Tips to Relieve Consumer Fears Of Bank Acquisitions, Mergers

1. Make changes incrementally, not rapidly. "There's a limit to how much people can digest," said Laurence Stybel, founder and principal of Stybel, Peabody, Lincolnshire, a Boston-based management consulting firm.

2. Be available. Set up a telephone hot line, with a real, live person answering questions, recommended Terry Van Tell, a New York-based communications consultant. Send out postcards or fliers with this telephone number and other pertinent information.

3. Designate one branch employee as the "answer person." Route all customer inquiries to this person. Don't assume you know what's going on inside the customer's head.

4. Keep employees and customers fully informed. Don't assume everyone knows what's going on, Ms. Van Tell said.

5. Don't wait until you have everything lined up to give customers information; keep them informed even when things are in flux.

6. Don't be impatient if you have to repeat your message to customers.

7. Don't underestimate customer fear.

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