Transparent Communication is Key to Franchisee Relations - Debbie Fiorino, Sean Fitzgerald, Nick Powills, Eddie Diaz comment.
As a franchise system grows and partners with franchisees across the country and the globe, a clear corporate communications strategy becomes increasingly more important. The lack of consistent, transparent communication can lead to disconnected and unhappy franchisees.
“The most critical thing a brand should do is make sure their franchisees feel that they have a voice,” said Sean Fitzgerald, Chief Development Strategist at 1851Franchise.com. “That doesn’t mean that everyone in the system can call the CEO, but brands should have a good chain of communication, including an advisory council, that the franchisee can address issues with, and if necessary, elevate to the corporate team. The key is that the council must act as a liaison to the system and not just speak for themselves. The issues they bring to the table have to represent the entire group.”
Fitzgerald also underscores the need for two-way communication, and encourages franchisors to require sharing meeting notes after every advisory council meeting so that the franchisor can respond to specific issues. He also encourages franchisors to build solid regional field support teams to provide franchisees with a corporate contact in their region to identify problems and provide clearer communication.
“When franchisees feel like they aren’t being heard, creating that channel of communication is incredibly important, but more than just having the channel, franchisees need the communication to go both ways,” he added.
Debbie Fiorino, Senior Vice President of Dream Vacations, a home-based travel agency franchise with 1,200 franchisees, suggests that franchisors not only respond to specific feedback, but also create opportunities to meet in person at regional trainings, national conferences and educational summits.
“Franchisees have made a significant investment and they want to feel involved. They want to be kept in the loop and aware of new initiatives that will benefit them and their business. In addition to telling them about the new initiatives, they should be educated on the ‘why’ so they can fully understand its scope,” said Fiorino. “Telling the truth gets franchisees to trust you, and when you have a difficult message to send they will both appreciate and understand where you are coming from. Franchisees may not always agree with your decision, but they can respect why you made a decision.”
Eddie Diaz, Dream Vacations franchise owner and vacation specialist in Orlando, Florida, echoes the importance of two-way communication and transparency.
“One of the things I value the most [as a franchisee] is the transparency and complete openness I share with my franchisor,” said Diaz. “No matter if it is good or bad, I find that through mutual respect, trust and working as a team we achieve more and can help one another. There is much to gain from communicating your needs and wants.”
Some unhappy franchisees may not feel comfortable vocalizing their issues directly to a franchisor or even to a council, so franchise brands should proactively create alternative opportunities to solicit feedback from the franchise system. Franchise Business Review is one example of a tool that sends utilizes anonymous franchisee surveys to help franchisors gain insight into the mindset of their franchisees and address issues they may not have known about otherwise.
Being proactive about discovering potential issues in a system is key to ensure that it doesn’t affect the discovery process for prospective franchisees. 1851 Publisher Nick Powills cautions, “The last place a brand should be finding out about unhappy franchisees is during validation, when prospects are calling other franchisees and asking about the brand and the franchisee only has bad things to say. This will virtually guarantee that they won’t move forward, even if they love everything else about the brand.”
A franchisor can’t control everything to ensure that no unhappy franchisees exist but there are some easy steps that brands should take to create an environment that welcomes feedback from its franchise system to make sure all voices and issues are heard.