This year’s Franchise Customer Experience Conference (FCXC) brought together industry leaders, innovators, and experts from every corner of the franchise industry. The 3-day event was jam packed with informative workshops, breakout sessions, panel discussions, and of course networking. I’m excited to share my top 3 takeaways from FCXC 2023 that highlight the trends and strategies that are likely to drive customer experience and innovation across the franchise industry in the year ahead and beyond.
Several conference sessions and speakers examined the relationship between your brand and your customer experience. The interconnectedness of CX and brand was evident in marketing discussions about vision and mission, leadership’s responsibility for CX, and crisis communications planning.
During a session on building your vision, mission, and strategy statement, the focus was on the importance of revisiting your brand purpose. David McDougall, CEO of Your Pie Franchising said change is inevitable. Having a clear direction will help you maintain focus as you navigate change with a willingness to try new things, like new technology to manage the new ways consumers want to transact.
Jessica Correa, CMO of Unleashed Brands, advised that when building your mission, vision and strategy statement, keep in mind that everyone is a stakeholder. In Vya’s work with franchise brands, we’ve seen how the roll out of new or refreshed branding is critical to the brand’s success. Franchisors must rely on franchisees to serve as brand advocates to build awareness and grow sales. To galvanize a diverse and distributed group of brand promoters across your franchise organization, look to automation and marketing resource management systems to help turn your local brand advocates into active brand promoters.
Mark Montini, CMO for Premium Service Brands, explained that instead of focusing on brand-level positioning, his organization addresses strategic goals by elevating branding to the portfolio level of his multi-brand organization, emphasizing that all Premium Service Brands serve the same customer. This approach makes sense, when you consider how the multi-brand family structure allows franchisors to connect customer bases and facilitate referrals among brands, deepening the connections they have with each customer.
Other speakers spoke about the responsibility of leadership for customer experience and delivering on your brand promise. Kory Angelin, President of DRIPBaR spoke about the connection between the customer journey and the front of the house – customers go to DRIPBaR’s vitamin therapy centers because of the experience. Angelin says people are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. For this reason, hiring the right people is essential for creating this experience.
Shana Krishna, CMO of Goldfish Swim School Franchising, said customer experience begins with research to truly understand the customer. Find out what the customer really wants and create a customer experience that delivers. From there, make sure your organization can collaborate across departments. The better your departments work together the better the customer experience will become. Vya has examined how marketing’s cross-departmental involvement is being used to strengthen companies’ operational effectiveness, something that is foundational to customer experience.
During a session on establishing a crisis communication plan, former Domino’s SVP Tim McIntyre highlighted the importance of proactively preventing and effectively managing brand crises. Self-inflicted wounds, caused by factors such as poor hiring, lack of planning, leadership gaps, inadequate training, and mistreatment of employees, can severely impact consumer attitudes toward your brand.
McIntyre says happy employees are your best assets. They can recruit others. They can be your future franchisees. Listen to your people, ask them what you can do better. To his point, one of the ways Vya helps franchises keep their frontlines happy is by continuously looking for ways to make things easier for them. For example, if engagement with your marketing resources is low or support-intensive, you may want to look at how you can improve the end user experience. We all understand the value of a good user experience for consumers. But we often overlook the importance of good UX for franchisees and other end users in a distributed franchise organization.
Speed isn’t just an important thing. According to customer experience researcher and New York Times best-selling author Jay Baer, it just might be the MOST important thing when it comes to customer experience. He cited research in which 85% of customers said speed is an important factor in brand loyalty.
According to Baer, speed is as important as price. He said we tend to interpret speed as caring, adding, “If you give your customers time, they will give you money. But if you cost your customers time, it will cost you money.”
Baer said half of all customers will hire the first business or service provider who responds to them, regardless of price. For this reason, he suggested that, instead of blaming product price for your sales results, evaluate your operational efficiencies and consider the role your speed plays in the customer experience relative to your competitors.
Baer outlines how to exceed customers’ need for speed with tips like answering before they ask, responding without answers, setting speed expectations, closing uncertainty gaps, and offering a fast pass. He says 1 in 4 customers will pay as much as 50% more to not wait.
Vya has found that speed is also a factor in the experience corporate marketing creates for franchisees. When it comes to driving business growth in distributed organizations, the importance of local marketing campaigns cannot be overstated. How quickly you activate local campaigns across your footprint, your system or your regions is critically important for staying ahead of the competition or for responding to changing market conditions.
The most disruptive entity in the world is the individual, according to FCXC keynote speaker and globally recognized innovation and disruption strategist Shawn Kanungo. For this reason, Kanungo says doubling down on your people (along with marketing and customer experience) is key to innovating CX in franchising.
He urged the audience to embrace unexpected approaches to innovation to remain competitive and relevant. Taking generative AI as an example, he described it as a new disruptive technology that we’ve never seen before. If you want answers, ask ChatGPT. If you want innovative answers, ask bold questions.
It’s important to develop a culture of innovation. Kanungo suggests, “Culture starts on day 1. Innovation is beautiful because it’s permissionless. Some of our best innovations come from the ground floor.”
Kanungo reminded the FCXC audience that in 1913, Henry Ford’s assembly line was the result of the pursuit of efficiency and optimization. He compared Ford’s assembly line with successful franchises, which he said are built on relentless optimization.
Vya certainly sees this in the work we do with franchise brands. We recently highlighted a study that found CMOs are tackling organizational change by accelerating the shift to centralized marketing. The study revealed 60% of marketing organizations have centralized some or all of the marketing function in the quest for operational efficiency. And the pace of centralization has quickened, with 37% of organizations reporting they are now fully centralized (compared with 22% 12 months ago), and 23% are mostly centralized.
A centralized marketing operation, grounded by a full-featured marketing resource management system, is an important part of the customer experience equation. The ability to centralize control while still empowering frontlines to effectively engage local consumers will enable marketing to effectively align with overall business goals, growth and innovation, all of which were echoed by FCXC participants as contributing to a better customer experience.