Franchise Review and Reputation Management Unique Issues
Franchise businesses face unique challenges in maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction across franchise locations. With many locations to account for, franchisors must set high standards and provide clear guidelines for franchisees. Online review and reputation management can be an especially difficult endeavor for many franchise businesses.
However, with effective monitoring tools, franchises can easily track operations at each location, gain customer insights, understand what needs improvement, identify star performers and laggards, and improve each location’s search performance.
Franchise businesses should consider the following elements of a sound online review and reputation management strategy:
Analyze your online brand reputation
The first step in a strategic reputation management effort is to identify the current strengths and weaknesses of your brands, as expressed by the highly engaged customer base sharing ratings and reviews. What are customers saying about your business? How is your business ranked across platforms?
Performing an initial audit can be difficult without having the right expertise and systems in place. One helpful way to overcome this challenge is by taking advantage of the many introductory offers made by reputation management companies.
LocalClarity, for example, offers a free trial that includes a detailed review of your entire review history (going back up to 10 years), regional reports, sentiment analysis, local search exposure, and any spikes in activity over the last 24 months.
Understanding your online presence can be overwhelming, so it’s important to take a methodical approach. Start with Google Local Reviews first. It’s already one of the top review platforms for every industry, and the incredible growth of the Google Local Guides Program (from 5 million to 50 million members worldwide in just 12 months) assures that it will continue to gain ground on other programs. It is also the one program that also has a material impact on the exposure that every franchise location can achieve in search results. Every franchise should realize that a limited quantity of reviews or poor reviews scores will absolutely reduce inclusion in Google Map and local search results.
Once an analysis of Google is complete, you can look for variances between customer feedback on Google and Facebook to try to uncover difference in customer sentiment by platform usage.
Conduct a Competition Sentiment Audit
Understanding your online brand reputation isn’t just confined to what your customers are saying about your business. Reputation is contextual, and it matters what customers think about competitors in your market. If your reviews are average but competitors’ reviews are still outperforming, then your business has some work to do.
Franchises with a small set of key competitors can do a competitor review ratio by identifying the ratio of 5-Star vs 1-Star reviews that contain the competitor name. Anything less than 200% (after all, these are your customers) might be a danger sign that your customers will be defecting. After all, competition is ultimately about consumer choices.
Consider the outliers in online reviews
Analyzing your brand’s online reputation and customer reviews can tell you a lot about your business. But, in order to learn something useful from online reviews, companies need to know what to look for.
One way to examine online reviews is by considering the outliers. The outliers can include especially positive or negative reviews. If one franchise is consistently receiving negative reviews, it’s clear that something is going wrong at that location. Perhaps, one employee is delivering poor customer service.
On the other hand, very positive reviews for a franchise show that they’re doing something right. Companies should learn from individual locations that are outperforming. These lessons can be shared across the franchise business to improve performance.
Break down reviews by subject
Online reviews for franchise locations often exhibit certain patterns. For example, reviews for a popular location might consistently mention superior customer service or a high-quality product. Customers may notice the same qualities that make a business successful.
Negative online reviews can also exhibit similar themes. To get a better sense of how customers view your business, break down the reviews by subject. Poor customer service, high price, slow service or low-quality product—these are all comments that often appear in negative customer reviews.
Determine which types are repeated most often across review sites. This will help you get a better sense of areas that require improvement. Visualizing and publishing this data will allow franchises to optimize their business process. When breaking down reviews by subject, consider both the positive and negative reviews.
Monitoring is essential
An effective franchise review management strategy cannot function properly without regular monitoring. Monitoring and insights are key to understanding how consumers view your business, and clear data is the only way to legitimately measure success.
In the “Comprehensive Guide to Customer Reviews and Online Reputation Management,” we explain how you can employ metrics to better understand how customers view and engage with your business. These metrics include rating volume change, star rating change, words per review and Google Maps search inclusion.
Conduct a monthly online brand reputation audit
Analyzing online brand reputation on an ongoing basis is even more important for franchisors. Managing reviews across franchises can be challenging, and maintaining a uniform level of customer satisfaction requires diligent work and careful attention.
