To Keep Clients, Keep Your Culture After A Merger Or Acquisition
Its human nature to resist change. Thats why in the eyes of some clients, your agency will never be the same after being acquired by or merging with another company. The way they see it, once that other company becomes part of the picture, those special qualities that first attracted them to your firm can vanishalong with their loyalty. When it comes to human emotions, perception can overpower reality.
Keeping clients is one of the toughest and most enduring challenges following an acquisition or merger. It requires a well-conceived strategy incorporating self-assessment, feedback and ongoing communication. Since becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Comerica six years ago, Professional Life Underwriters Services (PLUS) has continued to reach out to clients in an effort to reaffirm our independence and to highlight the advantages of our affiliation.
If your agency or brokerage firm intends to join forces with another company, the first step should be identifying your corporate culturethose special qualities and practices that have enabled you to build and retain customers. They could include access to superior products, courteous and professional service, and a whole lot more.
Your corporate culture may be difficult to define, so seek input from clients, affiliates and personnel at different levels of your company, either before or after the transaction. Before PLUSs acquisition became official, we conducted focus groups with our clients (independent agents and financial planners) that revealed what they most feared losing: interacting with the same key personnel, accessing the same carriers and receiving competitive commissions. After the acquisition, many members of PLUSs top management visited clients to gain additional insight and to reaffirm our commitment to them.
Once you pinpoint the qualities that have helped distinguish your firm from competitors, make sure you keep them. Work with senior management of the other company to incorporate them into the mission statement of the combined organization. Be sure all personnel understand these qualities and how to convey them to clients.
Effective communications. Too many agencies that have been acquired or merged believe the mere act of distributing letters, newsletters and corporate literature touting the advantages of the deal will ease clients fears. If only it were that easy.
Todays customers–whether insurance professionals, employers or individuals–are far too cynical and more savvy than given credit for. They read the business and trade press and recognize the uncertainty brought about by consolidation in the insurance industry. Thats why these mass mailings often come across as the same old company line that few clients buy into.
To break through clients fear and cynicism, you must present convincing argumentsthrough tactics such as letters, newsletters, seminars and face-to-face meetings–that your firm will not only keep its special qualities, but will deliver new advantages.