In the many years I have been involved in franchising, the amount of Franchisors that neglect or become complacent with the communication levels they have with their Franchisees never ceases to amaze me.
Franchisors must seize every opportunity to communicate with their Franchisees as nothing builds a stronger team better than constant exchanges and a flow of information. Of course, the best communication is a two way process, but it is the Franchisor’s responsibility to set the processes by which the parties can converse effectively and there are several ways to accomplish this.
A Franchisee that is not communicated effectively to is a lonely Franchisee that festers on the solitude and quickly establishes an attitude that they are on their own. This is despite all the promises during the start up phase and the attitude that nobody at Head Office cares about their success quickly grows!
The lonely Franchisee then talks to other lonely Franchisees and the “us and them” attitude quickly develops and becomes a festering abscess on the entire system, preventing positive and effective growth. In such situations Franchisees have been known to form Committees to tackle issues with the Franchisor and this format ensures bad communication as the underlying attitudes are of aggression and antagonism.
A Franchisor cannot afford for this situation to develop and it is all too easy to avoid.
Aside from profitability, I believe the one single factor that can make or break a franchise system is the failure to communicate. It is easy to say that communication is being attended to but a Franchisor must constantly ask of themselves ‘at what level’ and ‘in which ways’ effective communication is being addressed.
A very common failing in Franchisors is that they fail to continually remind Franchisees exactly why they are better off inside the franchise system. Just because they are faced with the benefits every day, Franchisors forget to remind Franchisees that they are getting the best buying prices, they are getting great training, they do have exclusive products etc. This should be constantly resold and reinforced to Franchisees or they will forget exactly why they decided to enter the franchise in the first place. Franchisees that have been in the system for several years also need this positive reinforcement- even though they have heard it all before!
Franchisors often do enormous amounts of work behind the scenes such as product supply negotiation or research and development but then the Franchisor fails to communicate to the Franchisees just how good a job they have done. The Franchisees deserve to know what they are getting for their royalty payments and if they are not told- how can Franchisees appreciate what the Franchisor’s staff have achieved on their behalf?
Even if through communication a problem is raised, surely it is best addressed immediately before it becomes a major issue thus giving both parties a better chance to discuss and resolve any problems.
“Communication creates belonging”- Franchising is about teamwork and mutual success. No team has ever been completely successful without “belonging”.
So what can the Franchisor do to communicate effectively and provide the happy environment that strong communication helps to establish? Obviously a regular face to face meeting is the best method to build strong relationships. However this method is counterproductive if the Franchisor calls just for a cup of coffee and a chat every time. Whilst such informal contact has a very valuable contribution to the overall relationship, both the Franchisee and Franchisor are business people whose time is valuable and should be treated with respect. So when a Franchisor calls on a Franchisee, there should be specific reasons to make that call. The Franchisee will wish to hear about ways to improve their business and an effective Franchisor will always use the call to provide that avenue, be it by sales training or product knowledge or store change recommendations or discussions on benchmarking data.
As the physical call is so costly to a Franchisor, particularly for regional franchises, this method of communication must be supplemented by other methods. This is no reason to not call at all. I once found a country-based Franchisee of a major system in a shopping centre that had not seen anyone from Head Office since they set up their store two and a half years previously. He was unhappy and deservedly so! Even the fact that that system referred to Head Office instead of Support Office is perhaps indicative of the overriding attitudes within that system.
Franchisors often do not utilise all their staff on physical calls and have the same representative visiting all the time. By using different staff members the Franchisor can spread the load of visiting responsibility and provide variation and interest to the Franchisee. For example, if there is a buyer or accountant or administrative worker visits a Franchisee they can offer different skills and value to a Franchisee than the standard operations representative (no offence to my field service friends). This also helps Support Office staff to know and understand the business from a Franchisee’s perspective and often results in a dramatic and positive change in attitudes from both parties towards each others dealings in business.
Good Franchisors chart the visits made by all their team to ensure a Franchisee is not physically neglected. This is a very simple but effective method of ensuring a Franchisee doesn’t feel unloved. One Franchisor used to use the traffic light method – listing his franchisees on a chart on his office wall. Every time he spoke with a Franchisee he assessed their general contentedness within the system and applied a coloured sticker alongside their name. Happy was green, average was amber and unhappy was read. In one glance at his board he could assess the overall feeling in his team and could take action accordingly.
One major Franchisor uses “Happy Calls” to promote healthy communications. Rather than have a physical call when there is not much to discuss, the normal result is a failure to communicate at all. This Franchisor rings the Franchisee and simply asks the question “This is a happy call just to make sure everything is running well, is there anything you wish to discuss?” What eventuates is that nearly every Franchisee has a small issue to cover but the Franchisee is able to have that resolved and feel loved at the same time.
E-mails are a very necessary but effective means of rapid communication but Franchisors and Franchisees must be aware of the language used in these communications. It is very easy to upset someone by using ineffective language in this impersonal medium. Always ask the question “How would I feel if I received this e-mail?” before pressing the send button. I may be old fashioned but I am of the firm belief that a personal phone call rather than an e-mail is well worth any additional time required to build franchise relationships.
Newsletters are hard work for the editor but a wonderful way of creating a family feeling. However a newsletter needs to be about the newsy titbits from within the group and not a “Message from the Managing Director” style newsletter. Franchisees and their staff like to read about their peers and this communication should not be used for general business communications.
Franchisors have reported mixed results in their success rates with Franchise Advisory Councils (FAC), but my general observations are that if this is used as one of a mix of communication methods, it is a highly effective tool. If the FAC is used as a sole or primary forum to solve all the problems then it has been set impossible goals from the outset.
What better way to communicate with Franchisees than with ongoing training. We all benefit from interaction with peers and the very philosophy of franchising should bring us all together
for mutual learning and benefit. Franchisors all too often neglect training and miss a very strong opportunity to communicate effectively with their Franchisees.
The annual conference is a time to involve Franchisees – don’t use the gathering to lecture them. Prior to the conference ask them what they would like to get out of the meetings apart from having a great time!
With communication issues, are you really covering all bases or are you just kidding yourself? You have to find the time to communicate or your business will die- irrespective of whether you are a Franchisor or a Franchisee. When you do make communication a priority in your business, the fun level will rise significantly because you will solve problems before they occur! Now, think of something someone has done well recently and compliment them on it –after all, we don’t communicate only with problems! You will enjoy this as much as the recipient.