You Can't Have 'Brand Consistency' Without...

By David Mostovoy

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I’m very loyal to a local fast food restaurant and, on average, I’m a monthly patron. On my most recent visit, everything was on point with the food, as per usual. But there was something else that slightly soured my experience. The customer service was legitimately unfriendly and contradicted the brand’s messaging. On the side of the truck, there is a photo of the founder smiling, yet the cashier barely acknowledged my presence. I asked for a container of hot sauce and suddenly found a small container next to me- there was zero discussion and the cashier returned to looking at a smartphone and completely ignoring me.

I’ve been to this local business enough times to know that the staff changes. On my last three visits, there have been three different cashiers. Two out of three were friendly and interacted, so I’m more inclined to consider this negative experience the exception, not the rule. But what if this had been a customer’s first introduction to this brand? Let’s just say it wouldn’t have done anything to build loyalty for future visits.

In a previous post, I wrote about convenience store retailers who can win if they maintain a sense of self-awareness of what sets them apart and consistently deliver on an exceptional customer experience. For many retailers, what sets them apart is fresh food. But as evident in my recent food truck experience, the food isn’t everything for building brand loyalty.

That’s why customer service interactions are synonymous with brand consistency. And for most retailers, there are multiple points of customer interaction that require attention.

Improving Consistency at All Points of Customer Interaction

So how do you improve consistency across a brand through customer interaction? Start by tracking the customer’s journey from the moment they arrive at your store until they leave.

For instance, convenience stores that offer fuel at competitive prices will always bring customers and foot traffic inside the store.

But retailers should audit:

-How is customer service at the pump? Are prices consistent and card readers working properly? Are promotions that incentivize customers to go inside the store present? (It’s is all part of the customer service experience!)

Here are some examples of mobile forms.

-If the customer gravitates towards foodservice, how is the ordering experience?

Note: With touch-order kiosks, the initial interactions are kept to a minimum in order to streamline the experience. But how about when the food is ready? Handing the food item to a customer and interacting can go a long way.

-Is the customer greeted when they approach the register? “Hello, did you find what you were looking for?” can do the trick.

Remember: You could have a fantastic marketing and merchandising team. But if you’re looking to take your brand to the next level in brand loyalty—to the point where the customer gets excited about their next visit—you have to dig into your store-level interactions. Understanding those interactions is how brands obtain actionable insights that are used to optimize the customer experience and build loyalty.

How to get started: Don’t wait to jump in! Be mindful of your strengths and potential weaknesses, and try to establish a baseline audit. From dispensing beverages to using a restroom that might deter a foodservice purchase, consider areas that might be problematic in your stores and audit for those specific things. Your checklists can always be adjusted in the future and with the right platform, this can be done easily, in real-time, and without time-consuming paperwork.

Click here to see more mobile form examples that can be implemented using Zenput.

Or learn more about Zenput’s mobile solution for convenience stores.

Topics: brand standards

Fresh Food Wins If Brands Can Deliver Just One Thing…

By Brian Harris

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Customers have all been there. That disappointing experience at their favorite c-store or restaurant that makes them question all they know to be true in life. Well OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But it is a disappointment when it happens, and it can make them think twice about returning—at least to that location.

An alternative scenario is when a customer knows that one location makes a better sandwich, has fresher coffee, and always stocks the latest flavor of a packaged beverage. Maybe they’re willing to go out of their way to that favorite store or restaurant, if the company has already established brand loyalty. At the end of the day, it’s these little inconsistencies that can have a big impact on a brand. Details matter when channel blurring is on the rise. 

The “little things” add up to brand consistency, and consistency can make or break a brand.

The Fresh Food Advantage

If you work in the foodservice channels, you know the importance of brand awareness for customers—you know the products and services that attract them to your store. But are retailers aware of their own brand? In other words, are they aware of their strengths and weaknesses and how to hone in on what sets their brand apart?

Focus on THE attributes that drive customers to your store, but don’t completely neglect your weaknesses.

Raw data is great for learning about what is working in your stores and what isn’t. But data alone won’t tell you why Store A is consistently better at promoting new menu items than Store B. That’s when operators need to zoom into each location to better understand what’s going on.

How to Create the Consistent Customer Experience

What makes a brand addicting to customers? For c-stores, it’s no longer “cokes and smokes” that keep them coming back for more—it’s coffee and food. But not just any food, as fast-food restaurants have learned that customers want options beyond what’s deep-fried. They’ve started to take more cues on flavor and better ingredients from the fast-casual segment.

