A happy franchisee makes for a strong franchise system. If you are already in the franchise community, you have likely been to an event where someone uttered a phrase along those lines. It is simple and true — and yet, perhaps one of the biggest challenges in all of franchising is for franchisors and franchisees to stay in harmony.
As a franchise brand, we have learned the importance of creating a system that empowers franchise owners and aims to keep their achievements and challenges top of mind. One of the best ways of doing this is to be intentional about creating a feedback loop with franchisees. You need to have processes in place that allow you to gain insights from owners in your system. And, you need to be vulnerable enough to accept feedback from the people in the trenches.
Here are three practical steps for obtaining franchisee feedback.
1) Check in on franchise owners — beyond just your scheduled visits
One of the first ways to start that feedback loop is to listen to your franchisees. What are their hopes and dreams, their highs and lows? How are they doing in the field? While your operations team may have regularly scheduled visits to go through additional training or offer advice, create touch points outside of that. A simple call from one of your executives to see how a valued franchisee is doing can go a long way. We just had a franchisee praise us for doing that: He was impressed with the spontaneous check-ins from one of our executives and made a point of it when talking to one of our team members. He is someone who has been a franchise owner with other systems and said he appreciates the fact that we check in outside of scheduled appointments. To him, it shows our level of commitment.
It doesn’t take too much time — it just takes a proactive approach from your franchise’s executive and operations team to make a point of checking in on franchises. Pencil it into your busy day to call them out of the blue and listen to them. It will go a long way.
2) Set up a recurring roundtable with your franchise owners
Listening to franchise owners can be an eye-opening experience. As a franchisor, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position because you may face potential questions about processes and even challenges from your franchisees.
If you are intentional about these listening sessions, you have a much better chance of creating an environment where they are productive, informative meetings.
At our franchise, we have started a franchisee roundtable discussion held every month. It is open to all our owners and serves as a way for them to talk to each other and learn from shared experiences. As a franchisor, we are there to simply facilitate. We listen, we take notes but we do not lead the discussion. So far, we have received some excellent feedback from these meetings. Our franchisees share precious knowledge with each other and, quite frankly, we learn something new during every meeting.
While we have a great deal of faith in our operations and system, we know that we can always evolve and grow. The best franchises out there are constantly pushing forward and refining. Who better to learn about what to fine-tune than from the people who have invested so much of their time, money and energy into your system?
3) Gather intel using surveys or third-party researchers
Finally, consider using third-party research and insights to learn more from your franchisees. One concrete way that we do this is through participating in Franchise Business Review’s franchisee satisfaction surveys. Franchises with more than 10 franchisees can participate in this third-party research: Franchisees are asked a series of questions about various aspects of the franchise and all answers lead to an overall rating of franchisee satisfaction. Again, this sort of experience leaves franchisors open and vulnerable. But, it provides essential data for your franchise.
Another way to do this is through finding market research firms or consultants who can poll your franchisees and collect the data. While their services certainly aren’t free, they can provide you with a great deal of insights you might not get if you are the one asking the questions.
For franchises on limited budgets, consider running anonymous surveys with sites like Survey Monkey or through Google Forms (a free service). The more honest feedback you have from franchisees the better you can address their needs and predict future needs of other franchisees.
The franchisor-franchisee relationship is a two-way street. Creating consistent feedback loops and listening to the insights coming in from your valued franchisees will only help you polish your franchise system. Growing — and I’m not just talking about unit numbers — is a good thing. Really stretch yourself and grow your franchise. You will learn something and create a better franchise system along the way.
Tim Conn is president and co-founder of Image One Facility Solutions, a commercial cleaning franchise based in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, with nearly 100 locations across major cities in the U.S. that trains franchisees in all facets of the business, including sales, operations, and quality control. The company has received recognition for franchise-owner satisfaction by the authoritative Franchise Business Review.