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Communication is the key element in the ever-growing relationship between franchisor and franchisee. Whether it’s a franchisor interested in increasing franchisee revenues, or a franchisee hoping to increase the profits of their location, a common theme emerges that can contribute to the success of the system as a whole: a supportive, collaborative and trusting relationship.
It is important to remember that failing franchises cost more to support and provide lower royalties to the franchisor, and the incentive to build the relationship with the best initial support, communication, and training, is incredibly high. And when considering that successful franchisees will validate better (improving your ability to sell franchises) and are more likely to invest in additional franchises, the benefits to a strong relationship can also help grow the franchise business itself.
Understanding Relationship Boundaries
A fine line exists in the relationship between franchisor and franchisee. While maintaining a friendly demeanor is helpful, it is important to draw the line when it comes to the boundaries of the relationship. Understand, a franchisors main focus is maintaining the integrity of their brand to continue their upward path – and a relationship that moves from business into friendship may make it more difficult for the franchisor to enforce these standards. By setting and communicating brand standards, the franchisor has two strong legs to stand on.
Both the franchisor and franchisee must also understand the intricacies of the relationship from a management point of view. Unlike most workplaces, discipline can’t be doled out in the back office as if the franchisee were an employee. Franchisees chose to invest in part because they likely sought a sense of independence, and have great pride in their business ownership. And since franchisees are independent contractors in charge of their own success, the tone must be appropriate.
This is complicated by a fact that franchisors will provide input and advice on both brand standards (those things that a franchisor will mandate in order for the franchisee to be able to promote the business under the franchisor’s name) and best practices (those things a franchisor will recommend but will not require of its franchisees).
Think of a brand standard in terms of what your particular consumer expects when they patronize your business (service time, service quality, cleanliness, recipes, etc.) and best practices as those things that will improve that franchisee’s performance but that often go unnoticed by the customer (staffing ratios, cleaning schedules, financial ratios, etc.). The franchisor may mandate a certain service time, but if a franchisee can achieve that standard without hiring the recommended level of staff (or if the franchisee chooses to overstaff), the franchisor will not fault the franchisee.
Communication on brand standards should be framed around how deviating these standards can have adverse effects on the collective success of the network. Ultimately, brand standards will be mandated of franchisees, so while the communication should be cordial, the franchisee needs to understand that violations of brand standards cannot be tolerated. That said, a franchisor must communicate differently when discussing best practices that fall short of being a true brand standard.
When it comes to best practices, the franchisor’s role is to make recommendations and explain the “why” of a particular best practice in a way that encourages the franchisees to understand how best practices improve performance.
Being Effective in Communicating
As a franchisor, creating trust as a means to more effective communication is paramount. To build that faith, any franchisor worth their weight in salt must convey their desire for a franchisee to be successful. It’s more than a quick check-in call, rather it’s giving the franchisee the sense that boarding a plane to help them deescalate a problem wouldn’t come with a second thought.
Frequent and useful communication means that value is being consistently provided to franchisees. Take calls, have a dedicated team to quell concerns, respond quickly, and even make outbound calls to talk shop with individual franchisees. Often underestimated, a simple “how are you doing” and “what’s on your mind” can go leaps and bounds in building the trust required for a fruitful franchise-franchisee relationship.
Trust is also a function of transparency. With few exceptions, your franchisees should feel that the communication that they receive is entirely open and honest. Moreover, they should feel that they are kept in the loop when it comes to decisions that will impact them – and that they will not have significant decisions sprung on them at the last minute without soliciting their input. While a franchisor cannot abdicate its decision-making authority to its franchisees, soliciting their feedback will go a long way toward solidifying a solid, collaborative relationship.
Let The Franchisee Be Heard
Franchisors should also ensure they know how their franchisees feel about the brand. The franchisee should know in no uncertain terms that the franchisor is fully supporting them in their quest for success. While this sounds simple, a franchisee may often feel cautious when the franchisor or franchise representative reaches out to solicit feedback.
A potential solution – develop the relationship from the start, building the trust necessary for a franchisee to provide feedback on a regular basis. By doing so, the franchisee feels validated that their concerns are heard, and the franchisor gains valuable insight into their franchise support and communication system.
One of the keys here is the forming of communications vehicles that will enhance that two way communication. In addition to frequent calls and visits (and yes, emails on occasion), the franchisor should consider creating a Franchise Advisory Council and holding periodic conventions as soon as it is feasible to do so.
The Key to Success
Franchising gold lies in the success of each individual franchise, and creating an efficient and effective stream of communication and trust is essential to that success. Remember – each and every franchise unit is an opportunity to provide further validation for the franchise brand as a whole. To maintain that validation, prioritizing quality relationships is perhaps the most important task of any franchise system.
Mark Siebert is CEO of the leading franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or email@example.com. His book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”