Improve the Effectiveness of Your Field Visits

by Greg Nathan, Managing Director,
Franchise Relationships Institute

This article is extracted from “The Franchisor’s Guide to Improving Field Visits”, published by the Franchise Relationships Institute.

How Field Visits Add Value

Field visits are an essential component of most franchise systems. When implemented by capable people with a clear purpose and supported by efficient systems, field visits will deliver the following benefits to a franchise system:

  1. Improve franchisee profitability: One of the main priorities of an effective field visitation program should be to help franchisees measure and manage the drivers of profitability in their business. It is amazing how such a basic and important priority can so easily get lost or forgotten.
  2. Maintain customer service standards: If franchisees are not delivering good customer service you simply do not have a sustainable franchise system. If there has not been some discussion about customer satisfaction during a field visit, the visit has been incomplete. Whether you are a franchisee or a franchisor, the main game must always be customer satisfaction.
  3. Keep the franchisor team in touch with the coalface: It is a big mistake to assume you know what is happening in customer and franchisee land without checking first hand. While it may take some effort to escape the administrative demands of a head office environment, franchisor executives often report feeling enthused after being in the field and getting back in touch with the customer interface.
  4. Maximize local market share: Franchisees often underestimate the size of their local market and the amount of business they could be generating. A well-structured field visit will help the franchisee to better understand their local competition and, more importantly, capitalize on local sales opportunities.
  5. Build franchisee commitment to your vision and brand values: It is easy for a franchisee in the thick of their day-to-day operations to lose sight of the bigger picture. They regularly need to be reminded about what’s important. For instance, while your brand may stand for professionalism and quality, a franchisee’s store signage may look amateurish or they may be cutting corners with production. The best way to explain this gap is face to face communication in their business.
  6. Enhance the franchise relationship: The franchise relationship is like the oil in the engine of a franchise system. If the goodwill in the franchise relationship runs dry, your franchise system will start to seize up. Research by our team at the Franchise Relationships Institute has shown that franchisees who believe their franchisor genuinely cares about them are significantly more likely to recommend the franchisee system to prospective franchisees, essential for growing a franchise system.

The Psychology of the Field Visit

While you may have sophisticated field management systems the most significant variable for producing good outcomes from your field support will always be the quality of the relationship established between franchisee and field manager.

The fact is that in themselves techniques, checklists and systems alone will only ever make a minor impact.

To understand this point further let’s look at research compiled on the effectiveness of different types of therapy. The relevance of this will become apparent.

People go to a psychologist or a coach because there is something in their life they want to change. Despite claims by these professionals that one technique or system is better than another, the specific technique used is actually relatively unimportant. The best predictor of successful outcomes is the quality of the relationship developed with the client, what is known as the “therapeutic alliance”.

In other words a psychologist or coach’s tool kit of techniques is not as important as the relationship of care and trust they build with their client, which in turn comes from the client feeling respected, listened to and valued.

While field managers are of course not employed to conduct therapy on franchisees, they are employed as change agents to motivate franchisees to be the best they can be. A field manager’s success in influencing franchisee attitudes and behavior will ultimately come primarily from their ability to build a relationship of trust with their franchisees.

I’d go as far as to say that a field visit where there is an absence of mutual trust and respect is unlikely to be of much real benefit to a franchisee or franchisor.

How will you know when you have established the right relationship with your franchisees? Simple. They will tell you what they honestly think and what is really going on — not just in their business but also in their life. (Let’s face it. When a franchisee’s performance goes off the boil it’s often something beyond the business that’s causing the problem.)

Do Field Managers Make a Difference?

Realistically how much difference can a field manager make to the performance of an individual or group of franchisees? The following evidence is quite compelling.

For a start we have found that field managers have a significant impact on franchisee satisfaction and their intention to stay in or leave the franchise system. While long-standing franchisees are more likely to want to sell their business, a multiple regression analysis on data we have collected across many different franchise systems has revealed that a franchisee’s intention to sell is significantly related to their satisfaction with the support they are receiving from their field manager.

In one study of a franchise system with over 300 franchisees divided into 12 regions, we found four times the number of businesses for sale in the region that also had the lowest satisfaction with their regional (field) manager.

A Case in Point

In another study, the national morale of 240 franchisees was tested using a survey instrument known as the Franchisee Mood Monitor. The mood of franchisees across the country was shown to be quite positive and buoyant except for a particular region where franchisees were feeling despondent and ambivalent toward their business and their franchisor.

The manager of this region was replaced and twelve months later retesting with the Franchisee Mood Monitor showed the overall satisfaction of franchisees was now significantly above the national average. On a specific scale which measures the extent to which franchisees feel their opinions are valued and listened to, franchisee satisfaction in this region had increased by 39%. Furthermore franchisee satisfaction with their financial performance had increased by 33%.

We subsequently questioned the new regional manager, Mark, as to what he had been focusing on. He said he had made an effort to encourage franchisees to attend area meetings and provided plenty of opportunity for constructive open discussion on issues of interest to them.

I was so interested in this turnaround I personally observed Mark for two days as he interacted with franchisees individually and in small groups. Several aspects of his behavior stood out:

  • He was clearly interested in how his franchisees were going and asked specific questions to quickly gain relevant information about their business. He never reacted to whatever was said. He just listened.
  • He kept conversations focused on positive outcomes. If a franchisee complained about something Mark was not defensive. He would merely listen and draw out their thoughts on how it could be improved.
  • His body language indicated a keen interest in the person he was talking to. Every conversation was treated as though it were the most important thing happening at the time.
  • He let people finish before putting his own views forward. If he disagreed with a point of view he would say so but he always explained why, giving facts or examples where possible.
  • Mark was consistently enthusiastic about the business. Not a phony over the top enthusiasm, more the natural enthusiasm that comes from wanting to be the best at what you do.
  • Finally, Mark didn’t take himself too seriously. He was happy for others to have a joke at his expense.

What came across from all Mark’s interactions was a genuine helpfulness and respect and it was clearly paying dividends.

So, can a field manager make a significant difference to the performance of a group of franchisees? You bet.

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