Winning Customer Loyalty: Starts on the Front Line

The surest way to lose a good employee is to leave him or her up in the air about what the job is and how to do it.

When he does interviews with employees who have left a job, says Jett Mehta, who holds franchises for 15 Dunkin' Donuts, 5 Microtels, and 20 Ponderosas, "the one thing we hear is, 'The reason I'm leaving the job is because I never got any I just was never shown what to do and it's too stressful.' I really take that to heart. I've been that person."

Training that front line staff not only serves the customer but makes the staffer feel like an important part of the operation, encouraging her to give better service.

Says Mehta: "Without a doubt, I don't care how good your concept or location, you have to have a motivated and well trained staff."

Fortunately, savvy franchisees and franchisors know how valuable is. Ideally, they create a training regimen that blends the strengths of both operations. The franchisor side leans heavily on technology to provide the most information over the widest area, while franchisees make use of cross-training and hands-on help from especially capable associates.

Getting Off the Ground

Joe Giannetti is vice president of franchise services for Philadelphia-based Saladworks, which has 72 units and expects to be in the 200 range by 2010. Giannetti came to the company from a long history in the business, and specifically in training.

At Saladworks, he was dealing with a new company where there was no significant training regimen.

"I was really impressed with how these guys were really passionate, with clean, well run stores," he says. "It meant I had something to work with."

And there was work to be done. "The manuals were at least started, but the training program was literally the owner's mother training folks. I formalized everything and started the manual system, and we just finished a big revamp and update of that."

Saladworks brings new owners and managers in for the usual in-house training session. The company asks franchisees to bring their managers to those classes, and is planning to make it more like a university setup.

The reason, he says is that so many of Saladworks' franchisees are owners. "So one of the biggest challenges is from that one to several. You gotta make money making salads. Some of that does get down to the hourly level."
Now Giannetti is working on how-to videos to get information down to that hourly level: "When those are done we'll be putting them on the website. Somebody new can come in and see a video showing what to do for that particular shift."

But Giannetti knows that there's lots of room for growth, and not just in practical areas. "I want to get beyond how to cut a cucumber, and into how to help our culture along," he says. "Like any growing chain we're realizing communication was not our greatest strength. As you grow bigger, it's important to get that communication going. The manual system does have a team member training program. But our goal also is to be able to have these videos not only on line but in a DVD format so they can use that to train their folks."

The plans are to start with canned programs on leadership, but then depend on the owners to jump in with their own needs and ideas. That's already happening.

"If I had an unlimited budget, I would gear towards making the entire training program as much of a video show as possible. Kids today want to see pictures, short, boom boom boom. I would like to get it all down to almost like a video that would hold their interest."

Giannetti knows that his program has made a good start, but can use improvement.

"Don't ever stop improving and growing," he says.

Using the Web

As he looks down the road, Giannetti might take heart from what Carrollton, Texas-based FastSigns is doing. With close to 500 locations worldwide, FastSigns has made extensive use of Internet-based technologies to provide a variety of training opportunities. The company still has in-person training for new owners at the home office, but the new technologies are supplementing the formal classroom approach, says Heidi Pamplin, FastSign's director of training.

"We've gone from a four-week training here to one week in-store and two weeks here," she says. And training is being offered to more frontline people. "New owners now have to bring a customer service representative as well as a graphic designer to that training."

General managers are also welcome to new-owner training.

It is part of the position that "we want to touch more lives," says Pamplin. And that's where the Internet comes in. Offering seminars over the Web--Webinars to the initiated--means that there can be interaction almost on the level of a live seminar.

It started with training CSRs, because new owners needed a CSR at opening. "So we started a week-long webinar for that person--the have-to-know information to manage the front counter," she says. "We started that last year, and found that as the year progressed more and more of our existing stores wanted to use that as they had turnover and cross-training. Then we decided this was great stuff--last year we had 10 sessions, but turnover and cross training could occur any time, and they needed the training now. So we started recording these webinars."

The only disadvantage of recorded webinars is that there can't be the interaction possible with a live seminar--but recording allows time-shifting for international franchisees in Australia, for example. And these "attendees" can then email questions or comments for a later response.

This year, Pamplin has added webinars for graphic designers and outside sales people. Partly the technologies offered owners a way to get quality training at less expense. "We found that there were certain classes in these areas that were becoming less popular as far as someone being sent here to Dallas--cost was a factor," she says. "So we decided to try the webinars since the ones for CSRs went so well."

Like Giannetti, Pamplin says that you need a variety of methods to train people who learn differently. One method is e-learning: "bookmarked material on our intranet that people can access. That's ever-changing, depending on technology and what the needs are."

FastSigns also uses streaming videos--which is simpler than downloaded material, since they will work even on very different computer platforms.

But training by traditional methods--including manuals--still continues. Pamplin's staff will to locations when there are multiple units that need training or cross-training. Multi-unit owners who are trying to manage a large number of units or who want to step back from the day-to-day operations like the opportunities for cross training these sessions offer.

"In St. Louis we have a multi-store owner who took over an operation where there were a lot of best practices concepts that were not being used," she says. "He had a lot of challenges and things he wanted to do, so the training covered from point of sales systems to product knowledge."

Both Saladworks and FastSigns encourage owners to bring employees to the annual conventions--nothing like face-to-face with folks who have similar challenges.

Making the Most of Cross Training

Although Jett Mehta has multiple concepts as well as multiple they all fall under the general umbrella of hospitality, which makes cross training both practical and productive.

"It's natural," Mehta says. "Hospitality is and Lot of the same folks are interested in the same business. It's an easy match to take a waitress who would be comfortable working the hotel front desk. Someone in a kitchen maybe would not be as comfortable dealing with the public but he might be good in housekeeping. We've had lots of success with maintenance cross training."

Mehta, who has a lot of sympathy for the front line associate, remembers how it was at the beginning for him: "In my first I cleaned the rooms, worked the desk, handled maintenance, did the set up all the computers, did the P&Ls, and wrote the checks at night."

Now, he has developed a system for new employees.

"In the Microtel business we have a matrix in place," he says. "When we hire a front desk person, we have a set time they have to spend with the general manager, almost as if they were a customer going through the employee handbook. That makes it easy for a new team member. They have to have 80 hours of training before they are let loose on the desk."

At each of Mehta's locations, his staff identifies strong team members, and makes them in-store training people. When they are working at training, they'll earn an extra 50 cents or dollar.

And Mehta is a big believer in training his managers to appreciate the job that someone does.

"We place major emphasis on thanking a team member when they leave ror what they did that day," Mehta says. "I've been told at other jobs they never got thanked once. I think working the frontlines myself makes me aware of that."

Mehta is happy to have the complementary support of his franchisors, singling out Dunkin' Donuts for doing an outstanding job with its online e-learning system.

"You combine that with work behind the counter," he says. "They give you a a series of online demos, like how to make drinks, or the six steps of service. We set up a big chart, put everyone's name on it, and as you go through and watch them, you answer a series of questions, and, bingo, you pass, get checked off. That is probably the end-all."

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