Zipcast Episode 9: How Franchises Use Texting for Growth and Brand Consistency

Franchises have eagerly adopted business texting and use it effectively to increase customer engagement, from scheduling appointments, signing up class participants and reducing no-shows via reminder texts to running marketing promotions and answering commonly asked questions through keyword-triggered Auto-Replies.

Host Scott Heimes recently sat down with Tim Johnson, head of franchise development at Zipwhip, to discuss how franchises have evolved their communication strategies from simply talking to customers to now collaborating with them. While social media plays an important role in helping businesses reach a larger audience, Tim maintains that not everyone wants to communicate in a public forum. Zipwhip’s texting software allows customers to enjoy the confidentiality and convenience of two-way communication while enabling franchise owners to maintain a consistent brand image.

Listen to the full conversation below:

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Full transcript:

Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends in texting for business, customer communication strategies and technology. I am your host Scott Heimes, Chief Marketing Officer at Zipwhip and thanks for tuning in.

Today I am talking with Tim Johnson. Tim has a long history in the franchising business, and now he’s the Head of Franchise Development here at Zipwhip. Everyday Tim helps franchises with their unique customer communication challenges and opportunities. Even if you are not in the franchise space, some of Tim’s ideas and advice might just inspire your own communication strategy. Stick around.

All right. So, Tim, tell us what brought you to Zipwhip.

Tim Johnson: Thanks for asking and actually Scott, the process started a little over a year ago. Consumers were all texting, no one was answering their phones, responding with emails on a timely fashion so I started researching text companies. Lo and behold, I came across Zipwhip, and through one of my conversations was able to share how the franchising ecosystem worked with their co-founder John Larson. And then about a year later, out of the blue, December 2018 John called and asked if I could come up to Seattle and share with the executive staff what I shared with him. It turned out they have done some pretty significant data analysis, were working with a couple thousand franchisees as well as a few dozen of the concepts brands.

The opportunity was pretty obvious, joining them to educate franchisors, how to reach customers more effectively, enhance lead generation funnel and better communicate with their franchisees. Very happy to be here.

Scott Heimes: Got it. So how come we know so much about franchises? What’s your background?

Tim Johnson: I did stumble into it, which I think is how most people get there. I stumbled into it back in 2006, and I joined the company that turned out they were going to launch a franchise system. Wanted me to kind of oversee the technology, the marketing, and ultimately the development/sales of new franchisees. Through that process I saw just a massive void in the technology they were using to help these potential franchisees make an educated decision and write them the big check they need to. Franchisors at the same time needed to be able to effectively determine if the candidate was a good fit for the system. So I said well it seems like as good a time as any. So, I scoped out and sketched kind of the ideal awarding process, the experience and part of the company out of New Zealand actually had it developed. That software became Process Peak, and I launched the company back in 2008. If we fast forward to December 2015 after helping about 150+ brands literately blue print their discovery process launching the software, I sold the company to FranConnect. So, that’s how I got in.

Scott Heimes: FranConnect today is one of the leading CRMs for franchises, is that right?

Tim Johnson: That is correct. You can call them the leading. They are pretty much head and shoulders above when it comes to a brand count and actual franchisees leveraging their Skype platform.

Scott Heimes: Over the years that you were in the franchise world, how has communications changed in general over the last 10 years or so?

Tim Johnson: It has changed obviously with some more than others, but it’s evolved from communicating to, and I emphasize to, franchisees and customers to trying to collaborate with them, which is a big word but it means a lot. A lot of that was driven by Facebook. They just taught people that listen, “You don’t want to talk at them you want to talk with them.” They literally changed that traditional behavior. But in the end not everyone wants to communicate in a public forum. Progressive highly connected brands embrace that and they’re trying to solve the dilemma that consumers don’t want to answer phones and respond to emails and that pretty much tees it up to texting.

Scott Heimes: The communication with customers at a franchise system has a lot of challenges and opportunities associated with it. What are some of the ones that are unique to franchises?

Tim Johnson: As far as unique to franchises, I think that everybody knows it’s not a secret that people, they no longer open or read emails, they don’t answer phone calls from non-familiar numbers. Return phone calls from voicemails has always been a challenge. So really managing franchisee brand communications and delivering it consistent on brand experience is an ever present challenge for all of them. What’s nice, is that texting for business offers a new communication solution for franchises and, most of them aren’t currently aware of it. The real opportunity with this, is the opportunity to blue print this recurring communications, the workflows that scale and get your customers to reach out to you, and initiate conversations via text. It’s not always a responsive means, they are the ones that are texting, why don’t you invite them to text you? I think that is still the greatest opportunity that we have.

Scott Heimes: That makes a lot of sense. How about on the strategy side? What are some of the strategies that you are seeing franchises implement to respond to today’s challenges around communicating with customers?

