Q: What does customer service mean to you?
The most important thing for any business to remember is that ‘customer service’ is not a noun, it’s a verb. You need to be doing it, not saying it. And it’s also important to remember that it’s not just a question of whether you deliver customer service, it’s a question of how you do so. The right approach focuses more on delivering the positive experiences you know your customers actually want and less on getting them to hand over more cash.
If you follow this customer centric approach to customer service, it results in loyal customers who know they can depend on your business as a reliable, trustworthy, and competent business that appreciates them, values the fact that they choose to spend their hard-earned cash with you, and knows that it’s a pleasure doing business with them.
Q: Has the importance of good customer service grown?
Without a doubt! While good service has always been at the heart of business success, the world is a far more competitive place today than it was yesterday. And it will be more so tomorrow. It’s really not easy for businesses to compete on price anymore, so they have to find other ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors – and customer service is the one sure-fire way of doing that.
Any business can advertise, market, and run promotions – and given the tough economic climate, most are. But there are still very few businesses that understand the importance of great customer service – let alone practice service excellence. So, if your business does, and is, you’re already streets ahead of your competition. And it will show on your bottom line.
Conversely, the risk of failing to deliver great service is greater than ever. Social media has meant that the world has shrunk to the point that thousands, even millions, of people can instantly know about the bad (or good) experience a customer just had at your establishment. It’s worth making the customer service effort to maximise the chances that your business is ‘liked’.
Q: How important are employer/employee relationships to customer service?
Mutual respect and understanding between employer and employee is critical. You cannot and will not achieve anything near the customer service commitment you desire if your employees couldn’t care less about your business. In many ways, realising a solid customer service culture begins with cultivating a solid staff care and communication culture. When you recognise, acknowledge, and reward the value your employees add to your business, they respond by delivering more value. It’s a basic rule of business success and it lies at the heart of a customer service culture.
Q: Are there any starting points for businesses that want to improve their customer service?
There are plenty of ways for any business to start a customer service improvement journey. The first step, though, is to get a clear understanding of why you’re doing it and what the consequences could be of not doing it.
Once you’ve done that for yourself as the business owner or manager, start by:
- Changing your culture. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s definitely do-able. Make sure your new customer centred strategy has top management buy-in, then educate your staff on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This education never ends. You need to be a customer service champion and constantly remind everyone to keep on serving.
- Recruiting the right people. Focus less on looking just for the highest qualifications and more on employing people who have an obvious passion to serve and will genuinely care about your customers.
- Finding out what your customers actually want. Not only will they be happy to tell you what they expect from your business and its employees, they’ll feel good that you thought highly enough of them to ask in the first place.
Q: What are the basics of customer service that all companies should adhere to?
It doesn’t matter what business you are in, there are five non-negotiable customer service priorities you simply have to deliver:
- Make each customer feel genuinely special. They need to know you value their business.
- Give your customers a voice. Listen to what they have to say.
- Embrace complaints. Stop seeing the complaining customer as a ‘pain’ and start seeing them as loyal enough to tell you what’s wrong so that you can fix it, rather than simply going elsewhere.
- Create great customer experiences. Customer service is not just a smile and friendly greeting, it’s a total positive experience from start to finish.
- Never lose focus. Raising your service levels sets expectations. If your service declines, don’t expect your customers to just accept this. You need to strive to keep getting better, and they’ll keep coming back.
Q: What are the costs involved in good customer service?
There is no cost, but there may be some investment required. The difference is that one drains your bank account while the other grows it. In reality, excellent customer service need not cost you anything. After all, how much does it cost to change your attitude? And in the long term, good customer service will actually drive your business costs down while driving the value for your customers up. That’s because when you do things right the first time, you actually save money – and your customer saves time and hassle.
5 Tips For Franchise Agreements
Below are 5 tips to ensure that your franchise agreement complies with the CPA.
South Africa has some great homegrown franchises – Mugg and Bean, Steers, Debonairs and Nandos, to name a few. South Africa is also no stranger to international franchise groups, such as McDonalds, KFC, Wimpy and SPAR, although there has been an increase in the number of international franchises investing in South Africa in recent years.
The Consumer Protection Act, No 68 of 2008 (“CPA“) is the first piece of legislation in South Africa that specifically regulates franchise agreements. The CPA prescribes certain minimum requirements for franchise agreements, as well as certain information that must be disclosed prior to a franchise agreement being signed. It is important that all franchise agreements comply with the CPA as provisions in franchise agreements may be declared to be void for non-compliance.
Below are 5 tips to ensure that your franchise agreement complies with the CPA:
1. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements
The CPA prescribes “minimum requirements” for franchise agreements. These requirements, which are set out in the Regulations to the CPA, set out mandatory terms (i.e. terms which must be included) and prohibited terms (i.e. terms which must not be included). They also prescribe that franchise agreements must be drafted in simple and plain language so as to be easily understood. Legal jargon must be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
2. Include prescribed minimum information
The CPA prescribes minimum information that must be included in a franchise agreement. Most of this minimum prescribed information is fairly general in nature and would be contained in the franchise agreement in the ordinary course (for example, name and description of the types of goods or services that the franchise relates to, the obligations of the franchisor and franchisee, and any territorial rights).
There are, however, certain more unusual requirements in relation to prescribed information, which information would not necessarily be contained in a franchise agreement in the ordinary course (for example, the qualifications of the franchisor’s directors, and details of the members/shareholders of the franchisor). These more unusual requirements must be kept in mind when preparing a franchise agreement.
