Q My company is undergoing a merger with another company in our industry. As a sales rep, I have found that several of my customers have been influenced by our competitors to believe that this will undermine our service capabilities. How can I explain that this is false without seeming to be on the defensive or criticizing the competitor's lack of information?
ALLIED WASTE Services
A The behavior of your competitors is entirely understandable. Depending on the characteristics of the merger, your company will have to be extra vigilant so as to avoid a short-term drop in service levels.
The best response to these types of customer concerns is to be straightforward and deliberate. Acknowledge that a merger is taking place and that customer service is a key priority for the merged companies. Given that change always invites the opportunity for distraction (here you are simply acknowledging the obvious), let them know that you are being extra vigilant to ensure that there will be no problems.
If you want to take an extra step, you might put in place a special contact number or remind people how to report feedback at any time. Of course, your performance will be evaluated against how you respond to problems. Finally, point out the benefits that the new company will provide customers, thereby focusing attention on the future of your continuing relationship.
In summary, acknowledge when there is an opportunity for a problem, state the steps you've taken to avoid such occurrences and end with a look to the future. In cases where I have dealt with customers and this issue was raised, I have simply smiled and said, "I certainly understand why our competition is raising the issue," and moved on.
PROFESSOR OF MARKETING
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS
OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS