BEST PRACTICES: HOW TO CREATE A TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS
As a small business in a community, it is important to treat your customers as neighbors.
Once a customer walks through the door to your franchise, how you choose to respond can have long-lasting effects on your business. Cultivating trust is vital to building a base of loyal, and repeat, customers. As veteran multi-unit franchise owners, we’ll share some best practices for building and sustaining a trusting relationship with customers and training in-store employees to do the same.
DuBois: Maintain a Trustworthy Brand
A trustworthy company should always have the customer’s best interest in mind, but how to do you convey that message to them? It begins with consistent brand messaging. It is important to keep brand positioning consistent throughout the entire franchise system. Corporate marketing plans and public relations tool kits available to franchise owners should always be utilized to ensure any communication to consumers is through approved marketing and press materials and in line with the brand’s voice.
Localized marketing content consistent with the brand’s voice is great for creating relationships with community members, including cross promotions with other trusted businesses in the area. As a multi-unit owner of Meineke Car Care, I know that developing a partnership includes offering community members a free oil change when they receive a rate quote from a local insurance agent. The offer of this free service is high quality, with no strings attached; it is a great beginning to relationships with new customers and strengthens relationships with existing customers. In addition, building relationships year-round involves offering superior promotions to deserving community members, such as free oil changes for former military personnel on Veterans Day.
Adams: Delivering a Good In-Store Experience
A good in-store experience begins with outstanding customer service. Just ask Schlotzsky’s franchise owner John Herod. After noticing a decline in customer service at his Abilene, Texas location, Herod closed his deli for a week and posted a sign that read, “Closed for Attitude Adjustment.”
Franchise owners, especially multi-unit owners, are not able to be in the store to nurture customer relationships at all times, so the employees hired need to be able to continue building trust. As a Pet Supplies Plus multi-unit owner, I recently altered the screening process for new-hire candidates by changing the profile of an ideal employee using hiring software to include leadership qualities, passion for the pet industry and an outgoing personality able to relate with customers. This new profile has enabled me to hire candidates I trust to interact with customers as an extension of the brand.
In addition, the pet retail stores recently implemented programs to replicate successful qualities of top-performing employees. One step of the program is a monthly review. The objective of each review is not to dissect the employee’s performance, but rather to meet and discuss different aspects of the position and set goals to encourage ongoing development and dialogue. For this to work as intended, it is important to consistently arrange times to meet and implement simple benchmarks to ensure each person is following up after the discussion. Such in-store programs also allow a franchise to create a trusting work environment, which customers notice.
One way to communicate with your customers that they can trust your brand is through third-party certifications or accreditations. To start, research different programs that might be available for your management-level or hourly employees that would make sense for your brand. Under Pet Supplies’ franchise group U.S. Retail Inc., it has entered a partnership with Michigan State University’s Dr. Sarah Abood to provide online training to credit store employees as certified nutrition advisors. The certification falls in line with brand messaging of being the trustworthy, neighborhood pet store.
DuBois: Providing a Welcoming Environment
As a small business in the community, it is important to treat your customers as neighbors. We all know that the way employees greet guests as they enter the store is crucial, but what about the non-verbal cues? Think about your brand and interior/exterior improvements that could make your location more inviting to the community.
Recently signing a deal to acquire 12 new Meineke shops, my first initiatives with new locations will be to renovate the waiting areas to adapt a coffee house atmosphere. This transformation has already taken place in my first three Meineke locations with new paint, artwork and furniture.
Also consider how your store layout allows customers to interact with your brand. Is it the most convenient layout for them? Pet Supplies Plus recently released a new prototype boasting a layout that emphasizes in-store pet interaction, an integral part of the brand.
DuBois: Giving Customers a Reason to Come Back
Now that you have worked hard to provide a good in-store experience, don’t stop there. Once the customer departs your location, how do you continue building trust? There is not a universal answer to this question as it will differ between industries.
For example, in the auto care industry, a customer’s main concern is their vehicle working properly. As a courtesy, my Meineke employees call each customer the day after a service to ensure everything is working correctly and answer any follow-up questions they may have. This is not a time for employees to sell more services to customers, only to reassure the vehicle is working properly.
In the end, it comes down to getting the job done right. Every car owner will need new brakes and tires at some point and most will look online to find a trustworthy mechanic. In the digital age, you need happy customers and positive online reviews.
Find the right way to follow up with your customers. Follow a good or bad experience with a personal email, free gift in the mail or a phone call. Acknowledge the birthdays or anniversaries of those who join your business’ membership club and be transparent about any mistakes or negative experiences at your location. Reach out with the no-strings-attached, high-quality offers or free gifts to your loyal customers, not just to attract new ones. The most important message to get across to customers is your gratitude.
Randy DuBois is a multi-unit franchise owner with 15 Meineke Car Care locations in northwest Washington. Steve Adams is the CEO of U.S. Retail, a multi-unit franchisee of Pet Supplies Plus. U.S. Retail owns and operates 20 existing Pet Supplies Plus stores in Alabama, Texas and Wisconsin. Find them at fransocial.franchise.org.