Mergers, Acquisitions and Consolidations Can Blur Customer Experience

Caution!!! Mergers and acquisitions and consolidations (oh my!) can blur customer experience.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing catch up with my inbox and “read later” file. Between those make-ups and new reading, I’ve been taken by the conversations on the importance of “customer experience”. Concurrently, I got whacked up-side-of-the-head-with-reality on the risks of maintaining customer experience during mergers and other types of business structure changes.

I know that most thinking leaders will take into account brand and its expression when there’s change afoot. But, even good brand architecture and migration planning can leave a customer feeling like screaming-Kevin in Home Alone. Like, how does the super market buyer think/feel/act in the face of the Kraft/Heinz mashup? Which is “the Voice”? Which promise do you believe?

All this came home very recently when I received a letter from my financial advisor, a brilliant and treasured consultant who not only has given my wife and I great advice, but also has saved us thousands and thousands of dollars. She wrote (actually a form letter) to explain a recent merger and its impact on us. Simple enough? Not so much.

On the top of the letterhead there was a corporate logo, but the company name beneath her signature was totally different. In the letter there were no fewer than 10 different company entities mentioned. Here’s the opening graph with the entities coded to protect the innocent:

“From all of your advisors at Entity 1, we wish you a Happy, Healthy and Rewarding 2016! As many of you are aware, Entity 2, which includes Entity 3, Entity 1, and Entity 4, has been in the process of merging with Entity 5 for the past several months. We are pleased to advise you that the merger was completed on Friday December 4th.”

So, who’s really sending us this? What’s their relationships with us? What do they stand for? How are we affected? What’s the brand promise that we can expect and rely on?

I’m sure you get the point. It’s kind of like watching a football game gone amuck. Your team is playing a rival. Then suddenly a third team runs on the field, then another and another. Now you’ve got 55 players running all over the place trying to win. What happened to your team? Who do you root for?

I think it’s time to punt. OK, better to make a point.

In all the hubbub and distraction that M&As can bring, the human connection remains paramount. All the brand expression manuals are worth so many electrons to the poor customer, gaping wide-eyed and slack-jawed. The brand anchor in this? The person who owns the relationship.

In my example, while all the “Entities” totally confused me, the value of our financial advisor remained clear and solid. For us, it wasn’t the brand (or brands) in her letter, it was she. She delivered the experience. And, if she moved to another firm, we’d move with her.

As I thought about this a few points nudged me. In this time of mergers and such, deep thought must be given to the value of the brands, the customer experience and who (or what) delivers that experience. Confusion must be avoided at all costs. Especially critical: the manner and message delivered by brand ambassadors like sales people, customer care/service specialists, contract administrators, consultants, advisors and the like.

Clarity is everything. And, if not that, most everything.

In EMA’s vernacular, our financial advisor represented Brand as Friend. She built Affection, Relevance and Trust with us. Her value was evident and unquestioned. The firm she works for could, and should, learn a lot from our relationship with her. Many brands could.

It follows that high on the “to-do list” come M&A time must be: a reality check with customers about how they read the combination, i.e. what’s important to them, and education and training for all the brand ambassadors on the best way to keep the brand friendship magnetic.