How to Manage a Contact Center During an Acquisition: 5 Tips to Ease the Transition for Your Agents and Customers

People are wired to process change in one of two ways: opportunity or threat.

When things shift around us, we either embrace the change and run with it, or we tense up and grasp on to feelings of fear and anxiety.

Take today, for example. It’s snowing here in Indianapolis. Some people choose to embrace this change in weather, go outside, and frolic in the snow. Not me, though. For me, these unwelcome flakes cause the ground to change from dry and grippy to wet and slick – raising my adrenaline levels as I imagine my rubber tires sliding across the pavement. (Yes, you’re reading the musings of a southern driver.)

But in business, change is frequent. And, the changes we experience aren’t as small as the snowflakes collecting outside my window.

In fact, the changes modern businesses experience are quite large and impactful. Since 2000, more than 50% of Fortune 500 companies have merged, been acquired, or declared bankruptcy, according to a McKinsey & Company article.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen some of the largest names in business go through mergers and acquisitions to reposition their brands in hopes to stifle competition. And on a smaller scale, start-ups come to market every day with the sole vision to be acquired.

Statistically speaking, the majority of us will work through an acquisition during our careers. But when the time comes, how will you handle it?

How to Manage a Team Through an Acquisition

In nearly every business, there comes a time when companies have to pivot. Especially in a high-growth, fast-paced world.

That pivot might mean dreaming up new product and service offerings, switching markets, or even considering acquisition.

If the time comes for your company to pivot, do you know how to manage your contact center through an acquisition?

As a contact center leader, it’s your job to help agents and other team leaders see the opportunities that lie ahead, not the threats.

We’re walking through 5 steps to managing your team through an acquisition, so you can rally your team in support of the transition.

1. Openly talk about what you know (and address what you don’t).

False righteousness is one of the 5 psychological threats to businesses. False righteousness is pretending everything’s perfect, when really, there are glaring issues that your agents and other employees feel.

Managing your contact center through an acquisition or merger means confronting the uncomfortable head on.

“There will always be uncertainty and resistance, but when you can explain the changes, people can understand and rally around that vision.”

– Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer of Zillow, in an article for Glassdoor.

Clearly explain changes and their intended impact on your contact center and customers. Are you acquiring a smaller company whose agents will now roll up and report to you? Or, will you and the newly-acquired staff still operate separately? Is the plan to change up business operations in three months or in six months?

Give enough detail to ease your agents and let them know you’re involved and advocating for their interests. At the same time, don’t overwhelm them with information. And, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” when you don’t have all the answers. Admitting where you have gaps in knowledge is better than spreading false or speculated information.

Next, ask your agents to share their thoughts and concerns, too. Do they fear for their jobs, or are they more concerned about an unwelcome culture-shift?

Ask questions to gauge your team’s feelings and compile a list of their concerns. Then, take it back to your boss and other middle managers to help address those concerns and continue building a feedback loop for organizational transparency.

How to Manage a Contact Center During an Acquisition: 5 Tips to Ease the Transition for Your Agents and Customers

Pro Tip: Soliciting feedback might not always come easy. Especially when things get uncomfortable. Offer anonymous ways for your agents to share their thoughts, like through a feedback box or anonymous pulse-check surveys.

2. Audit your team and performance.

When acquisitions are at play, incoming ops leaders will go into full review of your internal processes, performance, metrics, and headcount. Rather than waiting for leaders to come to you, then scrambling to share over the data they need, be proactive.

Vet your team, resources, and performance. Then, distill it down into insights that matter to your ops leaders. Think through things like team composition, KPIs, your technology and resources, improvements or dips in your most important metrics, and how well your team met SLAs.

Gather data and create dashboards that give leaders a 100-foot view into your contact center’s operations. Show them what’s working and the value your team brings. And, show them where there’s room for improvement.

How to Manage a Contact Center During an Acquisition: 5 Tips to Ease the Transition for Your Agents and Customers

Use data to showcase gaps in your customer (and agent) experience. Highlight where you can make gains in your CX and ROI with improved resources, more agents, a bigger training budget, or a new contact center platform. Be prepared and proactive to make sure your voice and team needs are heard as they overhaul business plans.

