Archive for January 2007

Presenting at the 2007 IA Summit in Las Vegas

January 19th, 2007 — 3:25pm

I’m try­ing some­thing new for the 2007 IA sum­mit — a panel! I am one of four pre­sen­ters for a panel titled Lessons from Fail­ure: or How IAs Learn to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bombs. We have a promis­ing set of speak­ers: Chris­t­ian Crum­lish, Peter Jones, Lorelei Brown and myself.
My por­tion of the panel will focus on how states of mind, cul­tural out­looks, and unspo­ken assump­tions about prob­lems and their proper res­o­lu­tion shape responses to fail­ure — on both small and large scales. Our goal is max­i­mum audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion and min­i­mum talk­ing­hea­di­tis, so please don’t be shy about shar­ing exam­ples and join­ing the dis­cus­sion.
Of course, we’re one among many rea­sons to attend. Quite a few things look espe­cially inter­est­ing on this year’s sched­ule, includ­ing sev­eral of the pre-conference ses­sions that touch on rapidly evolv­ing areas of prac­tice such as design­ing for social archi­tec­tures and enter­prise efforts.
Hope to see you in Vegas!

Comment » | Information Architecture

The Importance of Customer Experience During Mergers

January 2nd, 2007 — 9:45pm

Merg­ers and acqui­si­tions activ­ity in 2006 reached record lev­els, and it’s likely that the pace will increase in 2007.
In the midst of the epic deal-making, com­pa­nies should look beyond imme­di­ate ben­e­fits for share­hold­ers and exec­u­tives, and pay very close atten­tion to the impact of merg­ers (and other major orga­ni­za­tional shifts) on cus­tomer expe­ri­ences. Why? Because acquired cus­tomers are eas­ily lost.
Merg­ers and acqui­si­tions cre­ate tran­si­tion points, moments when avoid­able cus­tomer expe­ri­ence mis­takes sour once strong rela­tion­ships with loyal cus­tomers of an acquired com­pany, and they depart per­ma­nently. This is dou­bly unfor­tu­nate: the right cus­tomer expe­ri­ence can bridge old and new for acquired cus­tomers, and pro­vide reas­sur­ing con­ti­nu­ity dur­ing times of sub­stan­tial flux in areas such as brands and iden­ti­ties, cor­po­rate cul­tures, orga­ni­za­tional struc­tures, sup­port­ing enter­prise archi­tec­tures and sys­tems, even cus­tomer ser­vice pro­ce­dures.
Well-managed cus­tomer expe­ri­ences offer two kinds of spe­cific ben­e­fits. The first ben­e­fit is an unex­pected (and thus more pow­er­ful) refu­ta­tion of estab­lished wis­dom from across indus­tries that defines post-merger ser­vice expec­ta­tions as bad. Con­sider these two exam­ples:
From If more US air­lines merge, who would ben­e­fit?:
Avi­a­tion ana­lysts like Kevin Mitchell of the Busi­ness Travel Coali­tion in Rad­nor, Pa. … argues that a flurry of merg­ers right now would raise prices, over­crowd already-packed planes, and cre­ate chaos for cus­tomer ser­vice for years to come pre­cisely because it is so dif­fi­cult to merge avi­a­tion cor­po­rate cul­tures.
“Of course, Wall Street is going to push it,” he says. “What’s good for investors, share­hold­ers, and man­age­ment may not be good for oth­ers: Lots of employ­ees will be laid off, and cus­tomers can look for­ward to 20 to 30 per­cent price hikes and sev­eral years of customer-service [mis­ery].“
And this from FCC clears AT&T merger:
Natalie Billings­ley, a super­vi­sor with the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Commission’s Divi­sion of Ratepayer Advo­cates, which advo­cates for con­sumer inter­ests, said the new con­ces­sions improved the out­look for AT&T and Bell­South cus­tomers. But she said con­sumers would have been bet­ter off if the merger had not been approved and expressed skep­ti­cism that cus­tomer ser­vice would improve.
“You hope that ser­vice will improve, but it hasn’t been seen with prior merg­ers,” she said.
The sec­ond ben­e­fit is bal­anc­ing the ser­vice dis­rup­tions com­mon to post-merger inte­gra­tion (some­times col­li­sion is the bet­ter word) efforts with a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence ori­ented toward the longer term. This is espe­cially impor­tant for acquired cus­tomers, who lack exam­ples of how the acquir­ing com­pany han­dles cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, and need surety regard­ing it’s inten­tions.
