Customers Reference Tactics When Companies are Acquired and Acquiring

We all know that customer retention is more cost effective and easier than customer acquisition right?  Well, we should know that.  It takes less money to keep a customer happy and have them tell others about how great your company is than it is to convince a brand new prospect that your product/company is fabulous.  Less time, money and manpower is needed when you’ve kept a customer happy.  You also get the benefit of a customer talking positively about you.  Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is priceless.

But what happens when a company is acquired?  What happens to the customers?  In this case, the dynamics change a bit. 

I have worked with companies that have been acquired and ones that have acquired others.  It’s a difficult and very touchy subject – at least in a B2B scenario. In the case where I was working at a company that was acquired, the customers were very worried about their future.  The product roadmap was a concern for them because they wanted to know if the investment they had made in the acquired company would all be gone.  Will they have to buy new products?  And what about the support they were receiving.  Sometimes they were afraid that they’d turn into a little fish in a big pond rather than being a big fish in a little pond.

And for the times when I was working at a company that acquired others, the acquired customers felt the same but they were very hesitant to talk to me – the reference person.  They had thoughts like who is this new person from a bigger company asking for things?  What does she want? How soon will she forget about me? What’s in it for me?

In both cases, it is extremely important to talk to the customers.  Let them know what’s going on and if and how things will change.  Treat customers on both sides of the scenario with respect and let them know that they are still important. 

In some cases, you may find that newly acquired customers will be very happy initially but then realize that they are being fogotten. In other cases they’ll be upset, nervous and unsure and then become very loyal.  If you measure customer loyalty/satisfaction by your own means or via Net Promoter Score  (NPS) do you see a difference before the acquisition and then after? Keep a pulse on your customers and don’t forget about them.

We, as reference professionals, have a great opportunity at a time like this to be support for customers.  Take advantage of the opportunity and connect with customers if you’re getting acquired and touch base as soon as you can with customers when you have acquired.  Reach out, say hi and introduce yourself.   Let them know that you’re there for them.

Another aspect of a merger or acquisition is the employee loyalty level.  If employees speak negatively about the acquisition, it’ll be passed on to customers.  If employees speak positively about the acquisition, it’ll be passed on to the customers. Internal stakeholders are equally as important as external.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but keep all employees along the customer corridor happy.

Remember that customers are people first, then customers!  How would you want to be treated?

Close the Loop with Customers

Have you ever filled out a survey and wondered what happened to your thoughts and opinions once you hit the send button or dropped the survey into the wooden box? More than likely the company did one of two things. 1) they didn’t even read your survey and it ended in the spam folder or the garbage next to the wrapper from lunch or 2) the survey was read and the company made changes based on your feedback and those of other customers, but the changes are unknown to most customers because the results of the survey weren’t publicized.

If there was one thing I learned at last year’s Net Promoter certification class, it was that finding out what your customers think is very important, but it’s absolutely critical that action is then taken. Closing the loop with customers makes all the difference. By closing the loop, I mean getting in touch with customers after they have filled out a survey and thank them for giving you a 10 or asking them what could have been different during their experience. Sounds simple, but few do it.

A few weeks ago I went crazy and decided to join the world of BlackBerry. It has been years since I had one and those were happy years – the ones without the little red flashing light following me where ever I went. When I checked my email later that night I had a short survey from Verizon asking me how my experience was. I don’t remember how many questions the survey was but I do remember it was very short and at the end I had to score my experience on a scale of 0-10. I submitted the online survey and that was it.

Less than a week after I got my BlackBerry, I had a voicemail from Lee. Lee is the manager at my local Verizon store. His voicemail thanked me for working with Paul, the sales associate, and said that he hoped that I was enjoying my pink BlackBerry Curve. He thanked me for filling out the survey and giving my experience a 10. If I had any questions or concerns, I should feel free to call him and then he left his phone number.

Lee did two things that actually shocked me. He called. Yes, it sounds crazy, but after filling out numerous surveys in my 30+ years of life, it’s a very rare occasion to actually have the company follow up. The second thing that was shocking was that I was a person I wasn’t just a customer or some revenue for his strip mall store. He knew the name of my sales rep – whom I know for a fact I didn’t write in my survey – which phone I had and what I had ranked my experience. He was able to personalize his call to me. Rather than just saying “Thanks for filling out the survey” he made the call about me and my experience. I know that when I give my opinion, Verizon will listen.

When you ask for a customer’s opinion, close the loop. Let them know you listened. We all want our opinions to be heard and to know that we’ve been heard.

Must go, the red light is flashing.

Net Promoter customer loyalty training

I spent three days last week at Satmetrix‘s Net Promoter Customer Loyalty training. At initial glance, I thought that the price tag was a bit much for what I thought would be a very high level training class on how to subtract the amount of detractors from promoters. Boy was I wrong! We spent three days going into depth on how the Net Promoter Rating is more than just a number and how to figure out what your customers are really telling you and then what that means to your business. We heard case study after case study on how worldwide companies such as GE, Experian, Harley Davidson and Allianz have deployed the Net Promoter customer loyalty program – and it is much more than just a number.

