include
leads for new business, up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, or areas of
significant dissatisfaction from an irate customer. This is the moment of
truth in the eyes of your customer.
Promptly responding to these items demonstrates to the customer how much
you care about their business. Not doing so gives the customer the
perception that you don't care, or (in the case of their sharing this
information as part of a survey, interview or user group) is wasting their
time by asking them to participate. A customer that has a need for
additional services will now have time to shop the competitor. And, a
customer that is dissatisfied with the product or service will only be
further convinced of the lack of performance of your organization. The
goal is to take this opportunity to show the customer how much you truly
care about their needs.
The key here is ensuring that those customer touch-points, which are part
of the VoC program, have the means to engage the normal channels of
business to facilitate an effective response. It should go without saying
that if a customer-facing person (such as sales/account management,
customer service, etc.) observes a situation that would require immediate
response, he or she should leverage normal operating procedures to do so.
However, there may be other (internal or external) organizations that are
not "as connected." For example, many firms have a specific department, or
engage a third party, to perform their customer satisfaction survey. These
entities may not "fully" appreciate the level of impact that the firm's
products/services have on the customer, or know the most effective
approach to facilitate a timely response to a customer's need. In either
case, the person administering the survey needs to be able to identify
those situations requiring immediate response and have a process for doing
so in an efficient and effective manner.
For the purpose of this discussion, let's refer to these cases as a
HOTLINE. There are three steps in setting up a process to effectively
respond to HOTLINES:
Establishing the HOTLINE criteria
Implementing a HOTLINE team
The first step in setting up a HOTLINE process is establishing criteria
for which real-time response is warranted. Examples could include
identifying keywords that a customer may use when responding to a survey,
or indicating that if a customer provides at least one response of
"totally dissatisfied" to any survey question it is a qualified HOTLINE.
Additionally, the person administering the survey must be prepared to
capture the complete context of the customer's comment. There is nothing
worse for a dissatisfied customer than to go through a dissertation during
the survey, on their areas of concern, only to receive another call from
someone asking "so, why are you dissatisfied with our service?"
Implementing a HOTLINE team: The next step is to define, within the
organization, the subject-matter areas (in most cases, normal channels of
business) that are empowered to effectively respond to customer HOTLINES.
This includes ensuring the team has the ability to immediately engage
support personnel to resolve the customer's service issues, or be able to
initiate the order process to fulfill a customer's requirement for
new/additional services. For many companies, it makes sense to establish
the HOTLINE process such that service issues go to the Customer Care
department, and up-sell and cross-sell opportunities go to Sales.
A customer's dissatisfaction is in direct proportion to the gap between
what they "believe" they were to receive and what they "perceive" they are
receiving. This can be a contractual gap or it could be based on a
misunderstanding of what they acquired. As such, the HOTLINE team must be
knowledgeable about the customer, the products/services the customer
presently has or is entitled to. They must also understand any prior
complaints the customer has made. The outcome is that the HOTLINE team may
need to explain that a particular item or service was not included in
their purchase or lease. They should also be prepared to discuss how they
may be able to obtain this added level of service, if it is an available
option and they so desire it. This team, therefore, must be very
knowledgeable about the firm's products and services as the appropriate
response may simply be to reset the customer's expectations.
Management Reporting: The final step of the HOTLINE process is to
produce management reporting on a frequent basis, with the goal of
ensuring that appropriate attention is paid to HOTLINES.
Reporting should occur on a monthly basis, at the least. Information on
the HOTLINE report should include the customer's company name, contact
name, brief description of the HOTLINE, when it was detected, when it was
initially acted upon, when it was closed-out and what the final resolution
Now when a customer satisfaction survey is administered, the team
conducting the survey (the department or survey partner) has an approach
to facilitate timely response if/when they sense that a customer's
situation warrants it. They will know what criteria initiates this
process, what information they should capture, and how to engage the
appropriate personnel in the organization to follow-up with the customer.
Effectively responding to HOTLINES uncovered in the survey process simply
requires a closed-loop process between those that administer the survey
and the normal channels of business. This is a critical step to fulfill a
customer's unmet needs and respond to their concerns that may have been
previously unknown to the firm. In all cases this is a win-win situation.
In the next edition we will provide an overview of how to respond to
specific customers and the customer-base overall, to demonstrate your
commitment to listening to the "voice of your customer."
If you'd like to review an outline of the complete VoC program, feel free
to download the
presentation recently delivered to PDMA's VoC conference.
View previous articles in this series.
+ Mergers & Acquisitions
+ Becoming Customer Centric
+ Recommended Reading
+ Reader-Input Incentive Plan
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approach works - just ask Best Buy Co., Inc., North America's leading
retailer of consumer electronics. Best Buy announced last week (BusinessWire,
4/1/2005) that it "plans to accelerate the conversion of its stores to its
customer-centricity operating model" in fiscal 2006, after a successful
trial program where recently converted customer-centric stores
outperformed other U.S. Best Buy stores "in terms of the comparable store
sales gain for the fourth quarter."
To learn more about this case-study in customer centricity, check out
Best Buy Rolls Out Customer-Centricity Program by Martin Middlewood in
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About Customer Centricity, Inc.
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In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your
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