It was a valuable and inspiring three days in Atlanta last week at the Franchise Customer Experience Conference (FCXC). Prior to FCXC I wrote about the importance of having a game plan heading into the conference. This certainly paid off for me, as I took a great deal away from the time spent meeting and learning from franchise leaders about their approaches to franchise customer experience.
The conference experience doesn’t end when the microphones are turned off and the vendor exhibits are packed up. Indeed, during the final session of the conference, Franchise Founders CEO Matt Friedman reminded all of us it’s just as important to share what we learned from FCXC with our organizations. So, in that spirit, I’m sharing with you some of my biggest takeaways from FCXC 2022.
The Economic Outlook for the Franchise Industry
FRANdata CEO Darrell Johnson presented his annual overview of the U.S. and global economies and their likely effects and influences on customer experiences and expectations with franchise brands over the coming year and beyond. Following are some of his insights:
• There is a jump in private equity activity
• Rising costs are impacting unit economics
• New units are most vulnerable between 12 and 36 months from opening
• Franchise businesses should plan for a recession in 2023
• Know how your target customer demographic is being impacted by the economic situation
From Customer Service to Customer Experience
In his keynote, customer service expert John DiJulius of The DiJulius Group, talked about the evolution from customer service to customer experience. People and culture are critical to this evolution, particularly in the current staffing environment. He said it’s possible to turn the great resignation into the great retention by building a culture your people will love. This starts by making it clear to employees and recruits what your company stands for.
In a separate panel session, Massage Heights CEO & President Susan Boresow echoed the importance of culture, saying, “You need to look for ways to free up time to focus on your culture.”
When it comes to culture and talent, DiJulius talked about the notion that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. For this reason, he said, “It is incumbent on leaders to make sure that your employees are surrounded by awesome co-workers.”
He also cautioned that when focusing on the customer experience, don’t compete in price wars, compete in experience wars. “Discounting is the tax you pay for being average. Make price irrelevant by being the best experience in your customer’s day,” he said.
The enemy of great customer experience is inconsistency, according to DiJulius. For this reason, it’s important to set non-negotiable standards with your people. For example, call customers by name, insist that a smile is part of the uniform, and always ask is there anything else I can do for you today?
Addressing Customer Experience Challenges
There was an interesting general session in which keynote speaker Jason Young, a former Southwest Airlines senior exec, led an interactive discussion about customer experience challenges. He advised attendees to:
• Clearly define your service goals and expectations
• Provide tools and training to ensure success
• Get people using their talents and strengths
• Give frequent recognition and praise
• Focus your efforts and energy on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. He suggested it’s easier to improve on things you do well rather than things you struggle with.
Mapping the Customer Experience Journey
This workshop focused on how viewing your brand through the eyes of your customers and creating a map of their journey helps all your franchisees and their employees become better focused on delivering the best possible customer experience every time. The panel of experts for this session, offered their insights and practical advice, including:
• An effective customer experience requires marketing, operations and technology working together.
• You need to break down the silos between departments and have all hands on deck.
• You create customer journeys because you want to have raving fans. Customer journeys trace the customer experience from presale to post-sale and raving fans.
• Look at the full customer journey at a higher level, then identify where you can have the biggest impact and map micro journeys there.
• Consider that your journey may not be linear, it could be a wheel – after purchase how do you continue to grow and deepen the customer relationship?
• You need to know what your customers look like, what your untapped potential customers look like, and who your customer is not.
• It’s important to do research to inform this effort – quantitative and qualitative. Research could be as simple as sitting in your locations or shadowing and observing how customers interact with your business.
• Be sure to train your organization to understand who the customer is and create a common language.
• Provide system-wide guidance while also enabling customization to the local market.
Franchisee Buy-In to New Programs, Tools, Systems and Technologies
Technology can only provide its benefits if people use it. Getting franchisee buy-in to new systems and processes is a goal that Vya takes seriously when working on solutions for our franchise customers. So, our team was particularly interested in this operations and technology workshop.
Among the challenges discussed was how to consistently obtain certain data from all franchisees. For example, how do you motivate franchisees to provide P&L data? Among the suggestions for solving this challenge were to:
• Clearly state the requirement in franchisee agreements and assess a nominal fee if P&L data is not provided
• Integrate systems to automate the process and remove the data entry task for providing data
• Provide data dashboards and franchisee leaderboards back to franchisees so the data feedback loop is digestible and actionable, giving them the incentive to provide the data in the first place
• Keep training materials evergreen – remove dates on these materials so they do not appear outdated. Review materials annually and only provide updates for training materials that are specific to each user so they don’t have to dig through content that is 75% irrelevant to them.
Inspiration from Franchise Marketing Leaders
I’d like to give a nod to the recipients of the Franchise Marketing Leadership Awards. It was a great opportunity to learn from these outstanding franchise marketing operations.
• Local Marketing Leadership: Handyman Connection – Marci Kleinsasser. Local craftsmen are the key to the customer experience. Handyman Connection had franchisees identify a local craftsman who was a brand champion and invited them to attend the company’s conference in Palm Springs, where they were given the VIP treatment. In Palm Springs the craftsmen were filmed providing firsthand accounts of their thoughts on the Handyman community. This was truly authentic and powerful content.
• Best Digital Campaign: Wild Birds Unlimited – Bo Lowery & Paul Pickett. Wild Birds used connected TV to get hyper local and hyper targeted with its messaging, even with a limited budget. This campaign combined connected TV and programmatic display advertising to drive retail store awareness and customer growth.
• Cause Marketing Champion: Kiddie Academy – Nicole Salla. Kiddie Academy built a multifaceted initiative to support moms in the workplace, both internally, and externally for customers and the public in general. The external effort, part of which was pandemic-specific, included a library of at-home learning activities and resources on parenting during a pandemic. Another element of the initiative was a partnership with Family Promise, a national non-profit that helps empower families experiencing homelessness. In addition to supporting countless moms and women, the initiative generated $1.6 million in earned media.
• Best PR Campaign: Goldfish Swim School – Shana Krisan and Theresa Gorelick. Goldfish Swim School reached more than 450 million with its “Safer Swimmer Pledge” campaign, helping families prioritize water safety and drowning prevention this summer season. The organization supported franchisees with photobooth kits, props, stickers and community board cutouts. The initiative also resulted in a $250,000+ donation to the USA Swimming Foundation, with all funds going toward helping provide the opportunity for every child across the country to learn to swim.
A key takeaway from FCXC for me was to lean into what you know about serving customers and being a customer when tackling the challenges of customer experience. Apply data, tools and technology to help you do it better. Keynote speaker and global futurist Chris Riddell reminded us that “Data is the world’s single greatest asset. We have always done similar things throughout history. We simply have changed the way in which we do them.”