How to Manage Customer Satisfaction

davidvanamburg.jpgWhen you walk into a McDonalds and order a Big Mac, chances are you’re expecting the burger to taste a certain way no matter which McDonalds you're in. What you might not expect is just how much effort goes into meeting this expectation.

Franchise organizations are in a unique and often frustrating position when it comes to customer satisfaction. Customers expect a certain product and experience every time they interact with your brand. They don’t know—or care—who owns each location.

It’s in franchise owners’ best interest to keep customer satisfaction a priority. Across all industries, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has found that higher customer satisfaction leads to higher profits.

But how do you achieve, maintain, and improve satisfaction? These frequently asked questions provide some clarity.

Who is responsible for managing customer satisfaction?

Both the franchisor and the franchisee. Franchisees need to ensure their location delivers a positive experience to customers, but guidance on how to do so—and how to replicate that experience across the broader franchise system—comes from HQ.

Corporate should be setting standards for signage, quality of products, and store design to create a consistent brand perception. Franchisees are responsible for employee training, the in-store experience, and upholding these guidelines. Because franchisees are customer-facing, the burden is heavier for them.

Does consistency between franchises contribute to customer satisfaction?

Absolutely! That’s one reason why the franchise business model requires franchisees to buy into a high level of control and adhere to certain brand standards.

For example, Domino’s franchise agreement specifies which signs the store needs to display and which vendors they must use. Franchisees are not permitted to deviate from these rules, which help standardize the customer experience across locations. The result is customers know what to expect each time they place an order.

This national level of control varies by franchise. For example, Chick-fil-A controls everything down to the waffle fry, which must look and taste identical at all locations. Maybe they’re onto something since they’ve earned the top spot for restaurant satisfaction in the ACSI four years running.

Could a brand’s reputation be impacted by low satisfaction at an individual location?

In most cases it’s unlikely for the reputation of one location to impact the entire brand. That’s because not enough customers directly experience the issue for it to affect overall sentiment. The aggregate positive experiences generated across the franchise system outweigh the blowback from any isolated incident at one location.

However, as we saw when multiple Chipotle locations served pork that made customers sick, if the issue is more widespread, so is the impact to customer satisfaction. And if satisfaction overall suffers, so too could brand reputation and profits. Stocks of companies with high ACSI scores tend to perform better financially than companies with low scores. Similarly, decreases in customer satisfaction affect the willingness of households to buy.

What should franchisees do to ensure regular and uniform satisfaction?

Franchisors establish criteria for product quality, in-store cleanliness, staff courtesy, order accuracy, and other elements of the customer experience. They essentially create the blueprint for franchisees on how to uphold the brand’s reputation and customer satisfaction. It’s up to franchisees to enforce these standards and ensure customers in Philadelphia have the same type of experience as customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It’s also important for franchisees to understand what customers value most. One way to determine what resonates with customers is to conduct regular, detailed customer surveys. Through 25 years of measuring customer satisfaction the ACSI has found certain measures—specifically, product quality and efficient service—are more important to satisfying customers than price. In these scenarios, franchisees won’t gain any sustainable points by dropping price or trying to undercut the competition. But, they may see customer sentiment rise by establishing and enforcing protocols that ensure customers receive timely responses.

Ultimately, ensuring customer happiness is up to everyone—the franchisor, franchisees, and even employees. To maintain the high standards set by corporate, franchisees should communicate these expectations to their employees and guide them on how to create positive experiences that will keep customers satisfied and coming back for more.

David VanAmburg is the managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) where he has spent over 20 years researching customer satisfaction and helping companies improve their customer experience. David has lectured at the University of Michigan and venues abroad, addressing the relationships among satisfaction, quality, customer service, loyalty, and shareholder value.

theacsi.org