It’s a good idea to conduct a monthly online brand reputation analysis. This analysis should be similar to the one conducted at the outset of the process. Monthly analysis of review response performance creates a standard basis for measurement and reporting. Since this task can be a challenge, franchises should consider how a reputation management company like LocalClarity can optimize their reputation management processes.
How to reply to online reviews
Responding to online customer reviews is an essential part of online reputation management. Both positive and negative reviews require a response from your business. Professional and well-crafted responses to customer reviews can enhance a franchise’s relationship with customers and lead to increased sales.
In particular, our guide to online review and reputation management focuses on best practices and strategies in responding to reviews. We offer tips to respond to both positive and negatives reviews and provide relevant examples. The guide also discusses special circumstances such as dealing with fake reviews that can be valuable to franchise owners.
Develop a strategy for review analysis
The goal for any franchise should be to 1) monitor customer feedback and insights, and 2) maximize the number of positive reviews left by customers to drive new and repeat customers. Specific to franchise businesses, teams may need to approach these goals as separate step or processes.
The parent organization needs confirmation that individual franchisees are living up to brand policies and customer satisfaction requirements. So the act of monitoring and gaining marketing research can be an “end goal” at the corporate level. Franchises need to decide which department spearheads the monitoring effort. It could be Marketing, Franchisee Management, Social Media, etc.
Responsibility for review responses might be at the corporate level or at the franchisee level. Ideally, it is a combination of corporate language with a local flare to make certain that each customer is treated personally. In any case. its imperative that the entire organization gains an appreciation for the power insights contained within the data.
Develop a strategy for review generation
Unfortunately, customers are often more motivated to leave online reviews following negative experiences with a business. That’s why it’s so important to take control of your online reputation and engage customers about leaving feedback.
Companies should develop a coherent and structured program for soliciting online customer reviews. In other words, asking for customer reviews should become part of the standard operating procedure.
Consider the following steps when developing an effective communications strategy across franchises:
- Select a channel (e.g., email, phone, in-person) to ask customers for online reviews.
- Decide which review platforms (e.g., Google, Yelp, Facebook) you’d like to prioritize when asking for reviews.
- Craft a message that helps guide the customer through the review process and makes it as easy as possible to leave valuable feedback.
- Choose when you’ll send out the review request and how often you’ll remind the customer to write a review.
When crafting a message for customers, it’s critical that you give them the tools to make the process easy as possible. A direct link to your Google My Business page can be an effective shortcut that can be used whenever you contact customers for reviews. The link takes customers directly to your page and prompts them to leave a review. To simplify the process, LocalClarity has developed a Google Review Link Generator tool that easily creates review links for any business location.
When it comes to engaging customers about online reviews, franchises can’t forget the need for staff development and training. Talking to customers about feedback can be tricky at times, and it’s essential that your entire team is up to speed with the standard operating procedures of your business.
Using online reviews to differentiate your franchise location
Franchises often struggle to differentiate themselves from other franchise locations on the local level. Since marketing for most franchises is conducted through national campaigns, local franchisees don’t always benefit individually. In reality, a competitor just a few blocks down the road has no value proposition differentiation, other than customer feedback for each location.
Online customer reviews provide an opportunity for individual franchise locations to demonstrate their value and commitment to customer satisfaction. Although franchises may represent the same brand, they often deliver a unique experience. Factors such as customer service, product quality and cleanliness may vary to some degree between locations.
It’s true that franchises are not exactly like other businesses. But a solid online reputation and positive customer reviews can go a long way in attracting customers to a franchise location. Franchisees should use online reviews as an effective tool to drive success and one of the only ways to differentiate themselves from similar franchise locations in their area.
Customer feedback, in all of its forms, is one of the single most important characteristics of franchise dynamics. Most franchises are, at their core, service organizations. The feedback from prior customers impacts the ability of every member of the franchise to compete against other businesses. But it is also this feedback that lets one franchisee compete against another when their customer bases overlap geographically. In this case, customer service reviews and the convenience of the physical location are the only factors that determine success.
Whether independently or with the help of a technology or service partner, national franchises and individual locations must aggressively manage their reputation or find themselves replaced by the companies that do.