Franchise Operations: Are You Ready for Virtual Visits?

The global pandemic has affected franchise operations heavily. How does a franchisor pivot into a new world where travel restrictions limit or even prohibit onsite visits? The answer is the virtual visit.

Franchisors have long sent Franchise Business Consultants (FBCs) to visit their franchisees, both to ensure operational compliance and also to coach. The FBC would have a conversation with the franchisee and talk about their priorities and how the franchisor can help achieve their goals. The most common output of these visits is a field audit report indicating a few areas of improvement.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the key to operating is to shift focus from compliance to coaching. The good news is that franchising has been moving in this direction for the past few years.

In this article, we highlight the three stages of this transition and how you can implement them in your franchise.

As a coach, the simplest way you can execute a virtual visit is to set up a scheduled call with your franchisee on one of the many communications platforms available such as Zoom, Google Meet, Apple Facetime or Microsoft Teams. Then, you can see both the location (for compliance) and the franchisee (for coaching).

Seeing the location gives you the opportunity to review certain elements remotely. You could theoretically go through your previous compliance checklist this way, but this would be counter-productive. Reviewing every single standard from your long compliance checklists is not only demotivating for the franchisee, it’s also ineffective as the visit is announced. Instead, gaining visibility in a few key elements which were historically problematic (and a few spot checks outside of those areas) would drive better conversations while saving time.

For compliance, the key is to introduce self-assessments they can fill out on their own. Compliance is about protecting everyone’s investment: it should not be neglected. Request picture proof from franchisees on a few critical standards and make this a part of the work you request from them. You can equip franchisees (and their store managers) with the right tools to give you enough insights about their operations. At FranchiseBlast, we include tools to improve the accountability of this process via polling or self-assessments.

For coaching, seeing the person lets you have a deeper connection with the individual, which is required to build enough trust to impact their performance. In your coaching session, you should ask them questions like:

  • What’s keeping you up at night?
  • What areas would you like to improve?
  • How can I help you achieve your goals?

In the conversation related to the last question, you can talk about initiatives they could be doing to achieve their goals.

One challenge VPs of Operations will face is that they will have little to no visibility about the coaching sessions. Sure, they could be recorded and stored, but that’s hardly actionable and they have no way to keep the coaches accountable.

The solution is to request that FBCs document these interactions. This opens the opportunity to use the same tools previously used for audits, but with a new questionnaire tailored for these coaching interactions. Questions should guide the FBCs in touching the key areas of the business you’d expect them to talk about such as the following:

  • marketing
  • food costs
  • labor
  • training

For each area, a few notes can be taken about the current situation, the objectives for the next quarter and what initiatives will be put in place to reach those goals. Because all their interactions with their franchisees, the VP of Operations can gain holistic insights about how the franchisor is helping each franchisee.

To sum up, virtual visits can be achieved very simply with communication tools and recorded with a mix of audits, self-assessments and franchisee polls. Franchisors gain visibility into unit-level operations plus introduce some accountability for the coaches by forcing them to document their interactions.

The process then becomes:

  1. Franchisees and FBCs connect on a recurring basis with visual communication tools
  2. Franchisees fill out self-assessments for compliance
  3. FBCs document their interactions, with the most important one being the coaching session

Stage 2: Moving to data-driven coaching sessions

The process described in Stage 1 is the beginning of the shift from compliance to coaching. It is very simple and easy to implement in any franchise. However, its simplicity does potentially add some inconsistencies across coaches.  The conversations and plans the franchisee is making with their coach are heavily impacted by their gut feelings and the data that they gathered was ad-hoc in nature.

It is in this stage that franchisors invest in putting processes and technologies in place to generate a Franchisee Scorecard. Scorecards aggregate information from various sources (Sales, Marketing, Loyalty, Controllable Expenses, Audits, etc.) into a single document which is reviewed by both the franchisee and their coach. The great thing about a scorecard is that it benchmarks each unit with the group, highlighting the areas of opportunity.