Tim Johnson: Right. [inaudible 00:05:30] good, and again, it varies across the board. I see a progressive brands they’re still using a combination of phone and email because you can’t abandon it. But there are certain corporate texts to engage customers who really communicate via their preferred method, because that’s how they want to communicate. I’d like to think it is more pervasive than it is. Business [inaudible 00:05:53] is an innovate way the forward thinking systems are exploring how to reach more customers more quickly. There’s nobody that doubts that it works. It is just how do I go about it? The franchise concepts that have membership models, they’re certainly some of the early, and most pervasive adopters of business texting because they use it both to acquire customers, during the sales process, but also to retain and serve them post subscription. It is a very high text business. A good way to assess your system is to say, “How am I texting them today, how can I text them more efficiently on the franchisee part for more effectively, if we are talking end user concern.”

Scott Heimes: That makes sense. My understanding of franchise systems or the franchisors is that they typically want to try and control and manage the communication strategies for their franchisees in the system. How does business texting fit into this concept of a centralized communication model?

Tim Johnson: Right. So, the whole idea of controlling and managing communication is kind of the essence of the value of the brand. Them making sure, that we all do things in a uniform fashion is critical to the success of the brand. The key with anything as core as communication is, is to blue print the existing communication. This is how we use the phone, this is how we use email and then say okay, “What if we can text? What if we have business texting, and we can put in the approved brand content? We can build the associated templates. You put it on our local online presences.” That is really going to be key to maintaining that control. And then the next step once you do that, a best practice based user guide for franchisees on how to acquire new customers, how to deliver that consistent experience to their existing ones, and using two way texting on the same number they call you on. There is no short [inaudible 00:07:44], there’s no strange numbers. We’ve got a phone there, let’s call on it, let’s text on it.

Scott Heimes: Just makes a ton of sense for franchises. There are so many great use cases. Tell us about a couple of them that you’ve experienced in franchise systems for business texting.

Tim Johnson: You hit it. There are so many great use cases just because business texting. Unless you’re not communicating, it works. Many franchises are using it for core, it’s just the core for customer service, responding to questions, reminding customers about appointments, alert them of changes to a service, to a class. Similar to how they run their own system. Right? Because these are real time communications and it’s pertinent they get them out.

The other use is that, this is not as widely adopted, but the ones that do completely understand it, is in sales and marketing, including incorporating reminders in your advertising, you can call or text this number to reach us. Just that alone will expand the audience of people that are going to engage with you, or communicate to customers and prospects about upcoming events special offers. Anything that is fresh, that’s relevant. The key is that it is relevant. It’s not meant to be a generic form of communication.

One of the greatest uses of text, is something that… I’ll tell you that all brands have struggled with it at least in my lifetime, is internal communications. Efficiently and effectively reaching franchisees and do it via their preferred medium, which is a cell phone. We’ve got some great apps now, we’ve got some great internet, but if you want to get ahold of them, you know what? Get them on the cell phone. It’s something that because of the way the systems are built, you can effectively roll that out. You’re not going to be sending them messages every day, but they know when they get it, and it’s real time, and it’s important and let’s take action.

Scott Heimes: We’ve got several thousand franchisees using our solution today and obviously in your experience in the franchise market, you’ve seen a bunch more. Any franchises come to mind that are doing business texting particularly well?

Tim Johnson: It’s kind of an interesting question because as far as franchise systems go, there aren’t a great many, other than on the operational side, with some alerts that have really embraced it. What I can tell you is that, we’ve got so many franchise customers, using our product that I’d say, they’re using it well for them, meaning that they have taken it upon themselves to reach out and seek a solution. Whatever drove them to do that, they are now doing it and it is working well for them. Again the membership focus franchises, [Jim Jodus Studios 00:10:15], they use it to both acquire and retain. Lots of alerts, reminders. Customers love it. Customers love the option to be able to communicate via texts.

Another one that comes to mind is all of your service base concepts. Focus franchises like Lawn Care Service, Hood Healthcare. There is an ongoing very personal communication or a pre-communication that, “I’m going to let you know, that I’m going to be there at 9, I’m going to let you know I put the dog in the house”. We were working with caregivers, with on the recruiting front and staying in the know front for the people who are providing care for. Again the pre-communication, the post communication, how was the satisfaction of it? And then in special instructions to set expectation for what is in the future. Those are all really important in their core to what you are doing today with a great deal of these service companies.

Education franchises, I mean, we probably got pushed in a thousand of those. Anybody that is using swim, anybody that is using classes, where it is important to communicate schedules, time with parents, ultimately even sometimes students. Here is the curriculum, here’s what we are going to be studying, here is a reminder for the next class, sorry we are closed today the storm came through. There are so many great applications when you just think about how we communicated today, and how we can be more effective with texting.

Scott Heimes: Its exciting that there is so much momentum for texting for business in the franchise world. There are always concerns. What are some of the concerns that franchises express about texting customers and how do you address those.

Tim Johnson: This is a great one, and it hits home with a lot of them, because we all fear what we don’t understand. I think the key is that we really, the TCPA requirements are very straightforward, and to follow those is not a difficult task, or I think once you understand that, then it’s a matter of applying the real world, which is, no one wants to receive an unexpected text from a stranger.

Franchisees need to set the expectations with the customers, and they must get them to opt in to receive these texts. Just ask the question and get a confirmation. The ideal way to do it, is have them initiate the conversation. A good rule of thumb is, if the text is going to surprise somebody, it’s not a good text.

