Mystery Shopping Annual study finds old problems and new solutions
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Mystery Shopping Annual study finds old problems and new solutions

Mystery Shopping  Annual study finds old problems and new solutions

Thanks to automation, sophisticated digital marketing strategies, and a slew of communication channels, it’s never been easier—and somehow harder—to connect with franchise prospects.

Rising above the competitive noise requires both a tech-forward franchise development process to reach and engage with the right candidates, and authentic one-on-one conversations that can lead to signings.

However, with so many digital tools available, it’s easy to move away from the time-tested practices that can seal a franchise deal. Don’t, advises Art Coley, CEO of CGI Franchise. “Go back to the basics,” he says. “They won’t let you down.”

Getting back to the basics was one of the messages that resonated from the mystery shopping exercise carried out for the franchise brands that pre-registered for the 2022 Franchise Leadership & Development Conference this October in Atlanta.

Coley was joined by fellow mystery shoppers Jayson Pearl of ServiceScore, Scorpion’s Gabriella Ferrara and Jordan Wilson, Social Geek Radio’s Jack Monson, and Michelle Rowan of Franchise Business Review.

The pro panel covered all things franchise recruitment, evaluating the development process by calling brands directly, submitting an online form, reviewing the effectiveness of franchise development websites and use of social media, and gauging franchisee satisfaction compared with the overall industry.

Below, we share the results and top takeaways of the 2022 franchise recruitment best practices review, along with observations and advice for improvement.

Telephone shop

Veteran mystery shoppers Coley, Jenny Langfeld, and the team at CGI Franchise were charged with evaluating brands’ response to telephone inquiries, posing as “Katy Walker,” a profile they created of a “perfect” candidate ready to speak with someone about franchise ownership.

Calls were placed between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (CST), with three follow-up attempts. Participating brands could score up to 40 points based on their initial response, the information they provided, effective follow-up, and overall responsiveness.

Nearly 30% (39 of 135 participating brands) had a short shelf life in the telephone shop: there was no phone number listed on their franchise development website, just a fillable inquiry form. Based on their phone calling, Coley and his team found the following:

  • Roughly 30% of franchises—a mix of established and newer brands—did not respond to the mystery shopper’s call… at all.
  • Overall response times were slow and varied throughout the process, suggesting recruiters screened calls first or were busy with something else.
  • Most brands ultimately called back, but only a handful of franchise representatives answered the first call.
  • The lack of texting used to communicate was surprising: only 14 brands responded with a text.
  • Poor follow-up continues in the franchise development process. Voicemail messages left with 39 brands were never returned.

The good news here is that brand representatives who did respond to the telephone shop were extremely informative, regardless of their position. Recruiters and franchise development managers were professional, knowledgeable about their process, and well-versed in providing the information prospects look for when researching a brand.

Still, the lack of a personal touch up front continues in the initial stages of franchise development. The number of franchisors that removed a designated phone number from their website jumped significantly, from 12% in 2021 to 29% in 2022. Instead, they required the mystery shopper to complete an online form before receiving a phone number.

Picking up the phone to learn more about a franchise remains a go-to method for many prospects. Coley encourages franchise recruitment teams to return the telephone to its rightful place in their brand’s recruitment arsenal. Other tried-and-true recommendations include simply answering the phone, following up as quickly as possible, reaching out more than one way through phone, text, or email, and staying engaged through all steps in the process.

“Follow-up is the key to recruitment,” says Coley. “It’s the top item if you want to succeed.”

Website inquiry submission 

Jayson Pearl, president of ServiceScore, analyzed website responsiveness and the overall job performance of franchise brands in the follow-up phase of online leads submitted through the portal. As in 2021, 55% of the franchise brands that received the website submission contacted Pearl, but this year’s group took longer to respond:

  • 38% called back within 24 hours, compared with 44% in 2021
  • 27% called back within 4 hours, compared with 34% in 2021
  • 21% with a scheduled call meeting failed to show up for the call, compared with 12% in 2021

Overall, 88% of franchisors responded to the mystery shopper’s online inquiry by email or text, up slightly from 86% in 2021. Automation can be essential in the franchise development process, but the findings revealed that brands may rely too much on technology during this early stage in the sales funnel.

“We have great tools today. If they are used well, they can take the friction out of the process,” says Pearl. “But things can go awry if you don’t have the human aspect in place to manage and monitor them. You never know the best way people want to reach out or conveniently respond. Include it all, or you’ll miss some opportunities.”

Returning a phone call is not the end-all of telephone follow-up. In addition to lead qualification, it’s prime time to share what sets your brand apart from the competition. In this year’s mystery shop, only 23% of brands called back within 24 hours and shared at least one differentiator.

“You want to call back right away and give somebody a reason they should choose your brand over somebody else,” says Pearl. “Those are probably the two things with the most impact in franchise development. If you get those two right, you’re going to be best in class.”

Website shop

When it comes to franchise development websites, first impressions count. Scorpion’s Jordan Wilson and Gabriella Ferrara measured the recruitment websites of 135 franchisors. They looked for optimized core features, usability, and the quality and visual interest of key content in areas such as benefits, FAQs, investment chart, requirements, lead forms, and an available territories map. Observations based on Scorpion’s website shopping include the following:

  • Brands increasingly used their website to inform and educate prospects with quality content ranging from investment requirements to the benefits of being a franchisee.
  • Improvements also were seen that made it easier for franchisees to find due diligence information. Outlining the award process promotes brand transparency to ensure the right fit with potential prospects who understand what they are getting into with franchise ownership.