3. Prepare a disclosure document
The CPA requires the franchisor to provide certain minimum prescribed information to the franchisee in a disclosure document delivered to the franchisee prior to the signature of the franchise agreement (including a list of current franchisees, if any, and of outlets owned by the franchisor; the direct contact details of the existing franchisees; an organogram depicting the support system in place for franchisees; and an auditors certificate confirming that that the franchisor’s audited annual financial statements are in order).
This information is intended to provide the franchisee with enough information about the franchise, its financial viability and potential business success so as to enable the franchisee to make an informed decision as to whether or not he/she wishes to “acquire” the particular franchise.
4. Prepare a non-disclosure agreement
It is important to ensure the protection of confidential information which may be disclosed to the prospective franchisee during the preliminary stages of negotiating and concluding a franchise agreement.
This may include, for example, the growth of the franchisor’s turnover, and written projections in respect of levels of potential sales, income and profit. Although not a requirement under the CPA, it is advisable for a franchisor to ensure that a prospective franchisee executes an appropriate confidentiality agreement prior to being sent the disclosure document.
5. Beware the “cooling-off” period
It is important to bear in mind that a franchisee has an entitlement under the CPA to cancel a franchise agreement without cost or penalty within 10 business days after signing such agreement, by giving written notice to the franchisor.
6 Top Tips For Reading Management Accounts
There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.
There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is not the brilliance of your business concept. It is not your talent for talking clients to sign on the dotted line. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.
Many entrepreneurs are usually more interested in operations and find product development or sales much more enjoyable than catching up on accounts. I sympathise – I’m one of them! So if you feel the same way, my top tip is always to make sure that you partner with or employ someone who can oversee the finances for you.
But that does not mean you can let the figure boffins and the finances take care of themselves. To function properly in your business, you need to know the outcome of your sales and development strategies – and the story of that is told in your management accounts.
If you never look at your management accounts, it is like blinding yourself in one eye. It means you risk being literally blindsided by a big surprise, whether it is heading for a significant loss or being confronted by an unexpected provisional tax payment.
Here is how Engela van Loggerenberg, our Group Financial Manager, puts management accounts in perspective for our new franchisees. She urges them to focus on six key areas:
- Priorities: Management accounts can help you pinpoint areas that you need to prioritise, whether to capitalise on growth or because they are not performing as well as you hoped.
- Strength: All businesses aim to grow their assets over time and the balance sheet in your management accounts will reflect whether and how you are achieving that.
- Control: A strong balance sheet is one that shows you have your business liabilities well controlled. The key marker here is your current liquidity ratio, which results from dividing your current assets by your current liabilities. To keep your business healthy, always aim to keep this ratio at least 2:1.
- Revenue: Ideally, you want to see your revenue grow month by month. Check your income statement both for the trend in actual revenue and also for actual against budgeted revenue to check how well your strategies are delivering results.
- Profitability: Of course, revenue is not the same as profitability. You need to know your gross profit – the basic figure of your sales less the cost of those goods – and net profit, which also deducts a range of other expenses including taxes. Track the percentage of these two profit figures as well as the actual cash amount they represent to keep a check on whether your costs are creeping up too high.
- Finance: Most businesses at some point want to finance their growth by borrowing from a bank. A set of well-regulated management accounts is a prerequisite to obtaining finance.
Your management accounts do not have to be particularly complicated to give you these vital pointers – and if you are figure-shy, the more straightforward the better.
The important thing, though, is that you do not allow yourself to be too scared to ask if there is something which is not clear to you. That is the way to keep control of this key to your business fortunes and to keep building your business from strength to strength.
A Three-Pronged Approach To Franchise Success
Danie Nel, head of business development for Cash Crusaders franchising, says the brand’s success over the past 22 years is attributed to the sentiment that “a profitable franchisee is a happy franchisee.”
What is your current footprint?
220 Stores. We’re looking to increase that number by another 20 stores for the 2018 financial year, which will then bring us to a total of 240 stores. Depending on the economy, we’re looking to grow our footprint even more to around 300 to 350 stores nationwide in the near future.
What are some of your brand’s biggest achievements that other franchises can learn from?
Our ability to read the retail market and innovate to stay ahead of times. We have recently launched an online platform where customers can sell their goods or borrow money — all online. This was a first for online retailing. One other achievement that I would wish to highlight is the launch of our mobile phone range, Doogee, exclusive to Cash Crusaders. Personally, having the honour of opening our 200th store was a tremendous achievement.
Franchisor involvement has also played a big role in the success of the organisation. Our CEO Sean Stegmann and other senior managers are as much involved in the business as any other operations manager or operator.
There is simply no ‘ivory tower’ management in our business and it makes a huge difference.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how have you overcome these?
Some of our daily challenges include securing a premises at a favourable rental and securing a franchisee with sufficient unencumbered capital, who is credit- worthy. Once the store is open, cash flow management and stock procurement is key.
In addition to this, it’s a challenge to achieve profitability immediately and to meet franchisee expectations. It’s also vital to ensure superb customer service and to retain those customers in the current retail and economic climate. I would say that our single biggest challenge is to retain and to build our customer base.
What attracts franchisees to Cash Crusaders?
Our unique retail model that allows for multiple streams of income through one business. These three profit centres include: New goods (variety of imported quality goods), second-hand goods (which we buy directly from the public, either through customers coming directly to our stores, or via our house-buy system offered by some of our stores) and secured lending (a financial service where customers can borrow money against valuables, determined at store level, and the loan is repaid within 30 days — or the contract is renewed for another 30 days with interest and service fees charged).
Why is it important for successful franchises such as yours to have a strong banking partner and how does it benefit both the franchisor and the franchisee?
Gone are the days where you just got a deposit book or cheque book and a little business loan from your bank. Banking has become more sophisticated and the technology that the bank offers is as important as its service, making life for both the franchisee and the franchisor easier on a day-to-day basis.