For distributed brands, one of the most complex challenges marketers are facing when it comes to growth is delivering consistent, authentic and high-caliber customer experiences. Now more than ever, multi-location brands must cater to today's demanding consumers. This is a significant barrier for a brand's franchisees or dealers. How? In addition to managing their business' day-to-day operations, affiliates are now being asked to create genuine, targeted and fresh experiences for their customers through more sophisticated marketing than ever before.
To make matters even more complex, there's a lot at stake when affiliates aren't delivering those great experiences locally. In fact, 66 percent of consumers have actually abandoned brands because they had a bad customer experience. Unfortunately, any experience — good or bad — has the potential to make or break the brand's relationship with the consumer.
"Creating a love affair with your customer takes time, patience, and empathy," says Mike Maddock, contributor at Forbes. "Remember, this is a journey that involves new discoveries, exploration, and mutual benefit; there will be ups and downs that you, your team, and your customers will experience along the way, and you need to pull each other along to create relationships grounded in trust and loyalty."
5 Steps to Delivering a Great Customer Experience
According to the 2017 Distributed Benchmark Report, improving the customer experience is cited as one of the primary objectives for brand managers today. Furthermore, 88 percent of marketers believe that inconsistent branding is a bigger barrier to delivering a world-class customer experience than more than 10 other main factors. Additionally, less than 50 percent of local affiliates feel like they're prepared to honor the brand's core marketing objectives and values. Despite these unique challenges, marketers remain optimistic. In fact, most brand managers expect their franchise network to grow by a whopping 45 percent over the next five years.
To stay ahead of the curve, outpace competitors and create more satisfied customers, brand managers need a clear customer experience roadmap. Luckily, that's exactly what we've put together in this article.
Step #1: Establish an Auditing Process
To identify disruptions in the customer experience, brands can establish a clear field auditing routine that allows them to analyze local marketers' performance. Brands with more than a handful of locations usually have a dedicated process for checking in on how their stores are performing – for everything from HR to branding on-site. These types of audits serve as a critically important first step in delivering an exceptional customer experience. The auditing process should include:
- A plan to review all new and exiting marketing materials and promotions
- A review of all onsite marketing technology, processes, and tools
- A time to review and discuss marketing performance with local staff
The auditing process should be conducted for each location at regular intervals. Your brand might prefer to hold audits monthly, quarterly or annually depending on the size and complexity of your network. Use the insight and data gleaned from these audits to ensure that the local affiliate is taking steps forward (not backward).
Although a trained auditor's eye is invaluable to make sure your stores are on-point with brand guidelines, it can't replace the outside perspective your customers have when they visit you. In addition to internal assessments, the most successful multi-location brands also monitor the customer experience from the consumer's perspective with satisfaction surveys and feedback forms. You can even factor in your existing loyalty programs to encourage your customers to provide feedback on their in-store experience. Use this data to combine with your auditing reports to find out where (if anywhere) your biggest CX issues lie.
Step #2: Walk a Mile in Local Marketers' Shoes
It's not easy to be a franchisee. By nature, most franchisees have a good deal of business experience. However, they're rarely specialized marketers or salespeople, and they're definitely not designers on top of all that. But the responsibilities they have on their plates don't see departmental borders. In addition to managing day-to-day operations, they're also responsible for driving more foot traffic to their store. Finally, once they get a customer in the door, they have to be sure their employees are providing exceptional service to nurture those visitors into lifelong customers.
To get a better understanding of what local marketers are going through and identify customer experience gaps, corporate marketing teams should try walking a mile in their shoes. Start by asking your affiliates a few key questions, including:
- What's working and what's not working with the brand's idea of customer experience?
- Have you noticed any buying trends with your local customers?
- What obstacles are preventing you from delivering better customer service?
- Are there any ways that the brand could make your life easier right now?
- How do you know if your marketing is working?