Most FBCs already look at data with the franchisees, but a scorecard streamlines the process to make their work simpler. It also standardizes which metrics are observed by all coaches, and for which specific action plans can be developed. As an example, one may observe sales are fairly average, but the average transaction amount is lower than everyone else, indicating an opportunity to coach on upselling.

Once the franchisor puts in place the processes to ensure the scorecard is always accessible and updated in a timely manner, the collaborative process looks like this:

  1. Franchisee fills out a self-assessment indicating what they’d like to discuss in their next coaching call. This lets them voice their concerns ahead of time, and the FBC can be prepare adequately.
  2. On the coaching call, the scorecard is the conversation piece. If a weakness is observed in one area, such as Customer Satisfaction, both can drill down into specific online reviews to learn more about the area of opportunity.
  3. The action plan is developed and recorded by the FBC for accountability purposes, much like in Stage 1.

Stage 3: Rolling Out More Formalized Business Planning

Once franchisors are comfortable in Stage 2, they seek a way to more actively drive change. Stage 2 helps document the action plans, but these are simply snapshots of a conversation. There rarely is any direct follow-up on these plans between interactions.  This is where business planning comes into play.

A business plan is a living document that gets continuously updated through a period, such as a quarter or a year. It includes the objectives that were collaboratively defined; these are motivational targets. For example, they could be to reach a level of performance so strong that the franchisee is ready to open a second unit or decrease variable costs so that the franchisee can afford to pay for their kids’ college education.

Objectives are broken down into key results which are measurable. Key results are metrics that you can measure but you cannot directly control. For example, a key result could be to increase the average transaction size to $15.00. Another could be ensuring labor costs are less than 25% of sales.  By defining a set of specific metrics, the success or failure to meet the objective becomes clear.

Finally, once your targets have been defined you can develop an action plan to reach those targets: these are initiatives. These are activities or tasks that you know you can perform for example:

  • roll-out touchless payments
  • build a cashflow model
  • train staff on upselling procedures
  • hiring a new manager

These initiatives represent your best guess about what you can actually do to reach your objectives.

franchisee comeback plans 3

Building the plan collaboratively with the franchisee is key in this context, as they must agree with the objectives, believe the plan is achievable and align with how to measure success. Of course, franchisors can and should bring a standard plan to the table and tweak it to fit each franchisee, but it’s key that the franchisee buy into the plan. It should focus on what is most important, helping elevate their thinking from working in the business to working on the business.

The next step is to perform recurring check-ins on the plan. By doing so, you can knock off initiatives which are completed and perhaps add new ones if the key results aren’t moving in the right direction. Check-ins are important to keep the plan alive and to highlight what’s important instead of always focusing on the day-to-day emergencies.

Once the franchisor has as standard business plan template aligned with their own strategic objectives, the process thus becomes:

  • Franchisees fill out a self-assessment indicating their desired conversation topics
  • A coaching session occurs where the business plan is developed collaboratively
    • Some key results may come directly from the scorecard
    • Some initiatives may be to get staff to fill out self-assessments on a recurring basis
  • Recurring (such as monthly) check-ins occur (likely collaboratively, but perhaps franchisee-driven)
  • At the end of the period, a post-mortem is created to review the progress made and build the next plan.

The Virtual Visit Ladder: What Heights Do You Want to Achieve?

As you can see, each stage here builds on the successes of its predecessor.

  • Stage 1 augments the toolkit to include self-assessments in addition to classic audits.
  • Stage 2 weaves in data-driven insights via franchisee scorecards.
  • Stage 3 moves from snapshots to a full-blown business planning to drive growth.

To get started with virtual visits, it’s time to move away from doing pure audits. Your first task is to begin documenting all types of interactions you’re having with franchisees. Then, you can slowly roll-out self-assessments in order to equip your franchisees with tools to improve themselves.



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