When it comes to the disruptive effects of COVID-19, franchisees are particularly vulnerable. Often franchisees are new to the industry or new to business ownership. This makes facing a crisis like COVID-19 daunting. The franchises that survive will be those who go the extra mile to support their franchisees and help them navigate this uncertain period. Support begins with clear communication. Here are 4 tips for communicating with franchisees during a crisis.
Make Communication Personal
For communication to be personal, it need to be contextual. As retailers deal with divergent reopening timelines it is likely your franchisees are either still dealing with the uncertainty of closed storefronts or are working overtime to get stores open and running again. Contextualize communication to your franchisee’s situation.
As a reminder, personal doesn’t require you be there in person. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CEO of Goldman Sachs’ used the phone. Today, video conferencing is an effective alternative and keeps safe social distancing measures in place.
Franchisees with closed stores
Unlike retail crises of the past, the coronavirus is difficult because it is a sustained crisis. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Restrictions on reopening, interaction, and capacity are predicted to last well into the third quarter.
By this time, you may feel you have said everything there is to say. But for franchisees whose store fronts are still closed, knowing you continue to be there as a resource is important.
So, keep communicating and make it personal. Mass emails can be ignored. Instead, reach out via video chat at regular intervals to see how your franchisees are really doing. Additionally, making communication personal will help franchisees open up to you and give you a more accurate picture of the state of the business.
See how one retailer is keeping communication lines open and supporting franchisees with Compliant IA: How a National Franchisor is Helping Franchisees During COVID-19.
Rebooting operations is daunting. Aside from their original store opening, few franchisees have experience getting stores up and going after an extended closure. Upper management and district managers should be reaching out personally to every franchisee to see how they are doing with reopening efforts. This will also help you gather data about how your reopening efforts are developing across all stores, and where you need to put in the extra effort to make reopening a success.
Franchisees may be required to implement new processes, such as curb-side pick-up and additional cleaning procedures. Don’t wait for your franchisees to reach out to you with questions. Proactively communicate with franchisees and give them the tools and resources they need. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Store Reopening Checklist
- Employee Wellness Checklist
- How to Communicate Policy Changes to Employees
Have a Designated Point Person(s)
Keep the lines of communication simple and efficient by designating point person(s) for your franchisees to contact. By proactively reaching out and giving franchisees a designated point of connection (a regional or district manager is a great choice) you ensure they remain engaged and more likely to follow organizational best practices during times of crisis.
Availability is equally important. “Nothing’s worse than saying you’re there to help employees – but never actually responding.” – Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
“Don’t expect employees to come to you,” says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). SHRM recommends implementing a communication system that allows you to reach out to franchisees across multiple platforms. Verification is important and, ideally, employees should have a secure way to respond.
To keep proactive communication going, consider introducing a platform with collaboration tools built in to help automate and verify essential organizational communication.
It is likely your franchisees will have similar questions. Help both your designated point person(s) by crafting responses to common questions. Proactively send out resources to help franchisees weather the storm or get up and running. For instance, using Compliant IA, you can create secure posts, share documentation, and verify with read-receipts.
Communicating with franchisees also means being available for your franchisees to ask questions and express concerns. “Communication is only effective when it goes both ways,” says Alexandria Sheehan in a recent article about best practices for supporting franchisees.
“More important than communicating to your franchisees, you want to communicate with them,” Sheehan continues. “This means two-way conversations full of active listening. If you don’t hear from them, you won’t know the challenges they face and how you can help.”
The International Franchise Association (IFA) recommends listening to and analyzing a franchisee’s situation before making recommendations. During times of crisis and high stress, it is important to demonstrate empathy. IFA notes that a franchisor that “holds the attitude of a business ‘partnership’ with the franchisee is going to achieve the best results.”
Additionally, many franchisees started as customers and are still the ones interacting with your customer base on a daily basis. Their concerns can reflect customer concerns. Soliciting franchisee feedback and listening to their concerns and recommendations is a valuable source of information that can help direct your crisis response and success.
Benefits of Communicating with Franchisees
In the past, you may not have been communicating with franchisees in such a sustained and personal way. However, strategic communication promotes a positive ongoing partnership. This can help franchisors avoid harmful franchisee behavior such as the franchisee acting independently and reducing prices, changing business hours, or deciding to keep locations closed.
And remember, even after communication processes are rolled out, you need to regularly evaluate to see which processes are helpful and connecting and which need to be adjusted. Steady communication brings a sense of order in a chaotic time and benefits the business as a whole.
For more ways you can support franchisees, see our blog: Franchising in Retail: 7 Ways HQ can Support Franchisees.