Years from now, we will look back at this decade as one of extraordinary change, a defining time for our industry. Our reflections will be about more than mergers, acquisitions and consolidation. We will measure our progress not just by what we did, but how we did it. This is a time of opportunity. Will we seize it?
Companies merge for well-intentioned reasons: to combine complementary operations, accelerate innovation, and achieve service velocity. And, yet, numerous studies have found that more than half of all mergers fail to deliver intended improvement in shareholder value. For customers, a merger’s success or failure is measured by their experience. They still deeply desire consistent, seamless service. Customers will have many questions about the impact on customer service, product offerings and prices. They want to understand the changes ahead and know there is a place to go for answers staffed by people who are knowledgeable and empathetic.
Naturally, as part of acquisition integration and merger planning, teams will engage in impact analysis and change management activities. There will be operational plans and roadmaps. While all are vital and valuable, teams must also think about cross-company training, reinforcement of soft skills and technology training to ensure customer care associates, technicians and any employee who interacts with customers have sharpened skill sets to act as company ambassadors and customer advocates.
Companies that view a merger through a customer’s lens tend to make better business and integration decisions. Simply put, merger success rests in great customer service. Here are three areas for people investment that will serve a company well before, during and in a post-merger environment.
Invest in Soft Skills
Training employees during and after a merger can be more challenging than other training situations. Employees will have questions of their own. Effective leaders who know how to communicate and manage through change can build trust and boost engagement when productivity is most likely to dip. One study of merger activities verified that productivity may dip by as much as 10% post-merger and often doesn’t rebound for up to three years. Change management training for your leaders is imperative so they know what to expect during the so-called ‘change curve’ and how to manage through it.
Soft skill investment doesn’t stop there. Take time to sharpen customer care associates’ and technicians’ soft skills so they can listen to customer concerns and address their concerns. Consider enrolling frontline, customer-facing employees in customer retention courses – not just those tasked specifically with retention.
Push for Technology Proficiency
Merging cable operations provides unique challenges, particularly for customer care. Customers will have questions about technology configurations, channel lineups, and the design of their bills. Providing easy access to the right systems and proper training to work within them build proficiency across the combined company.
Take an Employees-First Approach
For any MSO in an acquisition, you will rely on frontline employees to deliver an exceptional experience during a time of great change. You may even require a new level of frontline empowerment which can create conflict in command-and-control environments. No matter the method, it’s wise to heed the mantra that satisfied employees make for satisfied customers. Invest in leadership with training to build synergistic teams, foster effective communication and manage conflict.
Mergers by their very nature are hard. But, the integration process brings a natural opportunity to evaluate and even improve the customer experience. Make the customer experience an integral part of merger planning. Find new ways to empower employees so they can communicate with and listen to customers. Done right, years from now we’ll look back at this transformative time as the start of cable’s age of service.
Stacey Slaughter is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Jones/NCTI, which powers frontline performance in the broadband industry. She leads the company’s efforts to help clients achieve measureable results through actionable, timely and relevant learning.