Remedying customer experience shortfalls requires a deep level of collaboration between corporate marketing teams and local affiliates. Honest and transparent dialogue is absolutely critical here. It gets the affiliates on your side and helps you uncover significant marketing hurdles that could have been hurting your performance the whole time. With this information, you can pivot and start to make changes that you know will positively impact the customer experience in your local stores.
Step #3: Create a Customer Empathy Map
The objective of a customer empathy map is to figure out how consumers really interact with the brand every day. Ideally, the map will outline what the customer is thinking and doing during every step of the buying process. Brands can use this empathy map to identify points where customers could be better served and, in turn, narrow in on particular areas where the customer experience needs to be improved. In your customer empathy map, you can assess the motivations of your customers by analyzing the following:
- What the customer thinks and feels
- What the customer hears
- What the customer sees
- What the customer says
- What the customer does
- Who the customer interacts with
The key here is to analyze consumer behavior, of course. But you're not doing this just because it's a warm and fuzzy way to get "closer" to the customer. You're doing it so you can help your affiliates create more impactful local marketing, and be better at serving the customer. So you have to translate your analysis into tools that they can really use, or steps you can take that will make their lives easier. What can the brand do to improve the purchasing process? How can the brand build a better relationship with consumers? What must corporate teams do to help their local affiliates better identify with and address consumers' questions or concerns?
"At the end of the session, encourage team members to share their thoughts about the exercise and the customer," says Demian Farnworth, contributor at Copyblogger. "Do they have a new hypothesis? Have they identified obvious needs and new behaviors? What insights have they gained? Once you are finished, summarize your conclusions. Organize these thoughts, feelings, actions and sayings into a summary about what you learned."
All of that is great advice, but when you have many locations you also have to turn those insights into something the franchisees and dealers can use. This is where enlisting the regional marketing managers can be especially useful since they'll be able to translate what you've uncovered to your franchisees and help them adapt how they market accordingly.
Step #4. Design Marketing Assets for Flexibility
After creating an auditing process, analyzing local marketer executions, and monitoring the customer's journey, the next most successful thing distributed brands can do to improve the local customer experience is to build their marketing materials with flexibility in mind. When a brand incorporates flexibility into the local marketing plan, the local affiliates are empowered to deliver more localized marketing materials.
Why does localization make a difference? When affiliates add local flavor to their marketing, customers feel more connected to the brand – it's like the brand is something organic instead of distant and foreign. Additionally, when corporate marketing teams give their local affiliates some freedom to construct their own unique marketing (while always adhering to the brand's standards and guidelines, of course) local affiliates will feel more connected and engaged with the brand. Your affiliates will be more loyal to the brand and they'll pay closer attention to the nuances that make your company different (and better) from all the others they could choose to work with instead.
Step #5. Repeat the Process
Finally, repeat the process. It can take some time for these efforts to show up as changes in the customer experience, but over time you should see some dramatic improvements. To help franchisees get up to speed, headquarters should try to provide them with resources that make it second nature for them to adhere to the brand's process. Without this effort to support the franchisees compliance, you'll end up back at square one.
For an extra boost to the customer experience and to keep the whole process moving in the right direction, distributed brands across industries often choose to implement Local Marketing Automation (LMA). These software solutions give corporate teams a 360-degree view of how affiliates are implementing campaigns and other key aspects of the customer experience. Additionally, with easy-to-use tools, local affiliates don't need to be expert marketers. There don't have to be questions anymore about what the headline should say or where to use a given image. By automating some of the brand's internal processes, distributed brand managers allow their local marketers to shine without sacrificing marketing compliance, efficiency, or quality.
Improve Local Performance and Deliver Unparalleled Customer Experience
According to the 2017 Distributed Marketing Benchmark Report, an improvement in customer experience can lead to massive revenue growth. The survey findings in this report showcase how critical local marketing contributions are to improving the customer experience. As such, brands continue to make major investments in their local affiliates' marketing executions. Is your distributed brand taking the steps necessary to deliver an exceptional customer experience?