Something that I found extremely interesting was that there were people from many different roles within an organization at the training – an HR manager to call center manager to SVP of Customer Experience to a CMO and President of a company. It goes to shows that having a complete and successful customer loyalty program requires input from a plethora of groups within a company.

If you don’t have the budget to attend one of the training classes, I understand that the conferences are very good too. If you don’t have budget for that, read the book “The Ultimate Question” by Fred Reiccheld.

I’m meeting with my boss this week to see if we can implement a Net Promoter program and hopefully she’ll say yes!

Why should Sales bother helping out the customer reference program?

I just realized it’s been about a month since I’ve written. I’ve spent the past three weeks or so absolutely swallowed up in customer references. Between the one sales guy who needs 15 for an RFP, updating the Fortune 1000 and Global 500 list by confirming who’s a customer and who’s not and about 10 requests for critical analyst meetings I feel like I’m struggling to stay afloat. I’ve been so focused on these that I’ve barely had time to do any of my general work such as weeding out, interviewing and writing customer press release and case studies. The customer information sheets and one page customer .ppt slides will just have to wait another week.

So with all these reference requests how do I make sure that Sales sees the value in them helping me? Yeah, they all know how important references are but why would they help me rather than their having their teammate help me? I think that there is a pretty simple answer. Granted, not all the Sales people care, but once you (the CRP professional) prove yourself, you should be all set. So back to the question of why a Sales person would bother helping you out if they only get measured against their quota? Recognition! It’s that simple. Here’s how I do it.

A Sales person sends me contact information for a customer so that I can chase them for a press release or case study. The Sales person is then generally out of the loop (by their request) so the next time they hear from me it’s in an email to all Sales or the regional Sales team (this includes the C-level execs at the company and all the Sales management) saying that we’ve issued a press release on customer XYZ and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Joe Shmoe! And, to top it off, if it’s a Fortune customer then I send the Sales person money (aren’t all Sales people motivated by money?) and if it’s not a Fortune customer I send them cake. Yup, I send them cake and they love it.

Just this morning I ordered a cake for a Sales guy and he’s super excited. It’s going to be delivered to his house on Friday and say “Happy Birthday!” Yes, it really is his birthday on Friday. I even had one wife email me to order the cake for her sons’ birthday. It might sound like a small thing, but I’m telling you the Sales team loves it! (I wish I could take credit for the cake idea but I can’t)

All in all, let everyone know when a Sales person has helped you. Everyone likes a little recognition and there’s no harm done to you because you then look more like a cross-functional team player who gives kudos to those around you J

I’ll be at the Net Promoter conference in San Francisco next week and am excited to report on it! Stay tuned.

Customer reference resources

I haven’t found a ton of resources on the Internet regarding customer references but here are some sites and resources that can be helpful.

Net Promoter – These guys are pretty much the end all and be all of customer loyalty at this point. They are popping up all over the place from small companies to large Fortune 50 companies. They’re basic concept is that you have to have loyal customers and one way to find that is through the Net Promoter Score. I’ve read their book “ The Ultimate Question” and found it pretty useful and it’s much cheaper than attending one of their 3 day seminars! With that said, I’d still love to attend one of their conferences which are held internationally in cities like London, Miami and San Francisco. At the end of the conference you can take a test and be Net Promoter certified.

Boulder Logic – This is an online tool for managing your references but if you don’t have the money or the need for the tool, the company sends out a newsletter every now and then about hot reference topics. A recent one was “Talking With Your Executives”. To sign up for the newsletter, visit this page. Boulder Logic also holds Webinars which are useful for the new customer reference professional.

I haven’t used the online tool but have gone through a few demos with them. I think it’s a great resource and beats the Excel document I use, but no company I have been with has been willing to pay for the tool or was ready to use it.

References Online – Like Boulder Logic, these guys offer an online reference tool. It’s been a few years since I’ve spoken to anyone there but I remember the tool was useful and very similar to the Boulder Logic tool.

Phelon Group – These guys focus on customer reference programs rather than the tools for managing the program. They can help you set up a program from scratch or help you refine your program. I have also found these guys very intelligent and understand the wants and needs of reference programs and what the professional has to do. They have a blog but it hasn’t been updated in quite a while. In fact, nothing on their site has been updated this year so this might be an old resource. Either way, there’s still a lot of good information on the site.

I haven’t done anything with them in about a year but they did sponsor a reference seminar called the “Customer Reference Forum” that lasted a few days and I thought it was great – mostly because at that time I realized that there were other people out there that doing references too.

Customer Reference Forum Customer Reference Forum is a community of customer reference professionals from many of the leading corporations in the world.  They also hold events.

Point-of-reference has two primary lines of business: reference management technology and customer content development services. The firm’s core technology, ReferenceStor™ is a hosted (SaaS) reference management system, available as either a Salesforce.com certified application or outside of Salesforce.com with potential for integration with other CRM systems. Point of Reference’s customer content development services include interviews, based on their own methodology, video and audio due diligence recordings, and written pieces that range from traditional 1 and 2 page case studies to ROI and industry composite studies. The firm also re-purposes content for social media applications, tradeshows, marketing campaigns, podcasts, etc.