People assembling five starts together

How to keep newly acquired customers for the long term

By Cathy Planchart, Senior Project Manager

Ask half a dozen people to define ‘customer experience,’ and you will most likely get six different answers. This is because customer experience is a nebulous concept. What everyone can agree on, however, is that customer experience is very important, especially during a bank merger or acquisition. Customer experience is why people choose to do business with a company. If it is positive, we stick with the company, if it is negative, we find a new one. This is as true for personal relationships as it is for business relationships.

In my opinion, customer experience can be boiled down to how you make a person feel. To quote Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you saidpeople will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So, as you begin developing your bank merger communications strategy, consider how customers will feel as they move through each step of the transition journey. Make a list of the positive feelings you want your new customers to have. These might include informed, appreciated and grateful. You can also make a list of the negative feelings you want to avoid (e.g., frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). The output of this exercise can help guide your team in making the merger process a positive customer experience from start to finish.

Once you have defined the feelings you wish to evoke in customers during the merger transition journey, you can begin formulating your communication strategy. Here are six steps to get you started.

1. Communicate Early

When a bank announces an acquisition, there is a group of customers who will immediately move their accounts, usually within 30 days of the announcement. Therefore, communicating early and through various channels is important. With any communication strategy, the best place to start is by articulating your goals. During a bank acquisition, the number one goal is to retain as many customers of the bank being acquired as possible. Consider some of the “Cs” of effective communication when crafting your announcement message: clear, complete, concise, correct, conversational, compassionate.

2. Identify Customer Impacts

It is no easy task identifying all the impacts customers will experience as their accounts transition to the new financial institution. However, this information is critical in delivering the best customer experience. During a bank merger, communications can be broken down into three groups.

  1. What you MUST communicate – changes that require advance notice per regulatory and legal requirements; often different products/services/audiences have different lead time requirements.
  2. What you NEED to communicate – what the customer needs to know and actions they need to take to ensure a smooth transition.
  3. What you WANT to communicate – the benefits of the merger for the customer, highlighting new services available as an opportunity to expand the customer relationship.

3. Segment Customers

It is challenging to deliver a positive customer experience for all the individuals in your target audience. This is because every person has a different perception and set of expectations about how things should happen. This is where customer segmentation plays a crucial role along with the development of personas. Typically, banks will segment by lines of business (such as personal, business, wealth) and stop there. Take the next step by drilling down into your data to develop personas within each business line. These customer profiles represent groups of customers who have similar demographics and product/service combinations. Using personas helps you reach customers on a more personal level with a more tailored message.

Humanize personas by giving them names plus hypothetical lifestyles and occupations. Then craft a personal story about their banking relationship including the banking channels they use to get information and transact their banking business (e.g., branch, phone, online, mobile apps, mail, email, messaging, etc.). In a cross functional team meeting, present the persona stories and identify the pain points and challenges each persona may encounter using the different channels as their accounts transition. Brainstorm the best possible solutions. Where feasible, solve problems in advance to minimize customer impacts and actions they need to take to migrate their banking to new systems. Going through the segmentation process will result in more personalized messages for each audience and, in turn, result in a better customer experience.

4. Use Omnichannel Marketing

An omnichannel communication strategy will ensure the customer receives the intended message because it is being delivered via multiple channels (e.g., email, direct mail, website, in-app messaging, in-branch digital screens, etc.). For the best customer experience, identify the channel(s) that fits best with each persona and message. Then, develop a strategy that clearly defines each audience, message and channel for delivering the right information to the right customer through the right channel at the right time. This will provide a seamless and consistent customer experience, making it easy for customers to get the information they need when they need it.

Omnichannel marketing goes hand in hand with the rule of seven in marketing, which says engaging seven times with a customer earns their trust and helps build a strong relationship. You want to be sure the customer gets the message, but their preferred communication channel is often unknown. This is why omnichannel marketing can be so successful. Taking a multi-channel, customer-centric marketing approach integrates all the possible communication channels (online and offline) to provide a consistent and impactful customer experience.

5. Invest in Good Design

Consider the design of your merger communications the “face” of the bank; you want to make a good first impression. To communicate the bank’s brand and engender trust with customers, use the bank’s brand colors, typography and imagery across all merger communications. Use clear and simple language that is well organized and easy to understand. Then, put your words into an engaging layout that is clean and straightforward for customers to follow. Grab the customer’s attention by using designs that are attractive and inviting, drawing them in to receive the message being sent. For each persona, further personalize the design by including imagery which connects with the specific customer group. Good design is an important factor in the overall customer experience because it increases message engagement and comprehension, and it reinforces the bank’s brand.

6. Flawless Implementation

Any given bank merger entails many communications to many audiences. Orchestrating them in a smooth, effective and coordinated fashion can be complex. In-house marketing teams are usually overwhelmed by adding change communications to their already substantial business-as-usual workload. Therefore, many financial institutions turn to trusted partners to assist with change communications. Marketing firms that specialize in change communications can develop a comprehensive communication strategy focused on providing the best customer experience. When it comes to managing customer data, it is important to seek out a partner that has expertise and a track record of keeping data safe and secure. This piece of the project must be done without error and with minimal risk. Companies specializing in bank merger communications know the ins and outs and can partner with you to be sure your new customers feel valued, informed and appreciated throughout the transition.

All in All, Minimize Friction and Maximize Care

Providing a great experience for customers during a bank merger or acquisition is critically important to retaining them for the long term. Think of your communications as a concierge: the main point of contact with customers, proactively answering questions, providing helpful personalized information and making sure they feel welcome. The secrets to achieving the best possible customer experience are giving careful thought to what needs to be communicated, to whom, via what channel and when. Getting customers through the transition process with the least amount of friction will leave them feeling like you truly care—and that is the key to earning trust, maintaining relationships and expanding share of wallet.

MKP communications inc. is a New-York based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.