How to make an acquisition in customer service successful
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During his time at Illuminate Education, Matt Dale managed the acquisition of 7 support departments. Jaala experienced being acquired as a support leader during her time at GitPrime. Together Matt and Jaala offer advice and best practices to support departments acquiring a new team (acquirers) and those being acquired (acquirees).
First step: understand the acquired product
- To make successful decisions regarding how to support a newly acquired product, you must first understand the acquired product. This means onboarding on the inner workings/back-end of the product and how it is supported.
“Your first job as a manager acquiring a support team is to ask questions” – Matt Dale, VP of Support at Illuminate Education Inc.
- This means interviewing the acquired team and asking as many questions as possible. There are many hidden intricacies in how products are supported, so expect there to be lots of product information hidden within processes and protocols. More time spent understanding the product early on, means less time wasted by correcting for the wrong decisions later.
- Remember: the first priority of the newly acquired team is to continue supporting their customers. As the acquirer, understanding the product is the first step to helping the acquiree team do that. The next steps on integrating the acquiree team will also become clear once you understand the intricacies of their product.
- To make merging the teams easier, it’s important to build a communication plan regarding how your support department operates. The first and most important step in this process is the product onboarding.
- Make the onboarding experience for the acquirer team as easy as possible. View the acquiring team the same as new support employees that require training and onboarding to get started. The faster they understand your product, the faster they will understand your perspective and the more they’ll be able to empathize with your needs.
- Being forthright and well prepared with product information is a great way to start the acquisition with a good first impression.
“You may be tired of saying the same thing over and over again but if you don’t, someone’s not going to hear it in the right way.” – Matt Dale, VP of Support at Illuminate Education Inc.
- Build a communication plan and communicate it consistently. Repetition and consistency are what will ensure everyone is on the same page. Senior leadership, middle management and junior employees must all hear and repeat the same message. This cannot be done unless the message is repeated many times.
- It’s also extremely important to organise face-to-face meetings with acquirees to ask questions about their department and about how the merger is going. The acquirees are the experts on their department and as such, over-communicating with them ensures that the course of action suits their needs.
- The first step to over-communication is presenting as much information upfront and making this information easy to understand. The second step is especially important for remote employees: meet your new teammates face-to-face. It’s highly advisable for senior staff to meet the acquirer team in person. While less senior staff should strive to do the same but it may not be feasible, if so, less senior staff should still meet virtually.
“I don’t feel there are dumb questions when you’re being acquired” – Jaala Seifipour, Head Of Support at ’nuffsaid
- Acquirees should also ask as many questions as possible. Being engaged with the merging process is a great way to show you’re a valuable member of the new team. Moreover, probing for extra information also makes the process easier for the acquirers. No company communicates perfectly so there’s always helpful information that you can ask for.
Adapting to shared processes
“The goal is to have a shared set of tools and processes while not creating too much disruption” – Matt Dale, VP of Support at Illuminate Education Inc.
- As stated above, the goal is to merge processes and tools so that the entire team shares common workflows. Something as simple as reporting on the performance of the team is made far more complicated if teams don’t use the same ticketing system. Escalations, planning, cross-training are all made easier if teams have common ground in how they work.
- However, acquirers must adapt their plan to the acquirees. For some acquirees, there are important integrations that make moving ticketing systems difficult. In this situation, Matt left time for developers to prepare new integrations so the acquiree team and their customers weren’t disrupted.
“Expect changes. Above all else, don’t resist them” – Jaala Seifipour, Head Of Support at ’nuffsaid
- In addition to onboarding the acquirer team on your product, it’s equally important to explain your processes and touch on the roles and responsibilities of the team members. Focus on informing the acquiring team on why these processes are important.
- It’s very common for people in support teams to take on unique roles and have siloed expertise on certain processes. Such people should be visible and accessible to the acquiring team so that their expertise can be utilised.
- Jaala and Matt advise acquirees to outline their pains and areas of excellence. Areas of excellence are things your department does well and pains are things that are awkward or difficult for a department. Presenting the pains and areas of excellence to an acquiring team will help them prioritise what to collaborate on first.