3. Work collaboratively to create a clear path forward.

Business operations don’t halt during change. As much as we’d all like to retreat to an island vacay during times of uncertainty (another daiquiri, please!), customers will still reach out for help. And you and your team need to be ready to help them.

How to collaborate with your ops leaders and fellow managers, first:

Managing up matters. Get meetings on the books with your boss and fellow middle-managers to talk about what the new normal for your company looks like.

What’s the vision for your company moving forward, and how does the contact center and customer experience fit into that vision? Are you merging with a company that has an entirely different vision and set of values than your current organization? How will all of the leaders work together to blend the two – or, are you scrapping one entirely.

Gather as much knowledge from upper-level leaders as you can, so you can take relevant info back to your team. And, encourage your boss and other ops leaders to lean into the new mission and vision and share it with employees as frequently as possible. Having a story and compelling reason for change is one of the key predictors of leading teams through successful transitions.

How to collaborate with your team, next:

Seek out the natural leaders and influencers on your team, and ask them for advice. The HBR article Managing Through Mergers says it’s important to connect with influential employees often to get a temperature check on the rest of your team.

Your natural-born leaders and team influencers often act as confidants for other agents, so they’ll be able to report back with certainty on how the rest of the team really feels about the acquisition. They’ll advocate for their fellow agents and bring important ideas to the table, so you can incorporate the needs of your team into your plan moving forward.

4. Motivate your team to maintain a positive culture.

The uncertainty and changes coursing through your company will cause some fallout. Some agents won’t be able to adapt (or, they just won’t want to). But you want to hang on to your best agents as you manage your contact center through an acquisition.

Hanging on to your best people will keep important institutional knowledge inside your company walls and make transitions easier for customers, too.

To keep attrition at bay, emphasize positive culture in your contact center. Companies who invest in culture see higher engagement and retention rates than those who don’t.

How to Manage a Contact Center During an Acquisition: 5 Tips to Ease the Transition for Your Agents and Customers

Use your story for change to rally your team around a common purpose. And, keep your cadence of 1:1s, team meetings, and developmental conversations running. Show appreciation and recognition, even when your to-do list is swamped with other tasks. Your agents have to take priority if you want to help leaders achieve the business gains they seek.

Vibrant Credit Union scaled quickly and effectively, taking on 5 mergers in a single year. They say their success stems from the culture and the people at the credit union.

“In 2017, we had five mergers in one year. Most organizations would have a really tough time taking on one and being able to migrate the technology to that. Being able to take on five is pretty remarkable. And that’s a reflection of the people that we’ve brought in and the culture we have in place to handle that.”

– Matt McCombs, CEO of Vibrant Credit Union

5. Coach and train your team to prepare them for what’s ahead.

For starters, coach your agents how to handle change and specific tasks that will complicate your operations.

McKinsey & Company found that companies who invested in coaching and skill-building on change management and integration tasks – like combining payroll systems or call queues – saw 92% talent retention and 93% employee satisfaction during acquisitions. And, the company outperformed markets by 35%.

More specifically, companies invested in more training and coaching for what they call their NewCo leaders – the people they IDed as team influencers and natural-born leaders (like we talked about earlier).

Next, coach agents to handle customer conversations.

Even though you may not intend for your agents to shoulder the burden of communicating organizational changes to your customers, it’s bound to happen.

If customers hear rumblings of M&A happening in your business, they’ll likely have questions about how it impacts them. And, they won’t reserve those questions for formal emails to your executive team. They’ll slip them in on the fly when they reach out for help, catching your agents off-guard if they’re not prepared.

To mitigate this risk, equip all customer-facing employees with talking points about your organizational changes, so they can feel confident and knowledgeable during customer conversations. Then, given the chance a sly customer slips in a question, your agents have what they need to answer it effectively, without going off-the-cuff.

Help your contact center prepare for changes that lie ahead. Start by doing your research. Learn the trends Frost & Sullivan say are shaping the contact center market.

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