While brands are doing a better job providing quality information, more opportunities exist to educate and open the door for increased conversation and conversion. Among them are investment charts, earnings claims, and a chat feature.

  • Investment charts were included by roughly half (66 of 135) of the brands shopped. This information can help engage qualified prospects by helping them to understand your brand’s investment requirements.
  • Only 40 brands (30%) included earnings claims. More candidates are searching for business opportunities where they can make the most money. Including information on potential earnings in the FAQ section or elsewhere on your website allows prospects to see their income possibilities.
  • Only 13 brands included an online chat feature, an easy way to communicate with prospects.

Prospects head to websites to learn more about a brand and explore its fit with their personal and financial goals. That’s why it’s vital to give them the information they’re looking for, says Wilson, Scorpion’s senior vice president of franchise sales.

“The website is the first date—it’s the first impression,” he says. “It tells the prospect very quickly what to expect from the brand. If it’s organized, updated, and seamless, you’re a step above the competition. If it’s dated, confusing, or all over the place, it’s hard to battle back after that impression.”

The bottom line, says the Scorpion team, is that seamless, easy-to-access, highly informative websites with a quick and up-front call to action win.

Social media

Even with constant platform changes and increasing privacy hurdles, social media remains a cornerstone of digital marketing, as well as the best bang for your franchise development buck to boost brand awareness, says Jack Monson, CEO and host of Social Geek Radio.

Monson examined the social media strategies of participating brands on Facebook and Instagram, particularly in the area of paid ads posted in September 2022. Franchisors earned best practices points for the following:

  • Running ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger
  • Video ads
  • Content specific to the target audience
  • Ads that corresponded with a landing page/website
  • The use of retargeting ads after a website visit
  • Organic posts 3 times per week or more

Based on his research, Monson made the following observations:

  • Only 24% of brands surveyed ran ads on Facebook or Instagram, down slightly from 27% in 2021.
  • The quality, creativity, and messaging of ad content have improved. 
  • More brands are running multiple ads targeting specific audiences.
  • Fewer brands are taking advantage of retargeted ads than last year, but those that do presented shoppers with “many great ads and scored highest,” says Monson.

“If you’re not running ads, start,” he says. “You will instantly be ahead of nearly 75% of other franchise brands.”

To up your social media game, Monson recommends the following best practices:

  • Run ads on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram 
  • Include a quality call to action, messaging, and content
  • Use video ads
  • Create content specific to your target audience
  • Ads should correspond with the brand’s landing page and website
  • Retarget with ads after a prospect visits the franchise website
  • Relationship-building organic posts 3 times per week or more

“Too many franchise development executives treat social media exactly like search and expect easily tracked return on ad spend,” says Monson. “But social media is first and foremost a brand awareness channel. Your franchise recruitment marketing works best with a blend where social media sets up your search, videos, and display advertising to succeed.”

Franchisee satisfaction 

Franchisee satisfaction and validation are crucial to the development and growth of any franchise system. We once again turned to Franchise Business Review (FBR) to gauge the temperature of the franchise partners of the conference’s participating brands.

FBR’s research covered 91 brands (Franchise Update Test Group) representing 62,965 business outlets. A total of 13,255 franchisees completed an independent survey, with the results compared against FBR’s franchise sector benchmark data, which represents more than 340 leading franchise brands.

Satisfaction was measured across the following key areas: training and support, franchise system, leadership, financial opportunity, franchisee community, self-evaluation (franchisee performance), and general overall satisfaction. Key findings include the following:

  • 85% enjoy being part of their franchise organization
  • 84% respect their franchisor
  • 82% would recommend their franchisor to others.

Overall, the 2022 Franchise Update Test group scored slightly lower than the industry benchmark: 68.9%, compared with the FBR Franchise sector benchmark of 70.3%.

Brands earned high marks for franchisee enjoyment, general satisfaction, franchisee community engagement, and the belief in the honesty and integrity of their franchisor. The Franchise Update Test Group scored lower when it came to effective use of technology, marketing and promotional programs, innovation and creativity, overall financial picture, and how well senior management involves franchisees in important decisions.

During validation, what franchises share can cement a brand’s value or break a deal. “People don’t want to be ‘sold’ anymore,” says FBR President and COO Michelle Rowan. “They want to find independent data supporting what your sales team is saying. They want to hear about the experience of others. Sharing feedback from your franchisees can set realistic expectations of what it is like to open and run the business,” she says.

Rowan says understanding and improving the satisfaction of current franchisees should take priority over money spent on recruiting and growing your franchise base. Unpacking franchisee satisfaction is a transparent way to help align both sides of the franchise brand equation to grow and position your brand for success much faster.

“How the franchisor prioritizes and navigates the complex relationship with franchisees can say a lot about what happens as you move through changes in the system. Franchisees won’t always be happy. Like all relationships, it will ebb and flow, but how you work through hard times is equally—if not more—important than how you cheer each other on,” says Rowan.

“In today’s world of data, you can’t rely on what your loudest franchisees say, anecdotal feedback from franchisees, and your gut on how things are going,” she says. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure. So just get started.”


Published: February 6th, 2023

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