Selling franchises isn't what it was years ago. Although referral networks and franchise brokers are still very viable lead generation channels, a new source has taken the top spot. According to Franchise Update’s 2014 Annual Franchise Development report:
“The internet - at 42 percent - continues to dominate as the top source for franchise sales, identical with last year.”
Taking a closer look at the research, the statistics show other online sources like ad portals are actually losing out to organic traffic. In other words, more people are using Google to find franchise opportunities based on specific search criteria rather than navigating through hundreds of listings on web portals.
Why the shift in behavior online?
Simply put, people are tired of looking at ads and selling sheets. They want valuable content that actually helps them understand the franchise opportunity in more ways than one.
However, when people take to search engines looking for a franchise like yours, search results pull up much more than just your website.
News articles, local franchisee websites, and social media pages are all typically high-ranking search results for those looking for opportunities online, but one in particular has become perhaps the most persuasive and influential factors that can make or break your reputation in the eyes of a prospect: online review websites.
Let’s explore why these are so important to your brand and what you can do to make sure you’re managing your franchise’s reputation effectively.
A new place to voice customer opinions publicly
Years ago, when customers had a poor experience with a business, the only people who heard about it were friends and family. Not a big deal, right?
Today, things are very different. With review websites visible to virtually anyone who’s looking, it only takes one or two poor reviews to tarnish your brand and ultimately convince prospects your opportunity isn’t worth the trouble.
Google knows people are actively looking for online reviews, which is exactly why they’ll frequently show up on the first or second page of search engine results even if the user didn’t enter review-specific keywords.
If Google is displaying a poor review in search results, it can make for an underwhelming first impression:
See what I mean? Two stars isn't much to brag about.
Whether online reviews for your franchisees are good or bad, being prepared to manage your reputation when poor experiences get reported is extremely important to your bottom line.
Communicating standards and creating a reputation management plan to implement with your franchisees ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to how to handle reviews. Over time, the review profile of your individual franchises and overall brand will be trending upwards.
Let’s explore some simple ways to effectively manage online franchise reputation:
1. Be aware of what is being said about you and your franchisees
If you’ve rolled your eyes at places like Google Reviews or Yelp in the past, you need to start paying attention now.
Try running a search on your own business in incognito mode to get the most objective list of search results you can.
The first two pages will give you a good sense of what most franchise prospects are looking at when they look you up. If customer reviews appear, managing them is an absolute must, especially if these reviews are poor.
2. Don't overreact if the outlook isn't good
If you’re reading bad reviews for the first time, it can be a frustrating experience given the fact that it’s very difficult and often impossible to get bad reviews removed.
With this in mind, if you do run across a negative review, it’s best to come up with a strategy for dealing with it the best you can. Fortunately, most review sites give businesses the opportunity to “claim” or “unlock” their profiles by proving you are indeed the owner of the business. Once you’re in control, you can issue responses to any review you’d like.
Here’s an example of a pie company addressing a customer’s concern tastefully:
Source: Google Maps
When it comes to writing great responses here are some important tips:
- Don’t simply copy and paste a generic response to each review. Take the time to address the specific problems each customer cites in their review. This shows everyone you genuinely care about the experience you’re providing and you took the time to read through it completely.
- Never respond to negativity with more negativity. Venting your frustration by refuting a customer’s claims only displays a stubborn attitude to prospects and customers alike, which almost always causes more damage than it fixes.
- Avoid offering complimentary services publicly. Not only is this against the private policy agreements of some review sites, it actually rewards people for leaving bad reviews since they know they’ll get a free offer as consolation. Keep the message focused how you'll solve the problem they experienced.
- Get proactive. Ask satisfied customers to voice their appreciation. Whether you need to deal with negative reviews or not, a flood of good reviews can make a huge difference to your reputation.
Whether it’s signage in your stores, a badge embedded on your website, or a friendly recommendation by a franchisee, it’s perfectly acceptable to let your customers know you value them spreading the good word to others about their experience with you.
What's the bottom line here? Your brand is more than you make it. Be sure you're not turning serious buyers away with an online reputation that leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth.