"The Master value is trust. There are no relationships that can survive for very long without it."

- Jim Amos

What the Race to Transparency in Franchising is Really About

May 18th, 2012

The internet has transformed the relationship between franchisors and the public

Right now, people are talking about your franchise brand.

They may be making positive comments or they may be posting damaging reviews of your products, people and services.

We now live in the age of expert opinion and what potential customers read, regardless of how factual it is, determines how they view your franchise brand, governs their choice to use or not use your services, and controls how many times they recommend your brand to others.

Welcome to the flatlands. Once, franchises could control information about their companies through news releases, marketing campaigns and brochures. That time has passed. Top-down control of information is gone. The internet and social media have flattened our world so that anyone can start and shape the conversation.

Honesty and prompt online communication builds trust. That’s why Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie work so hard to create transparency between themselves and their customers.

Monitoring and engaging customers where they are is key for franchise systems. It’s not about playing hall monitor — it’s about building a relationship with our customers.

When our Tasti customer Lisa Bezinover tweeted “When is national tastidlite day?” We tweeted back, “We’ll be celebrating 25 years in September!” She then responded “You’ve been around for 25 years? How did I not know this? All those years I missed *sob*.” On the international front, when a Spanish-speaking customer from Panama tweeted, “Apunto de hacer el viaje hasta albrook mall solo por un helado de tasti d-lite de 90 calorias #antojos! Que hacer??” (“About to make the trip to Albrook Mall just for ice cream Tasti D-Lite 90-calorie cravings!”). We tweeted back, “Hacerlo!” (“Do it!”)

When you interact with your customers, you let them know they matter to you. You care enough to listen. You value their thoughts and opinions. Isn’t that the kind of relationship most of us crave?

Joining the conversation also means responding quickly and honestly to complaints. Business people strive to always please customers, but mistakes happen. Instead of letting a disgruntled customer blast away at your brand, it’s better to engage them and make things right. It’s basic customer service. But if you’re not a part of the online conversation, you’re blind to what people say about your brand.

This applies to the relationships you have with your franchise owners, too. They are also customers and deserve the same respect that you would give to your in-store consumers. Happy franchisees, especially those that have profitable businesses, are your best salespeople when it comes to franchise expansion, and unhappy franchisees can do a lot to slow down or stall your expansion efforts.

Part of the conversation is simply listening, too. What are your customers interested in? What do they like about you, and what would they like to see more of? By having the conversation, you not only build customer loyalty and satisfaction — you can use customer feedback to improve your business!

None of this can happen without transparency. You need to acknowledge your customers as human beings and allow them to see you as human, too. You need to acknowledge problems and celebrate successes.

The new world of transparency can be a nightmare or a dream for franchised businesses. The choice is yours.

Tasti D-Lite chairman and CEO Jim Amos has more than 30 years of experience guiding successful franchise companies such as Mail Boxes Etc. He was inducted into the International Franchise Association’s Hall of Fame in February.

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