Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Corporate Misalignment: When Communications Is Not the Answer. A Case History


Client Challenge
When I was the Research Director for GolinHarris, we did a communications audit for a national bank. It had grown through recent mergers and acquisitions with smaller regional banks, and management wanted to re-launch the enlarged entity as a single customer-oriented organization.

Research and Findings
I conducted management interviews, ran focus groups with employees, and reviewed customer research already completed by the bank. I also interviewed customer specialists and synthesized research done by other members of the team who worked with investment analysts, community thought leaders, regulators and legislators.

The research clearly showed stakeholders – customers and employees in particular -- did not feel the Bank was customer-oriented. One reason was, because of the Bank’s rapid expansion through acquisition, it was using at least seven separate technological platforms. The fragmented technology led to very visible problems such as customers with bank accounts in one state being unable to cash checks at the bank's outlets in other states. Moreover, because of the multiple technological platforms, the bank was unable to be nimble in the way that most customer-oriented organizations are. For example, for the CEO to send an e-mail to all employees, different subsidiaries would have to re-input the message to reach their employees.

Recommendations
The team recommended that the bank not present itself as customer-oriented. Employees and customers would not have believed this. Worse, by making statements these audiences did not believe, the bank would most likely cause them to question other positive messages from the Bank that might well have had solid experiential support.

Instead, we recommended messaging that showed the bank recognized the problem and that it was trying to become more customer-oriented. We futher recommended they support this by talking about the steps they were taking to be more customer-friendly.

In addition, we told the Bank we believed it could never be leading edge in customer responsiveness until it solved its platform infrastructure problem. In our view, the Bank was not operationally aligned with the promise it wanted to make, so it should not make that promise until the alignment was fixed.

Results
I would like to share with you that the bank took our recommendations and is now considered the most customer-friendly bank in the United States.

Unfortunately, I cannot.

Two weeks after our presentation, the bank was merged with another bank, the CEO who had commissioned our work left, and I never worked with that bank again or heard the final fate of our recommendations.

Despite this, it was great to be able to work on such a high level project. I was also pleased to work on a consultation that concluded that if an organization cannot operationally deliver on a promise it wants to make, communications is not the answer. On this occasion, we communications consultants were the management consultants we should be.

2 comments:

Gina Cuclis said...

Excellent post Forest. However, I would argue communication was the answer, providing it was the right message. Communication is not the answer when the message does not align with the true story.

Forrest W. Anderson said...

Good point Gina, and thanks for your comment!

You are right, but, considering what the organization wanted to achieve, they still needed to make some non-communications changes. They could not communicate their way out of it.