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by Mary Coughlin
on April 23, 2019

Change Communications: Preparing Your Customers for Change

Changes within your business can be hard, whether they impact your processes, workforce, services or customers. The key to managing any type of change is to be prepared. This means mapping out every detail from planning deadlines to implementation timelines, and all of the communications you’ll need to keep stakeholders informed.
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If the change will impact your customers, a plan is needed for that, too. Customers rely on you for whatever service you provide, and adjustments to those services, big or small, will impact them. Below are some tips on how to prepare your customers.

Set expectations up front

When an upcoming change to your services, technology, or a new product offering will impact your customers, it’s important to set expectations up front. This includes giving accurate timelines and indicating the level of impact. Answer the following questions to help you get started:

What’s in it for the customer?

  • Develop an elevator pitch for why you are making the change, and why the customer should care about it.
  • Detail out the overall impact on the customer and how they will benefit from the change.

Will the change require a new contract to be signed?

  • Determine what this process will look like: how will the new contract be delivered to the client, and how much time they will have to review and sign it?
  • Determine what the consequences are if they do not sign it by the deadline: will the contract automatically go into effect, or will services terminate?

How much, if any, effort will need to be put forth by the customer to help you achieve the change?

  • Detail out what actions the customer will need to take and when.
  • Have FAQs ready to explain to customers why these actions are required, and why the change can’t be implemented without their support.
  • Have a follow-up plan for customers who do not meet your deadlines: will the change still be able to take place? What are the consequences of it being delayed?

Will the change cause any disruption to the customer’s business?

  • Be empathetic toward how your customer will be impacted, and be tactful in how you present it. While it may be a small adjustment from your perspective, the impact on your customer might be great.
  • Determine if there is anything you can offer to alleviate some of the disruption: is there a credit you can issue on the customer’s account? Is there any additional support you can provide, such as someone going on-site to help with the transition?

What resources will be available to help customers through the transition?

  • Create FAQs that will cover all of the questions that might come up when you introduce this change.
  • Determine if appropriate to have additional customer support available during this time: will support hours be extended, or will additional colleagues be brought on to help with any questions or troubleshooting?

When will customers need to start preparing, when will the change happen, and when will it be completed?

  • Create a detailed timeline of what will need to happen before, during, and after implementation. Be sure to highlight the responsible party for each action item - is it a to-do for the customer or for you?
  • If any delays occur, be sure to keep customers updated so they know what is going on.

Keeping these questions in mind, you should be able to create a comprehensive guide for your customers. Set aside time with each customer to walk through the change and address any questions or concerns. If there is anything you are unable to answer at that time, be honest about it. Reiterate that you are partnering with them throughout the transition and are committed to keeping them informed. If possible, leave behind a PowerPoint deck or guide that your customer can share with his or her management or refer back to at a later date.

Have resources in place to assist

One of the questions raised above is ensuring you have the resources in place to assist the customer in every way possible. While you may be ultimately improving efficiencies for customers or providing them with a better overall customer experience, be prepared to alleviate inconveniences they may experience during the transition.

Consider adding the following to your service model during the change process:

  • Extended customer service hours
  • Additional customer service representatives to lessen wait time for support
  • A dedicated representative to help them through the change (this may be their normal account representative, or a special team dedicated to managing this change for customers)
  • A microsite for customers to visit for help (this could include FAQs, timelines, contact information for assistance, and anything else that is applicable)
  • Reminder emails and/or phone calls whenever an action item is coming up or overdue

Be sure to consider a contingency plan in case your timeline is not met or any issues occur (for example, if you are migrating customer data to a new system and they lose access). You will need to be able to act quickly to help customers navigate any unexpected consequences that result from the change, so be sure to build those resources into your plan.

Be prepared to deal with pushback

In general, people are change averse, and customers who have hired your company for your services might not be excited about any adjustments. Having talking points prepared for all customer-facing representatives that speak to the positive aspects and intended results of the change could help in addressing potential customer complaints. It’s important to remind the client, tactfully and empathetically, that the inconveniences are temporary and that ultimately they will benefit from this adjustment.

Hopefully, by planning ahead and using the tips above, you will already have a solid plan and the answers you’ll need to deal with any negative feedback or pushback from customers. However, it is always smart to have an escalation path in place if it feels like you are at risk of losing a customer over their complaints. If you don’t already have this path established within your normal customer service structure, we recommend that leaders to get involved and offer concessions to help save an account.

Growing pains are never easy, but you can relieve customers of them by approaching any external-facing change with meticulous planning and open communication.

Have any questions about what we covered above? Drop us a line--we are happy to help!