Today’s foodie culture is advantageous to c-store and foodservice retailers in their efforts to set themselves apart from the competition. These two channels also have the advantage of having smaller footprints for a faster, more streamlined experience.

If foodservice is your greatest potential to separate from the market competition, it’s time to raise the bar across your network. It starts with better insights at the store level using a technology everyone in your company, no matter their level of experience, already has.

3 steps to gaining store-level insights using mobile technology:

  1.  Empower your foodservice category managers to communicate their greatest needs through an easy-to-use mobile form. Ask them to complete a baseline survey, but also ask them to use this as an opportunity to document their pain points. From staffing, to maintenance, to vendor relationships, there may be easily-solvable issues managers simply don’t have a way to communicate.
  1.  Set up automated alerts to find out when stores need more support or maintenance. Food preparation area at risk? Bathrooms sending customers running for the hill? Senior managers will know about these issues from the next store audit, and now they’re able to act.
  1.  Act on a plan to resolve the issue. A clear directive is sent to the store-level manager and the task remains “open” until a follow-up ensures completion.

When there’s a better understanding and a course of action at the store-level, a brand has a greater chance of delivering consistent customer experiences that build loyalty.

Ready to zoom in on your foodservice operations? Learn more about Zenput’s solution by clicking here.

Topics: Retail, Franchise, Restaurants, C-store, consistent customer experience, brand standards

There's a Better Way for Global Franchises to Communicate

By Brian Harris

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Arby’s is planning an expansion into Canada.

Grimaldi’s pizza expands to United Arab Emirates.

Carl’s Jr. opens its first location in Chile.

Papa John’s plans to open 20 stores in Morocco.

These are just some of the global franchising news we’ve encountered in the last few weeks. It’s truly amazing what globalization and high-speed communication has done to the food franchisee community, and it’s evident in the bold overseas expansion plans of some top companies.

When it comes to overseas expansion, you often hear about the parent company partnering with a locally-based franchise development company. This locally based company helps the brand transition to that particular market, especially with communicating to staff.

While it’s important to take local customs and culture into account, there are just some aspects of a brand that can’t be compromised—much like a language that must be translated. Here are three of those values that are pretty standard across the industry:

  1. A clean and inviting dining experience

-> The global franchisor will have to abide by rules and regulations of the country of expansion.

  1. Courteous customer service

-> What is considered a friendly customer greeting in this country? Perhaps it’s not a requirement to look a customer in the eye, but instead to use a formal greeting.

  1. Fast and efficient service

-> Is the overseas kitchen equipped the same? Is the franchisor offering new, fresh menu items that have different prep times? These are all nuances that must be accounted for.

So how, exactly, do you account for brand compliance, especially when the franchisor and franchisee may be several thousand miles away from each other?

Using a Nimble Communication Platform

Relying on traditional forms of communication—emails, calls, and fax—can create barriers and frustrations. For instance, if the franchisor requires the global franchisee to call in during business hours, it may be during a critical prep time or when the franchisee is preparing to run through their end-of-day list checklist before closing the restaurant.

Instead, consider a real-time, cloud-based, mobile platform. Franchisees can work with franchisors to translate brand best practices—literally to translate the language and figuratively to account for any cultural nuances. Those best practices can exist as a series of simple checklists that are easily disseminated to mobile devices via the cloud.  

Rather than requiring franchisees to call or email, franchisors can update store conditions and communicate concerns in real time. They can also upload a photo or video to illustrate exactly what’s happening in their stores. A platform like Zenput also enables franchisors to set up different levels of alerts.

For instance, a senior manager at the franchisee development company may be alerted to key maintenance issues, which the parent company can’t easily resolve in real time. But if the franchisee reports that key materials, such as signage and branded store elements, never arrived via shipment, then managers at the parent company could act. The parent may also want to be alerted to any food safety concerns at the store level and to track the follow-up process.

The best way to find out if this platform is right for your organization is to try it yourself.

Check out some of Zenput’s mobile forms that may be helpful to global franchisors:

Food Quality Evaluation Form

Restaurant Food Safety

Restaurant Customer Service Evaluation

Restaurant Scheduling and Procedures

To learn more about how Zenput helps restaurants, click here.

Topics: Franchise, brand standards