In the digital era, reputation has become more important than ever. Thankfully there are now a whole host of tools and techniques that can help franchises improve their rep online
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” In an age where a tweet can make its way round the world in seconds, this warning from Warren Buffett couldn’t be truer. This is why in the digital age it’s absolutely vital for brands to have a strategy for managing their reputation online. “In this day and age, monitoring and maintaining your reputation across all spheres, both online and offline, is imperative,” says Celina Wilde, social media specialist at Cinch Social, the social media consultancy.
Nowhere is this truer than in franchising: whilst franchisees may operate semi-autonomously, the impression their brand gives consumers will affect the network as a whole. “The execution by a specific franchise unit in a particular territory will determine whether the big business will ultimately be successful,” Wilde says. This is why it’s vital to have a clear strategy for managing the network’s reputation online.
But how can franchises first start to get a handle on how their brand is viewed online? Wilde first recommends they invest in some social listening tools. “Social listening is the process of tracking online conversations through social media and web monitoring to help you understand how your company is perceived,” she says. Notifying the franchise when and how it is being discussed online, these tools will help build up a picture of how its target market perceives its brand. “You can then take analytics and data from consumer behaviour and begin to understand the issues that they present,” she says.
Another tool that no franchise looking to present its best face online can afford to ignore is social media. “If you’re a franchise and not on social media, people often feel they can’t get a clear handle on you or how your business fits into the local community,” says Wilde. Deciding which of the myriad social platforms available you should use depends on your target audience. Facebook is great as general a purpose tool, whilst channels like Snapchat and Instagram may be the best way to reach millennials. But whichever platforms you end up using, it’s important to not spread yourself too thin. “Using too many dilutes the impact of your message, especially if they are all saying exactly the same thing,” Wilde explains. “And having an inactive page can be just as bad as not having a page at all.”
Whilst it can be tempting to focus solely on these mass-market tools, don’t be afraid to build your own. “We’ve now got a dedicated app and that’s been huge for us,” says Julie Clabby, founder of Busylizzy, the post-natal fitness, baby and toddler class franchise. Not only does the app allow the franchise’s members to book and transfer classes but it also gives them a channel where they can offer their input on their experiences with the brand direct to the Busylizzy team. “They can hit a button and give feedback about the app, a class, an instructor or a venue they’ve been to,” she says. “And that comes straight into our inboxes.”
Getting a better picture of all the commendations and criticisms a franchise is receiving is only half the battle however. What’s important is knowing how to respond.
Certainly no franchise should be afraid of making the most of rave reviews. For example, any positive feedback that Busylizzy receives from its customers, it actively pushes out across its marketing channels. “We often use a lot of these customer reviews on our website and marketing literature,” Clabby says. Not only that but the franchise often asks its members to share positive feedback on its social-media channels. Clabby points to the Horsham and Crawley club as one that’s had particular success with this method. “It’s got five stars, 30 or 40 reviews and everybody just raves about it,” she says. “When you’ve got everyone saying how great it is, that is extremely powerful in your local community.”
In fact, this can also prove an invaluable tool in helping to create a buzz around new locations that perhaps don’t yet command much attention in their local areas. “We’ve got lots of new clubs opening all the time and from their point of view they haven’t got a reputation yet,” says Clabby. By pointing the public to the reviews being received by other clubs in the region, the franchise is able to get the ball rolling and build up some word of mouth about the new location. “You can piggyback on their prestige,” she says. “That’s been quite a good way of using reputation across more than just one site.”
Unfortunately it’s impossible to keep everybody happy all of the time and sometimes a franchise will face a customer panning its brand. “That’s really hard for business owners because we pour so much heart and soul into our companies,” says Wilde. “But it’s important to distance yourself and be objective.” And while negative experiences might be hard to deal with, they can actually be opportunities in disguise: franchises that show they are committed to resolving customer complaints and using them to improve their systems and services can often come up smelling of roses. “The narrative of how your business has fixed the problem can be as powerful and compelling as someone who’s just happy with you,” she says.
To ensure it stands the best chance of turning a negative into a positive, a franchise must move quickly and respond to any customer feedback promptly. “When people fear that they’re not being listened to, that’s when a very small problem can escalate,” says Clabby. For this reason, Busylizzy has implemented a 48-hour rule: whether a customer has asked for a password reset on their account or has a complaint about a class, the issue should be resolved inside of two days. “Whatever it is it’s turned around quickly,” she says. “That does makes a difference and increases the chances that the customer goes away happy.”
Perhaps the most important thing for any franchise to consider around reputation is who will be responsible for managing a franchise area’s reputation at a local level. In Busylizzy’s eyes, there’s no question of who should be dealing with customer feedback. “Any problems that come through would essentially go to straight through to the franchisee,” says Clabby. While the Busylizzy head office would be available if there ever was a major crisis an individual franchisee couldn’t handle, Clabby feels that the franchisor steaming in every time a customer has a minor issue would set the wrong tone. “Clubs need to be able to make their own decisions and not feel that Big Brother head office is going to wade in and take over unnecessarily,” she says. “You want to empower them, rather than stifle them.”