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Deloitte predicts the number of mergers and acquisitions will grow in 2019. And any time a business goes through a merger or acquisition, the impacts can be felt in a number of ways, not least of which is the customer experience they deliver during and after this turbulent time. 

Below are some of the recommendations from experts for how to maintain, or, better yet, improve CX through the acquisition process with newly formed organization.

Keep Customer Experience at the Forefront

“The first important thing is to bake CX into the integration activities,” said Laura Stringer, principal at Ninth Fourth LLC. “If you don’t address customer experience prior to Day 1, you’re already behind. Typically, there isn’t enough time at this stage to do a thorough overhaul of any touchpoints or back end systems, and you probably can’t shoulder that upheaval anyway. So the goal here is to avoid breaking anything that was already working, and to tie the experience together in, at minimum, a rudimentary way."

If CX isn’t addressed, do so as soon as possible, Stringer added. Identify all the culture, process and technology changes that need to take place and in what order. Then address everything in the roadmap. To do it right, an organization may need a dedicated CX team who is empowered to work with all parts of the business to integrate and improve at every touchpoint.

“A full, true integration will likely take years, due to the enormity and complexity of the work,” Stringer said. “The trick is to recognize the importance of this work, get the right people on the task and empower them to do it, and keep up momentum.”

Related Article: 5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Business With Customer Experience

Include CX in the M&A Plan

The merger or acquisition is sometimes prompted by a desire to improve CX, but it often has the opposite effect, according to Mark Williams, Merrill Corp. chief revenue officer, Americas. “There are three primary reasons for this: First, distracted by due diligence and later asset integration, senior management’s attention can slip, leading to a lack of overall customer focus. Second, major business changes like M&A naturally stress customer relationships, testing brand loyalty and disrupting established expectations and habits. Finally, the integration or forced migration from one customer interface to another can go dramatically awry, creating confusion, anger, and, ultimately, customer abandonment.”

To solve these issues, Williams recommends working with senior management to ensure customer experience considerations are embedded in the M&A plan from the beginning with the following questions in mind:

  • How does the management team hope the acquisition will impact customer experience?
  • Does the integration plan support that desire and, if not, what changes need to take place?

“These are critical questions any strong M&A plan should address,” Williams said. “In advance of deal completion, establish an agreed-upon escalation process to handle customer complaints quickly as they arise.”

Related Article: What's Next for Red Hat Users Following Close of IBM Acquisition?

Understand Customer Expectations

“Strong communication, and a focus on company culture and technology are key to maintaining exceptional customer experience during mergers and acquisition,” said Nancy Porte, Verint vice president of global customer experience. “On the surface, M&As can elicit a feeling of uncertainty for both employees and customers, so communication is vital.”

A common struggle is when a company does not take the time to understand the customer expectations of a business it is acquiring, which may have a different customer base, according to Porte. “What if customers of the acquired company had access to the contact center through multiple channels, but the acquiring company just has one centralized call center that it wants to use moving forward? Nuances like this can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction.”

Porte added that figuring out the right processes is important, but even more so is understanding how to meet the expectations of existing customers which will undoubtedly be different. It’s vital that the leadership team clearly defines the “new” company culture by taking into account customer expectations, including communication channel preferences.

Customer communications will need help from technology because call volumes can skyrocket following a merger or acquisition, Porte said. “Organizations need to take preemptive strikes to counter this while being responsive to customer needs. A recording that intercepts callers directing them to a website FAQ can help reduce the load on the contact center and help speed the delivery of answers."

“The immediate goal should be to minimize any disruption to CX, particularly for the customers of the acquired company,” said Dhaval Moogimane, a director in West Monroe's M&A practice. “That requires executing on a well-orchestrated communication plan to ensure in-flight commercial discussions, existing contracts, and ongoing services continue unabated.”

Related Article: What it Takes to Design Customer Success Into Your Business

Remember Employee Communication

Employee communication is also critical, Moogimane added. “Given the pivotal role that the customer-facing employees (e.g., sales and services reps) play in maintaining that continuity, it is important that these roles are enabled with the right motivation, communication-track and tools.”

“Sisense believes that maintaining a positive customer experience during M&As starts with investing in employee satisfaction and workplace culture," said Sisense CEO Amir Orad, whose company recently merged with Periscope. “The number one key to a successful merger is the people and culture. Over the last 18 months, we’ve made sure that we have the right people — and we do — and that we’re all aligned on what it takes to build a great company.”

Both companies approached the merger from a customer’s perspective, which required transparent communication with employees, and later, customers.

“We spent hundreds of hours not only mapping out the people and culture items, but our joint product roadmap,” Orad said. “These efforts lead to clear, authentic messaging to the customer base (and employees) about where they fit into the puzzle and assurance they would continue to receive superior customer service.”