In this series, we provide tips on starting a franchise and the process of running your own business. This article focuses on how important it is for franchisees to protect their brand’s reputation during a crisis or scandal.
Unfortunately, brand crises are inevitable and bad press for one franchise outlet can have a widespread negative effect on the entire franchise network. One example of such bad press for a franchise is an incident suffered by Taco Bell in 2013, when an employee posted a photo of himself on social media licking a stack of taco shells in the restaurant. It inevitably went viral and lead to a formal investigation into the employee at that branch. So, how can this kind of faux pas by one employee affect a whole franchise network's reputation? Let's find out ...
Brand association - the ugly side
Although two separate franchises are not necessarily connected in any way, they represent one master brand. Therefore, performance must remain consistent across all franchises to ensure brand integrity remains. That’s why franchisee training is so important and why the head office needs to be kept updated with the goings-on of each individual territory within its franchise network. Poor conduct on behalf of franchisees will tarnish brand reputation which will have a negative impact on other stores, even if they’re are in completely different cities or regions.
When negative news gets out on one franchise, it affects all others within the network because consumers don’t see a difference between branches – they only see the brand as one entity. And this has a real effect on the bottom line - research shows that 86 percent of people hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative news.
86% of people hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative reviews
Let’s discuss how franchisees can protect their business during a brand crisis and what steps they should take to avoid tarnishing their franchise’s reputation.
1. Customer service
Customer service is an essential method to help protect your business when your franchise name is suffering from bad press. Although consumers will typically associate your business with the negative media coverage, you can do your bit to make a good impression on your local community by ensuring the quality of customer service is always tip-top.
As a franchisee, you have complete control over staff recruitment and training. You can protect your business through implementing more vigorous hiring processes to ensure staff offer the very best customer service which reflects the brand in a positive way. Often the franchisor will provide training for your team as well, so they can reflect the company ethos in everyday operations.
2. Local marketing
Marketing on a local level is perfectly within the franchisee’s control. Although your franchise may see a dip in sales after a brand crisis, you can reach local consumers through advertising; promoting the business in the most professional way possible that offers some damage control in response to the bad press.
If you’re local to your business’s area, you know the mind-set of the local consumer better than head office or the franchisor itself. You know what can appeal to customers on a personal level to earn back their trust and prove to them that your store can provide quality service.
Make the most of your brand’s marketing tools and resources to actively communicate a positive brand image during a media crisis for the franchise.
3. Always refer to the training
The franchisor provides extensive and in-depth training for a reason. This is how it assures that every franchisee reflects the brand image as perfectly as possible. It isn’t always possible to have complete control when a brand has a large network of stores and lots of employees. But you can do your best to prevent a brand crisis on your franchise’s behalf by putting your training into practice in everyday business operations.
Reflect on your work and decisions for the business and ask yourself if it adheres to the brand guidelines. You could make some improvements, revise a plan to rectify any areas of weakness and provide refresher training sessions for employees so that the business runs as professionally as possible.
In Taco Bell’s case, after their scandal, the franchise reminded employees that use of a mobile phone during working hours is forbidden, to prevent any further incidents of a similar nature taking place.
4. Communicate with head office
Support from head office is provided and it is always ongoing. Franchises tend to have representatives visit each outlet or store on a regular basis to check in and monitor progress.
If you, as the franchisee, are ever unsure of the right action to take or the right protocol to follow in a tricky or difficult business situation involving marketing, operations, poor customer feedback or anything else, it’s important that you utilise your resources for the benefit of the brand as a whole.
Communicate with the franchisor for any advice – it’s one of the benefits of being a franchisee and it will always help your success and protect the franchise’s name for everyone within the nationwide or worldwide brand network.
5. Social media
Even franchisors sometimes neglect social media when it comes to protecting the brand’s reputations. It’s important to have oversight over all the brand’s social media channels to understand customer feedback, where the franchise is going wrong and how it can improve.
As a franchisee, you have control of your local business’s social media presence. It’s a way to engage with consumer opinion via reviews left on Facebook, TripAdvisor or other platforms relevant to your business. If you have control of your social networks, you can take the necessary action to protect the brand name.
Social media also allows businesses to respond to customers who’ve provided negative feedback to try to rectify their experience, whether it’s through a formal apology or sending appropriate compensation. Don’t neglect this key tool in connecting with the consumer directly.
Protecting the brand is in the franchisee’s hands
Although you may adhere to an overall company image and guidelines, do not underestimate the power of the franchisee in damaging - and rectifying - the brand’s image and reputation in the public eye. It’s important to take advantage of head office training and support to ensure the ultimate success for your business and to help avoid scandals.
For more tips on running a franchise, check out our other articles.
Georgina Crothers, Point Franchise ©