Again, there are lots of ways to do it, but the most effective one is to invite them to initiate the conversation because why? Because, it’s their preferred means of communicating today. But it is something that is real, it needs to be addressed, and it’s something that you want take up with any provider to say, “How can you give me peace of mind and assurance that I can understand that we are complying with these rules?” The key is understanding them, and they are pretty straight forward.

Scott Heimes: That’s great advice. Tim, what are some of the specific benefits from a customer satisfaction perspective that you see franchises having with business texting?

Tim Johnson: The biggest one, that’s actually the most obvious and I can share with you, I’ve been around the block a couple times and I’ve never seen one where the actual user of the software as such a raving fan, and the word that comes from is not because we put them through some big ROI machine, it’s because there’s significant time savings, with everything that they do, with delivering their customers, what they want` when they want it.

And by that, I mean, if I really want to get something, I can’t send it to you in an email and I really can’t call you because you’re not going to answer. So just the time savings, we’ve gotten them saving hours a day versus calling out with reminders, leaving voicemails, having people call them after hours, leaving voicemails.

So the time saving was just really hit home. It’s home with them. A lot of times it’s hard to quantify the ROI for the franchisor level, but believe you me, it’s real. So the next biggest one is just via proving the conversion rates. So regardless of how you generate an inbound if you will, for your service or your product, by being able to integrate a texting component to it, you’re going to increase in at the top of the funnel because you now have allowed somebody to not have to call you and talk to you on the phone to initiate that.

But as we massage them through whatever our sales process is, instead of just relying on the phone, the email, we can use text to complement that and keep the conversation real. And the biggest thing is it just delivers a far more efficient and personal customer experience with the brand. And those are just some that immediately come to mind. But the key is you got to own it, you got to want it, you got to understand it, you got to own the brand, and empower them to execute on it.

Scott Heimes: What are some of the ways that franchises could be more innovative around business texting? What are they not doing yet, that you think that they could or should be doing?

Tim Johnson: Well, I think the one that stands out probably the most, more than anything would just be straight automation. And I don’t mean automation like bots. What I mean is automation of common things that you’re doing and how could it be enhanced if we were able to generate responses that we anticipated, and then flow into a user friendly conversation.

So our tool out for basic texting automation, to be incorporated in the franchise as far as your communication plan. So, normally we engage the customer or prospect that we kind of know what we’re going to do, right? We know what we’re trying to accomplish when we go into the conversation. So there’s lots of ways that we can leverage the tool to, again, keep it personal, but not make it to where we’ve got to hold their hand throughout the entire process.

For example, franchises they can leverage, a keyword tool or in some cases even our APIs to programmatically deliver pre-written responses, when customers text certain keywords through the franchise business phone number.

So this happens all the time. And then we understand why people are calling, we call them FAQs we put them on our website, and we have people standing by to answer. But what if we can answer via automation using these keywords. They can respond with the hours, they could respond to the keyword coupons and deliver those coupons out. If we had special events, we could summarize those. We can send them links to things, whether it be directions to our facility or special events that are coming. So the key is, you know what you’re trying to communicate with these customers. The automation of how you can build that into texting, is going to be a fabulous thing that you could bring your system and you’re whole communication strategy.

Scott Heimes: So, Tim, we’ve talked about so many different strategies and objectives and challenges and opportunities for franchises to use business for texting as part of their communication plan. Any final tips you’d have for considering this new communication tools as part of their business operating model?

Tim Johnson: Sure. Well, you kind of hit it on the head though, Scott. It is their business operating model and as with anything that’s going to be core to your business, you want to make sure that when you’re vetting these folks, they’ve got the infrastructure, the technology prowess and the franchise expertise to help you create not just a business texting strategy, but in adoption strategies to try and execute this with your franchisees.

And they got to build a measure, and they got to be able to refine it. And you’ve got to make sure they’ve got a proven track record, which doesn’t always go without saying. And they’ve got… It requires sufficient financial backing and the ability to scale, because texting is growing every single day and the consumer is driving it. So this business is going to continue doing more and you’ve got to have somebody that’s at the forefront of that, and make it happen. I mean, your customers are communicating with your franchisees via texting every day. You’re not reaching as many customers as you could be, without a texting program.

Then my final thing that I’d like to add is, as you’re listening to this, your franchisees, they’re already texting in some capacity, I can promise you that. Unfortunately they used the provider you haven’t heard of, sending communications you’ve not approved. And the only worse is that they’re using their personal cell phone, which I can tell you from speaking to them daily is happening

But I appreciate the opportunity to sharing, and thanks for having me on, Scott.

Scott Heimes: Thanks so much for joining us on the Zipcast and we really appreciate it.

Tim Johnson: My pleasure.

Scott Heimes: Thanks for joining us. Make sure you subscribe to the Zipcast on apple podcasts or wherever you listen. So you get the latest episodes and feel free to text us with topics you’d like to hear about or other feedback for the show. Just text 206 582 3740 anytime of the day.

Until next time.

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