How to Build a Customer-Centric Franchise Culture
When it comes to good customer service, it is very easy to pay lip service to a vision of best practice customer service and a list of generic values designed to achieve this.
Exceptional customer service, however, is something that is developed over many years and requires an ongoing analysis of a franchise’s systems, procedures and culture.
First, identify the problem
You see a lot of people in business answering a question that hasn’t been asked – by this I mean exciting customer service campaigns are launched and expensively promoted with little thought as to what it’s trying to achieve. Someone at head office thought it was a good idea – but nobody thought to ask the customer. You might assume your customers think you’re too slow, when in fact you’re just hard to get a hold of. You might assume you don’t keep in contact enough, when in fact you’re contacting your customers so much they’re starting to get annoyed. Never assume – always do your research.
Identifying where your customer service is lacking is your first and most important step. Professionally run focus groups are a great way to get to the root of the matter in short time. Exit surveys provide extremely valuable information about the customer experience and analysis of online and social media behaviour can also be enlightening. There are many ways to research your market and identify areas for improvement in your customer service, some might be right for you and others less valuable.
Engage the services of a reputable marketing research professional to help steer you through this so you can be sure that budget spent on new projects is directly targeting your biggest problem areas.
Case Study 1 (Part A)
Distrust of builders.
Our early focus groups identified that consumers who had gone through the building process with other builders had found it to be a highly stressful experience. Consumers felt they had been provided with minimal information about how the building process would unfold and were often excluded from the building journey, resulting in unsatisfied and sceptical consumers. Through these focus groups we had identified a significant public relations challenge – our industry as a whole had a dubious reputation.
Second, develop the solution
The solution to your customer service problem, is not about increasing sales. It’s about improving your customer’s experience with your company. Sales will naturally, organically improve as customer service does, but don’t think of sales as your end-game. A positive customer experience should be your number one goal. In my experience the solution to any customer service problem always involves improved communication. That may mean more communication, or it just might mean better quality communication that has more relevance and value to the customer.
Case Study 1 (Part B)
Distrust of builders.
Our strategy was to turn our customer’s past negative experiences with builders around by providing extensive information that would help them make an informed decision about their new home build. This was not always about getting a sale over the line – we believed that it was our responsibility to provide the most detailed information we could to help consumers make the right decision – even if they ended up working with another builder.
We also made it our focus to involve the consumer from day one, right through the building process and to ensure we had the business systems in place to make the building journey as stress free as possible – it was a lofty goal but our intention was to actually make the building process an enjoyable experience for our customers.
Explore new ways of solving old problems
Gone are the days when a sophisticated customer service strategy comprised a follow up phone call and a free fridge magnet. In today’s connected, but time-poor world, customer service strategies must be wholly integrative; personalised but not intrusive; transparent, but easy to understand; comprehensive but at a time convenient to the customer.
Case Study 2
Questions answered at a time convenient to you.
We recently employed a team of professionals to analyse our website to determine how to better engage with consumers on that particular platform.
That process led to the implementation of live chat functionality to the website, with research showing this was a casual and non-threatening way for consumers to have their building questions answered, and the spin off was that it increased conversion lead rates by 57 per cent.
One of the biggest obstacles to creating a customer-centric culture is disorganisation. While we’d like to think that each and every one of our customers is special, the reality is we deal with thousands of new contacts every year and keeping the details all in your head is impossible. Get organised – collect meaningful data on your customers and make it work for you.
Case Study 3
Everything in its place.
In the 1990s, we developed our own centrally hosted POS, accounting and customer management tool called Greenhouse, simply because there was no building system that comprehensively captured all of the features that we required and wanted. The system is the blueprint for our franchisees for how they should build homes and interact with customers. It helps franchisees know when and how they should interact with customers at each stage of the building process, from the initial contact to post-handover. Franchisees and their staff can quickly access the system to see the status of each job and the system provides them with a ‘To Do List’ and reminders at critical points throughout the build.
Take your customer along for the ride
The very best way to achieve good customer service and to generate repeat custom and referrals is to have your customers share the service journey with you. When you exclude customers from this process it creates dissatisfaction and scepticism.
While they say you should never watch sausages being made, if you do, you have a much greater appreciation for the work and effort that goes into them. And you know exactly what you’re getting – no hidden surprises.
The same applies to customer service. When kept in the dark the human mind is capable of coming up will all sorts of shadowy conclusions. You need to be transparent in all your dealings with customers to build trust. Give them a glimpse behind the ‘Staff Only’ door to reassure them that all is going according to the run sheet. You’ll be rewarded with more relaxed and much happier customers.
Case Study 4
Questions answered at a time convenient to you.
Our commitment to making the building process as stress free as possible for consumers led us to develop innovative 3D virtual house tours that are now available on our website and are being rolled out throughout our display villages nationally. These interactive tours not only make the design process informative and fun for consumers, they also help to streamline interactions between consumers and our franchisees.
Our website is also used as an information sharing tool throughout the building process. Customers can login and see photos and progress updates about their new home. As well as being an informative tool, it also helps to make the process fun for customers, allowing them to share progress photos and updates with their family and friends.
Don’t rest on your laurels
A customer-centric culture is not something you can set-and-forget. You’ll never see the end date on the development of customer service – there’ll always be something to refine, something to improve, something to innovate. And your competitors will be perpetually lifting their game – you not only need to keep up, you also have to raise the bar.
Throughout our 30 plus years in the industry, we have constantly refined our sales and customer service training for franchisees. In the past two years, we implemented a refined SalesStar sales training program, designed to improve sales team management procedures and processes for interacting with customers.
The central tenet of that sales training program is about informing and assisting customers every step along the building journey in order to provide them with a good customer service experience.
Darren Wallis commenced his career with G.J. Gardner Homes in 1994 as an Accountant and is now the CEO and Managing Director of the company.
G.J. Gardner Homes is Australia’s most experienced and trusted home builder, having built over 34,000 custom homes in Australia, New Zealand and the United States since its establishment in 1983.