Dialled-in: How telcos can improve customer satisfaction during a merger
The proposed T-Mobile and Sprint merger has recently been dominating the headlines, but telecoms customers are hardly strangers to blockbuster mega-mergers. There have been several such high-profile transactions over the years.
But how do consumers feel about these foundational shifts in their providers? Does a big merger of two iconic telecom brands move the needle of consumer sentiment? Are customers paying attention? If so, are they favourably disposed to these moves and willing to give their provider the benefit of the doubt, or do these moves make them less brand loyal and more likely to explore other options?
Perhaps most importantly, what do consumer sentiments toward these disruptive events tell us about how telecom companies can ease concerns, boost consumer satisfaction, and improve the customer experience.
Escalent recently asked telecom customers about their experiences when their telecom provider faced a merger and acquisition process—and their perspectives on how a mega-merger impacted their actions and attitudes. Based on that information, what follows are three key tips and tactics that brands like T-Mobile and Sprint—and others—can use to improve customer satisfaction during their merger.
Understand your customers’ underlying feelings
Because preferences can vary widely based on several different factors, understanding customer feelings is a critical prerequisite for telecom providers looking to address their concerns, meet their needs, minimize attrition, and reinforce customer/brand loyalty.
When a company announces a merger, many customers initially feel nervous, apathetic, indifferent or helpless. But the clear majority (66%) of respondents had strong feelings of curiosity or caution regarding mergers, while just one quarter felt indifferent toward the process.
Those feelings differ based on both demographic and geographic differences. For example, consumers 55 and older tend to be more curious and cautious, while younger consumers (between 18 and 24) are generally more nervous. Those in-between (ages 25 to 34) are often more excited, inclined to expect positive outcomes.
There are also regional differences that telecom providers should account for when creating a communications strategy around an upcoming merger. The study showed that Midwesterners are somewhat sceptical, least likely to think that services, prices, products and customer support will improve. They will need a little more convincing in the way of concrete programs and benefits.
On the flip side, Southerners are more likely to expect a positive outcome from a merger. And because they assign a higher value to customer service, messaging for Southern customers should focus less on products and pricing and more on customer service benefits.
Appreciate and address key concerns
A merger can be an exciting time for companies as well as consumers. For many customers, however, mergers can come with a significant amount of anxiety—which can impact the merger’s success.
Companies should make every attempt to avoid the common mistake of getting so caught up addressing internal merger integration processes that customer needs go unaddressed.
To defuse negative feelings toward a merger, companies must address these top three concerns:
Increased cost of products
Service changes or reduced offerings
Increased service costs
Consumers primarily want to know how the merger will impact the products available to them (both the price and the type/variety of products available), as well as the cost of services and any changes in customer support.
Keep customers in the loop
Most importantly, consumers indicated their desire for open, honest communications from their providers regarding the merger process and specific outcomes.
Merging telecoms should be proactive in preparing information to convey to customers, and should be prepared to answer customer questions about the merger before the changes go into effect. Questions like: When will the merger be finalized?, How will it impact the community? Will the company provide the same quality of products and services? and How many employees will be retained or added?
Specifically, telecom providers should make it a priority to:
Build trust by letting customers know how the merger will benefit them.
If possible, reassure customers that their service will not change after the merger—and that there will be no interruption in service or increase in billing. If there will be price or coverage differences, be clear and specific about any changes in services or pricing, including the timing of those changes.
Telcos should make sure they have sufficient trained and knowledgeable staff on hand to quickly and clearly address customer questions and concerns. Additionally, contact emails and dedicated phone numbers for customer service agents should be readily available to consumers looking for answers.
Everyone understands that mergers are business decisions: strategic moves inherently designed to make money. Which is exactly why reassuring, retaining and acquiring customers should be a central priority when planning and managing a merger. There is a unique consumer story to be told before, during and after every merger.
Consumers want to know what’s going on, when it’s going on, how long it will go on, and the direct impact on them. And the key step that makes that possible is for telecom providers to better understand their customers.
Armed with essential information, telcos can craft and convey a successful messaging platform and communications strategy that answers those questions, addresses the needs and concerns of customers in a positive and constructive manner, and greatly improves the odds of a successful merger.
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