How To Make Sure An Acquisition Doesn’t Hurt Customer Experience

When you're a small fish in an acquisition, how to you keep customer experience high?

When you’re the small fish in an an acquisition, how to you keep customer experience high?

What Impact Will Kaiser Permanente’s Acquisition of GHC Have On Customer Experience?

Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative (GHC) has been in business for over 75 years; longer that Kaiser Permanente, which recently acquired it. In today’s podcast interview with GHC’s Customer Experience Designer, Brian Clark, we talk about how the acquisition could be a positive thing for customers, even though it will doubtless cause stress.

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OK, so let’s be blunt here: when you are an employee of a company that is about to be swallowed by a big fish, you aren’t going to go on the record saying anything nasty about the biggie.

But Clark did make some good points about the acquisition, and the effect it is likely to have on customer experience.

1. Are Your Values Compatible?

For starters, both Kaiser Permanente and GHC are not-for-profit organizations. So there is likely more similarity in outlook than there would be if the acquirer were a for-profit entity. From what Clark has seen, their values are similar.

2. How Good is the Communication?

For an acquisition to work there needs to be excellent communication in many directions: between Kaiser and GHC management, between management and employees of both groups (who include medical staff as well as administration), and between GHC and its customers. This will not be easy, and is a major focus of the work Clark is doing in preparation for the merger.

3. Will the Acquisition Actually Help?

Mergers and acquisitions have a terrible track record: according to the Harvard Business Review 70% – 90% of mergers and acquisitions fail!

Often they didn’t make sense in the first place, but Clark argues that not only is there strategic fit with this one, GHC will benefit from being able to modernize and upgrade its old technology and systems. That’s something leaders felt it couldn’t afford to do soon on its own. And it’s important: customer experience is hurt when systems don’t talk to each other.

4. Are Your Staff Persuaded?

You’ll never get 100% buy in, but showing people how the acquisition can actually make their jobs better should help. Despite great communication, this will take time.

As Clark puts it, “There’s a process change aversion,” even when new processes are actually better than the old, familiar ones. (User experience designers know this: that’s why there’s a backlash whenever a web design or software changes, even if in testing it is clear that the new design is easier to learn.)

5. Be Patient (& But Not TOO Patient)

Sometimes, says Clark,  you have to accept an incremental approach. Change management is never easy. But, working in a scientific field, he tries to rely on evidence as a way to persuade people.

Sharing successes and, when necessary, documenting the pain can help convince people that things are moving in the right direction as the acquisition proceeds.

6. Speak to People in a Language They Understand

When I interviewed Erin Wallace, Global Manager of Customer Experience at John Deere, she talked about using a tractor metaphor to get senior management to understand and buy into customer experience improvement. Brian Clark uses medical metaphors. Things like “trying to create new muscle memory” or making sure ligaments are well attached. It may sound corny, but it really does help.

What are the metaphors you could use for your industry? 

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2 comments on “How To Make Sure An Acquisition Doesn’t Hurt Customer Experience

  1. If you’re purchasing software, you should have an experienced software consultant take a look at the code base to make sure it’s quality and won’t have scalability issues.

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