Progress in Integration, Managing Sites, and Web Browser Demands

Technology companies have always searched for a way to integrate functions in various devices or programs. The advantages to a provider are obvious: more functions mean more charges that can be made, or greater customer loyalty.

The latter has been questionable. Cell phone providers are finding that loading lots of programs onto them leads to "function fatigue" - customers are unable to remember what the phones can do and how to do it, leading to frustration.

Electronics consumers have resisted multiple - function remote control devices often for the same reason, and no one has yet come up with the perfect device.

In a business setting, the computer has been the most successful multifunction device - quite often at the expense of ease of use.

Interestingly the web has become the ultimate integration device - storage, programs, communications, content have all found an interactive home there. And it's relatively easy to use and access.

Now IFX Online and Franchise Payments Network have integrated two functions that are important to the franchise community: online ordering and reporting, combined with online payment.

IFX Online, which develops and hosts Intranet and Extranet systems for more than 190 franchise concepts internationally, provides sales and royalty reporting, financial data analysis, franchise lead management, as well as online ad creation systems and web site development/hosting services for individual franchise owners. Meanwhile, FPN specializes in technology that helps streamline the purchasing process, combining the buying power of all of its clients to achieve a more cost - effective solution.

The combination will allow franchisees to review and order unlimited products, and pay online by credit card or automatic clearing. This solution alleviates risk to vendors, which may encourage them to give franchisees increased wholesale discounts.

"This partnership makes ordering products easier, more cost - effective and less stressful for franchisees, vendors, and franchisors," says Tom Epstein, president and CEO of FPN. "Our payments are made in real time which enables the franchisor to get their payments quicker and increases cash flow. Gone are the days of mailing out invoices and waiting for a check in the mail."

One rather nice aspect of the combined programs is that the franchisor can track franchisee purchasing patterns, compare the data and create metrics that can ensure that franchisees don't overspend, or order too much or too little of a product.

IFX president Dan Martin calls the combination "a win - win for everyone involved."

Managing scattered work sites

The web's reach has made it a natural for delivering content, but the drawbacks are well known now. Not only is a huge amount of the "information" available bogus or hearsay, but there are more dangers than we like to think about - viruses, spyware, phishing schemes, worms, root kits, and more probably on the way.

Add to that the difficulties of managing locations all over the map - updating applications, and making sure that virus and spyware protections are current and functioning, and that data is backed up regularly.

Midas and other franchises are turning to Everdream, a company that provides desktop management in as automated a fashion as probably can be done. Users simply log on to the Midas "purchasing portal" to up for the services, giving them essentially the same protection for their systems as chain stores that provide a dedicated IT department.

"The knowledge and the software services necessary to drive 100 percent patch compliance and virus protection is critical, ensuring that our network is secure," says Bennett Cikoch, vice president of IT for Midas. "In addition, Midas can deliver updates to our franchises' point - of - sale applications without requiring CD mailings, onsite visits and overall help desk demands."

With worldwide headquarters in Fremont, California and operational facilities in Dallas, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, Everdream manages more than 140,000 desktops for companies in 60+ countries around the globe, including ADP, Brocade Communications, Korean Airlines, Midas,, Sonic Automotive, Sylvan Learning Centers, among others.

What does a web browser want?

Web users are impatient - that's getting to be a cliché these days, but it does lead to some important conclusions about how you approach those potential (or existing) customers. A new book by web marketing expert Gerry McGovern, Killer Web Content, suggests that you have to grab a user in as little as 10 seconds.

He argues that you need to look for the words that attract your customers and get rid of the ones that don't. That requires knowing your customers and making the content of your web site use those words (he calls them "customer care words"). Conversely, remove the words your customers hate.

McGovern is not a fan of focus groups. Customers don't do what they say they do in a survey. And most of them go so fast through web sites that they are actually depending on subconscious clues. Changing the text in a button from "Click to qualify - it's free" to "Am I eligible? Find Out Instantly" resulted in a 40 percent increase in people clicking on the button on one web site.

We all know that companies like to present the best side of themselves, and they'll use the terms on their web site that they like to think appeal to customers. A favorite is using "value" to suggest that prices are lower, when customers are really going to skip that, and focus on "cheap." The airline industry, he says, likes to use "low fares", but customers are many times more likely to click on "cheap flights."

So, you can offer a browser your content, but if she gets a whiff of pretension, she's gone.

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