Top challenges in achieving consistent customer experience across franchise operations

Top challenges in achieving consistent customer experience across franchise operations

Top challenges in achieving consistent customer experience across franchise operations

A key factor in the success of franchising is its process model which defines how the operation works. Each franchise operates the same way and delivers the same products and services whether in Joburg, Durban or London for that matter. It is this consistency that sees entrepreneurs buying into it and keeps franchises in business, compared to independent businesses, where as many as 90% fail within the first two years.  

Franchisees across many industry sectors are contractually mandated to operate according to a prescribed playbook that has proven to be successful.  To ensure consistency, every aspect of the business is defined, like which suppliers to use; how products should be prepared, packaged and delivered; the pricing structure; the design of the shop front; merchandising, staff uniforms; and every facet of the marketing and advertising requirements.

Yet despite the consistency and safety in proven franchise models, you will still find many consumers who will tell you of very different experiences at franchisees within the same group.

Consider the following experience of one of my colleagues with a well-known tyre fitment franchise: 

“I will make use of a very specific franchise branch for my tyres, wheel balancing and so on, and drive further to go to this branch, even though there is one just 2km from my house, simply because I had an abysmal experience with the staff and specifically the franchise owner of the branch around the corner. Everything about the two franchise branches is exactly the same – same products, same brand, same everything – EXCEPT the people!  The chauvinistic, patronising attitude of the franchise owner was unbelievable, despite the fact that they were in the wrong and eventually conceded this point when the head office got involved to sort out the fracas. I was ready to write off the entire group, but my husband convinced me to try another branch that he goes to – exactly the same franchise group, but the difference in terms of my experience is like night and day,” she explains.   

The risk here is that all franchises get painted with the same brush. The performance of one franchisee on matters of CX has a disproportionately magnified negative effect on all other franchises, and it is this danger that needs focus and where the franchisor needs to step in. It is not only the staff at franchisee level they need to look at and assess, but the actual quality of the franchisees that they recruit to represent their brands and drive the customer experience. 

Most of these complaints do not stem from a break in process or what customers expected in the tangible manifestation of the product, but rather due to poor service by indifferent staff.  Delivering a consistent customer experience, across every single franchise is the single biggest challenge of franchisors, and remains the holy grail of success in every business.

The Consumer Psychology Lab sets out several important challenges and recommendations that every franchisor and franchisee should consider in achieving and delivering a consistent customer experience:  

Challenge #1:  Get the right people

Recruit for the right culture fit, over skills and experience

Ideally, the right culture fit for the business should be defined from the get go, and used to recruit the right people to run operations, as well as be the face of the business. This applies equally to the franchisor in vetting the right franchisee to be trusted in taking ownership of the brand, as well as to the franchisee in recruiting their staff.

Employees representing the brand should be selected from the outset based on their customer-centric predisposition, even before their skillset and experience are considered.  One of the biggest published challenges facing all businesses, including franchisees, is the ability to attract and retain great staff.  Despite it not being a unique challenge of franchisees, it does present a ‘consistency’ challenge. This can be navigated though when the franchisor’s service ethos and brand personality are clearly defined, serving as a framework for the delivery of the desired customer experience aligned with the brand personality. For instance, does the brand have a casual, quirky, humoristic vibe, or is it more focused on efficiency, with a ‘let’s get you sorted’ approach?  Or is it about exclusivity and professional formality?  Employees representing the brand should be selected on this basis first and foremost, as personality characteristics are far more challenging to cultivate than technical proficiency.   

One of the best examples of recruiting for culture fit before skills or experience is that of Southwest Airlines. Southwest follows a ”Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill” recruiting method. The company believes that skill can be taught and it can train its employees to do any number of jobs, but an employee with the wrong attitude for the company’s culture will never be a good fit. This approach applies to employees at all levels – from the ticket counter to the highly skilled positions of pilots. 

The challenge to overcome in the franchise model lies in who controls or influences the recruitment, selecting and appointment and onboarding of key employees. Generally, franchisees are responsible for their own employees. However, how does the franchisor ensure a consistent customer experience across every franchise when the direction, control or influence for the right culture fit is undefined or left to franchise owners to interpret and direct?

