How to protect your franchise (and not scare your customers away)!
This article appears in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
Almost every day someone will visit a franchised store. Whether it’s for fresh bread, giftware or noodles, franchises are a way of life for business in Australia and New Zealand.
The interesting thing is that regardless of the store you visit, you will have an opinion of all of the other stores by that one visit. In truth, the franchise is only as strong as the weakest franchisee. As a franchisee, this is a bit scary because the franchisee down the road may be reflecting poorly on you. Equally, you could be letting down other franchisees with the experience you give your customers.
I have had the experience of visiting a particular store and refusing to go to others in the franchise based on my own experiences of extremely poor customer service and the food I purchased was, well, let’s call it a disaster. As sad as it sounds I have judged all of their stores based on that experience. And let’s be honest, that how most of us treat franchises when we have had a bad experience.
So as a franchisee, what are you doing to maintain the strength of the franchise?
The Right People
Every time you add to your team, that person has the ability to add or detract from your business.
Before you consider hiring someone, write down not just a job description but include criteria for the type of person you want to employ. What are their values, their work ethic and even their commitment to their role and employer?
The way to assess this is to include some scenarios that are explained during the interview process and ask for comment, feedback and suggestions on how to resolve a situation. This helps to work out whether they will be the right fit for your business, your team and the franchise brand.
Knowing that your team is taking care of your customers is paramount to the success of any business and one of the best ways to enforce this is to deliver ongoing training to your team – and you shouldn’t only leave it to the franchise head office to take care of your staff training. By providing ongoing training, you can help your team develop and maintain a high level of customer service, based on your own standards.
Start with customer service training. A lack of customer service is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to retail stores and even service-based businesses.
Training is also a great platform to discuss customer issues that have arisen in your business and use them as a learning experience rather than an accountability exercise. This is particularly important with the rise of viral venting on social media. Remember that by investing in your team, it will instil a sense of self-worth and ownership to their role within your business.
This sounds obvious enough, but writing everything that you want your team to do and say means that they have clear guidelines and standards set in place.
Start by listing each task, process or service within the business. This includes everything from how to sell a product, to a service you provide, or even packing up at the end of the day. Then break down each of the tasks into a checklist and include every step of the process needed to get to the best end result. These checklists then form an overall plan with guidelines to ensure consistency and standards for your team to adhere to. Even though putting each procedure down on paper can be cumbersome and downright painful, it means that there is a sense of clarity within their role and with this clarity, a sense of accountability. When they fully understand what is expected of them, there is no confusion around what they should or shouldn’t do.
When there is an issue with conduct or procedures, you can refer back to your guidelines for support and clearly explain how they have fallen short of the expectation. As founder of Australia’s first marketing franchise, I understand the value in consistency, support and training in maintaining a franchise and the brand itself.
We have a Business Practices Manual with every detail you will ever need to know in running a Green Chilli Marketing Franchise. From sending emails to presenting proposals and following up, each item has been documented for the franchisee to refer to at any given time. In addition, I have built in checklists to the manual to keep the process simple and easy to communicate to their team.
If your head office does not provide this to you as a franchisee, then you need to create your own written guidelines for your business. For example, you might find that what your head office provides is lacking in smaller details that apply to your team, so you would need to put this together and communicate it with your team. This also means it is specific to your business and the type of clients your particular franchise has.
Look at your business through your customers’ eyes. Are you using the colour palette that was supplied by your franchisor? Do you use the same fonts? Is the signage produced professionally to the same standard? Is your email signature professional and does it contain all the necessary details? What is your team’s email communication or phone manner like? A common mistake that I see amongst franchisees is that they do not uphold the branding and standards of the franchise. Customer service, the layout of products, signage (even short lived posters about special offers), music played in store, and other smaller details must be consistent with the franchise as a whole. For example, something as seemingly inconsequential as an end-of-the-day discount offer that is hand-written on a piece of paper and hung up at a shop front, is not in keeping with the franchise brand and therefore indicates that you are not following the higher standards that people expect of the franchise.
These may seem like little things, but each and every point of contact that a customer has with your franchise either builds or detracts from your business – and the franchise as a whole. Think about each of the elements that go together to build the big picture.
You need to maintain your brand standards to ensure that it gives customers and suppliers a consistent and positive experience, and that it reflects well upon the entire franchise.
First impressions may seem like a trivial topic, but it is a huge issue for franchises with storefronts and more particularly those franchises in the food industry. The way a store presents to customers builds an image of the business from the moment they step inside. We’ve all been into a fast food franchise at one time or another and I am sure that each of you would have your own stories in relation to the cleanliness or lack thereof of the store. Maintaining cleanliness standards is paramount to successfully building a reliable and trusted business. Even if your business does not have a storefront, first impressions count. Do you and your team go to meetings with a notepad and pen that has seen better days? Are their business cards dog-eared and bent out of shape? Are they dressed professionally? Does their attire suit the industry that you are in? Those first impressions create the lasting image for your potential customer or client.
The big picture
When it comes to a successful franchise, it is really about consistency and maintaining a high standard of service or product.
Remember that as a franchisee, whatever you do reflects on the other franchisees and vice versa. By each of the businesses maintaining high standards, the value of your franchise will be maintained. And who doesn’t want that?
Belinda Bow founded Green Chilli Marketing in 2008 and has recently launched Australia’s first marketing franchise opportunity for talented marketers to have a successful career and work life that fits in with their lifestyle. Belinda is a Certified Practising Marketer and an Associate Fellow of the Australian Marketing Institute.
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