The best franchisors diligently provide their franchisees with frequent, useful communication, which means more than the occasional email, newsletter, or perfunctory visit from their field representative.
Today, it’s all too tempting to rely on the Internet for communication. But depersonalising the franchisor is a big mistake. Time and again, well-intentioned emails or texts ignite firestorms when they’re misinterpreted. Don’t make the mistake of believing an email can be a substitute for human contact.
Relationships are built with dialogue, so it is important to encourage dialogue in every aspect of a relationship with franchisees. Good franchisors are careful to create multiple venues for constructive dialogue. Annual conventions, regional meetings, and advisory and advertising councils all provide for this two-way communication.
To be effective, however, the communication needs to be more than frequent. It needs to be honest. Get caught in a single half-truth, and trust is destroyed.
Finally, to be effective, a franchisor has to genuinely care about the success of its franchisees. Good franchisee relationships start with a franchisor that is, first and foremost, committed to franchisee success. That commitment, more than anything else, needs to permeate the organisation at every level.
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If your franchisees don’t sense a commitment, the relationship can quickly become adversarial. If, on the other hand, franchisees see the franchisor breaking his or her back to help them succeed, there’s almost nothing they won’t do in return.
Here are some recommendations on best practices in franchisee communications:
- Whenever possible, the franchisor should take calls from franchisees rather than letting the calls go to voicemail.
- If possible, they should have a dedicated franchise support line.
- If the franchisor gets a message from a franchisee, they should always respond the same business day.
- Every day, the franchisor should pick up the phone and call at least one franchisee they haven’t spoken to in a while. Ask how they’re doing, how their family is, and what else your team could be doing to support their business.
- Franchisors should never speak negatively about franchisees to an employee in the company. Communications relating to franchisees should always be respectful.
- A technology platform should be used to track all communications (copies of emails, summaries of phone calls) with franchisees. Maintaining a record of all communications will provide valuable information to staff members when they prepare to interact with franchisees, and it will be important, should a dispute ever arise.
- A franchise operation should appoint one person in the company as the communications manager, and have all system-wide communications filter through that person to ensure consistent tone and accuracy of information.
Trust, but verify
In many ways, the Internet has been a tremendous boon to franchising. Intranet sites, blogs, chat rooms, emails, e-newsletters, real-time reporting and online training have made communication faster and more frequent. And they’ve unquestionably improved a franchisor’s ability to train and coach franchisees.
But it’s not without its drawbacks. The ubiquitous and sometimes intrusive nature of the Internet can all too easily transform a franchisor into a menacing Big Brother in the eyes of a franchisee. Real-time access to the franchisee’s POS system, remote video, and form-letter emails can substitute for dialogue — and in the process create an ‘us versus them’ environment.
So where’s the middle ground? As we said in the beginning, the key to successful franchise relationships is trust.
The franchisor needs to trust that franchisees are paying all required royalties and properly reporting revenues. As the saying goes: “Trust, but verify.”
It is a question of transparency. If, for example, an operation uses mystery shopping to uncover violations of standards and under-reporting of revenues, franchisees should know about it. Hiding this from franchisees will foster distrust and conflict.
Strong relations will necessitate franchisee respect for the leadership of the franchise. At the same time, franchisees want to be heard. And, in fact, the best franchisors make a point of knowing how their franchisees feel.