From the outset, franchisors should define their level of involvement and influence in the recruitment, selection, appointment, or management of key employees at the onset of scaling the business through a franchise network. Although franchisors may not be responsible for the employees across all sites, they do remain accountable to the brand reputation and should provide clear guidelines for management of human resources – the performance of every franchise has a direct impact on the reputation and customer experience for the rest of the group. Examples could include a requirement that all managers appointed by franchisees must be approved by the franchisor. In addition, a clear framework of the ‘type of people’ or characteristics to represent the brand must be available for recruiting purposes – with training made available to franchisees of what to look for in their ideal employees. The franchisor should be accountable for the brand fit of employees, and the franchisees, responsible for the delivery.

Challenge #2: Employees get confused! No one can serve two kings

Define the role of the franchisor and the franchisee

The influence of the requirements and expectations of the franchisor (brand owner) versus franchisees on employees should not be underestimated. When a brand is associated in the market with a particular customer experience and the franchisee teams are not aligned to it, customers become frustrated or confused with inconsistent experiences.

The delivery of the desired brand experience is dependent on employees, but what happens when the approaches to customers and customer experience of the franchisee are not aligned to it? Employees are expected to understand and embrace the brand that they sell, and the franchisee (which employs them). The confusion often plays out around who pays the salaries versus who is represented. Whose culture and brand personality fit takes the front seat?

The biggest challenge to overcome is for employees to decipher who to serve:  the local management (franchisee), who appoint, remunerate, and manage employees; or the owners (franchisor) who require a standard of service delivery associated with the brand? An example may be a local manager driving sales with no consideration for the brand experience, or reducing costs to declare profitability, without considering the impact of any reduced value-adds perceived to be part and parcel of the brand experience. The brand owner on the other hand may have particular requirements or guidelines around the brand experience, that cannot be adhered to when the local management is misaligned, creating confusion for employees.  This is a significant conundrum, and it begs consideration, as no one can serve two kings!

It is crucial that the onboarding process and the ‘how to’ of showcasing the brand, its values, the desired customer experience and promises to customers should be hosted and shared by the franchisor and franchisees. This will ensure the establishment of the right framework for consistent customer experience.

The ‘voice’ of the Brand should be clarified, especially in situations where functions are outsourced such as a centralised customer service desk. Throughout the franchise network, the touchpoints in the customer’s end-to-end journey must be assessed, benchmarked and measured to ensure clarity around who the customer is actually interacting with, and that they are fit to represent the interests of an entire network of vested franchise business owners. 

Challenge #3: Employees don’t always know ‘how to’

Empower the franchisees with customer service training

Don’t expect everyone to interpret ‘HOW’ to create or deliver the desired customer experience by sharing ‘WHAT’ it should be.  The investment in the brand reputation and a differentiated customer experience by its founders can be destroyed in a heartbeat when employees who are not aligned with its service culture.  Too many leave this to chance!  Assuming that everyone working for, or appointed by the network of franchisees, will automatically just deliver good service aligned with the desired brand experience, is folly.  Franchisors may take the view that training remains the responsibility of the franchisees, yet to ensure consistency, continuous modular training should be offered to the franchisee and employees by the franchisor.

Create customer experience training modules and ensure that compulsory completion is embedded in the SLA with the franchisees. The CX training modules should include the Group’s defined customer promises and the desired experience.  So called ‘soft skills’ should be built into the programmes too, developing competencies such as empathy, serving customers – what is expected, how to serve, telephone skills or dealing with challenging situations. Training should also include product (or services) training to ensure everyone understands the problems to solve. Investing in ongoing training will empower employees to be confident representatives of the brand – don’t leave this to individual owners to interpret the brand expectations or expect them to offer training from their own budgets (most would forfeit this in the belief they would save money and time). Every customer interaction either builds or breaks the customer experience and brand reputation. In the current context, moving training online is an easy option to scale and contain costs, especially for geographically dispersed operations.

When it comes to CX and the people side of the franchise model, always start with the recruitment and selection process, as it lays the foundation for consistency by focusing on the culture-fit first, before skills or experience. Getting the right people, onboarding them to become ambassadors of the brand experience and continuing to invest in their development as empowered brand representatives provides a far more realistic opportunity for consistency.

The caveat remains that the desired experience and customer promises must be articulated and shared by the franchisor with the franchisee, on a consistent basis, with benchmarking and measurement for improvement built into the process.

Furthermore, the role of the franchisor (Brand owner) in securing the right people to represent it at franchisee level, as well as the understanding of the respective roles of both the franchisor and franchisee in terms of service delivery, requires clarification and visibility for employees. 

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