Enter­prise busi­ness process, infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, and tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tions (your SAP or mine…) are notably prone to con­flicts that can dis­rupt cus­tomer expe­ri­ences in dra­matic and unex­pected ways. Much of the dis­rup­tion is eas­ily man­aged in advance by com­mu­ni­cat­ing upcom­ing changes to cus­tomers. The rest is best han­dled by the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence equiv­a­lent of the detour. While the details may prove com­plex behind the scenes, the basic idea is very sim­ple: tell acquired cus­tomers that things used to work one way, explain that they now work another, then show them how, and sup­port them through the required changes.
Because the idea is so sim­ple, orga­ni­za­tions that fail to antic­i­pate and respond to cus­tomer expe­ri­ence dis­rup­tions dur­ing inte­gra­tion efforts neglect the basics of build­ing sound rela­tion­ships with acquired cus­tomers. Neglect­ing acquired cus­tomers from the begin­ning is a good indi­ca­tor that the new orga­ni­za­tion places low value on cus­tomer rela­tion­ships in gen­eral. With bad expe­ri­ences dur­ing botched tran­si­tions, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion declines, rela­tion­ships sour, and loyal cus­tomers leave.
Snap­shot of a Dis­rupted Expe­ri­ence
Amer­i­can­Bank recently acquired Mega­Bank, and inte­grated the two com­pa­nies’ on-line bank­ing tools. These tools served credit card cus­tomers, in addi­tion to bank­ing cus­tomers. But since nei­ther Mega­Bank nor Amer­i­can­Bank com­mu­ni­cated infor­ma­tion or plans about the merger (no detour…) to Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers, the stream of per­son­ally addressed emails issued from mys­te­ri­ous sources inside Amer­i­can­Bank looked exactly like a credit card fraud spam broad­cast designed to snare the unwary.
Fol­low­ing the email broad­casts, Amer­i­can­Bank abruptly redi­rected traf­fic from the Mega­Bank account por­tal to the Amer­i­can­Bank web­site, with­out noti­fy­ing Mega­Bank cus­tomers of the switch, thereby mim­ic­k­ing another com­mon tac­tic in fraud efforts — the decoy log-in screen intended to extract user IDs and pass­words from unsus­pect­ing vis­i­tors, who do not rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ence between the legit­i­mate and fake log-in gate­ways.
More dis­rup­tive for Mega­Bank cus­tomers was AmericanBank’s deci­sion to erase their log-in names and then cre­ate new user names in those cases where Mega­Bank log-ins hap­pened to dupli­cate those of exist­ing Bank of Amer­ica cus­tomers, effec­tively dis­plac­ing them. This par­tic­u­lar change would have been trou­ble­some with ade­quate com­mu­ni­ca­tion, since user names and pass­words present exten­sive usabil­ity and mem­ory chal­lenges, but again Amer­i­can­Bank failed to notify Mega­Bank cus­tomers of the changes.
As icing on the cake, Amer­i­can­Bank cre­ated new pass­words for Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers as well, again with­out noti­fi­ca­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of new log-ins and new pass­words made it impos­si­ble for Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers to access any of AmericanBank’s on-line account man­age­ment func­tions.
Mega­Bank cus­tomers try­ing to use their nor­mal on-line account man­age­ment tools expe­ri­enced this series of inte­gra­tion steps as spam broad­casts, hijacked nav­i­ga­tion, recog­ni­tion fail­ure, dis­place­ment, and a pass­word recov­ery loop lead­ing to account lock-out. The only way to sort it out and regain access was a labo­ri­ous staged phone call that revealed the reg­u­lar to cus­tomer ser­vice chan­nels couldn’t han­dle on-line access prob­lems.
In the end, Mega­Bank cus­tomers incurred direct costs in the form of ser­vice charges to make pay­ments by phone while locked out of the on-line sys­tem, late fees for miss­ing pay­ments while sort­ing out the account access issues, and puni­tive inter­est rate raises based on auto­mated appli­ca­tion of con­tract rules trig­gered by late pay­ments. The com­plete reck­on­ing includes addi­tional indi­rect costs in the form of frus­tra­tion, con­fu­sion, wasted time, and the effort required to find a sub­sti­tute credit card ser­vicer.
All in all, the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence of the Amer­i­can­Bank and Mega­Bank inte­gra­tion pro­vided clear signs of:

  • mis­aligned busi­ness structures
  • mis­man­aged integration
  • an unbal­anced short term outlook
  • poor rela­tion­ship management
  • pun­ish­ing cus­tomers for bad busi­ness decisions

From the per­spec­tive of an acquired cus­tomer, it’s easy to rec­og­nize these as symp­toms of inter­nal ill health, man­i­fest as indif­fer­ence or ill will toward cus­tomers. Which equates to strong incen­tive to leave in 2006, and not return in 2007.

Comment » | Customer Experiences

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