Owning a successful franchise can be a very satisfying experience, but also is filled with challenges. You only have so much freedom to experiment with your own management approach because you’re ultimately expected to duplicate a consistently enjoyable experience to the customer.
Customers who love Starbucks coffee expect to find the high standard of coffee freshness, whether they’re in Seattle or New York City. Someone who is having a “Big Mac Attack” expects to find their hamburger complete with the special sauce at any McDonald’s they visit. A bucket of KFC chicken should taste the same whether it’s bought in Kentucky or Idaho.
Firehouse Subs is a sub restaurant chain that currently has over 400 locations in the United States. Two firemen started the business in 1994 and I discovered them while living in North Carolina from 1995 – 2000. I immediately fell in love with their delicious, hot sub sandwiches. Not only were their meats succulent, they didn’t skimp on the portions. I can appreciate a good sub just as any burly fireman and the restaurant quickly became one of my favorites.
Just recently, several Firehouse Sub franchises opened up in Columbus, Ohio. I was thrilled! Finally, we had a quality sub chain in town!
However, I don’t remember being as irritated by a lack of basic customer service as I’ve been with our local Firehouse Subs.
This particular location has been open for about seven months. This should be plenty of time to get a crew on board with expectations. However, they’re still acting as though it’s their second day on the job. I’ve been to the restaurant three times and each time, there was a customer service “fail.”
- The first time, it took a nine-person staff over ten minutes to deliver the sub. The restaurant was two-thirds full.
- The second time, I visited with my husband waiting for me in the car. I was told that they ran out of a popular sub (Which of course was the one my husband requested.). It was 8:30 PM on a Thursday night. To the manager’s credit, he gave me a card for a free drink and chips. Wait time was still very slow.
- The third time was today, which tipped the scales against them. If a restaurant has information on the back of their take-out menus that clearly designates a “carry-out” number, then answer the phone and anticipate that yes, people are going to try to call ahead to place their order.
I tried to do that today and was met with an unbelievable lack of response. The first time I called, the guy answered and asked if he could put me on hold. (Who ever says, “No! Don’t do it!”?) I said yes, and then heard him put the phone down (as opposed to placing someone on hold) and then listened as he took the order of five other customers. I waited five minutes and then hung up. I called again. The phone rang 15 times and no one answered. I couldn’t believe it, so I called again. This time I allowed it to ring even longer: 25 times and again, no answer.
By this time, I was very frustrated. So I took my complaint to where I thought I’d get a response: Twitter. Here are my tweets:
(Yes, I have a typo in that one. I usually delete them but kept this one. I was definitely ranting.)
I then later tweeted the name of the business and location, and then wondered how you could have eight people working behind a counter but no one could answer the phone?
I decided to head to the location and place the order in person, which is not what I wanted to do since I didn’t want to wait that long for my order. When I arrived, I counted 9 staff and interestingly enough, no line. I placed my order and decided to clock their response, just to see how long it took to complete my order. I was pleasantly surprised that it only took two minutes.
But still, with such spotty customer service, it’s tough to imagine it a regular lunch destination.
What is even more amazing is that after I sent those updates on Twitter, I did not receive one response from Firehouse Subs. Obviously, their marketing department isn’t monitoring tweets about their own business.
When monitoring Twitter, set a search for your business name, not just the @BusinessName tag. There may be many people talking about your business but haven’t followed your Twitter account. (And if someone is irritated, there is little chance they want to follow you.) Twitter provides a great opportunity to capture customer loyalty and re-capture someone if they have had a frustrating experience with your company. Many start-ups built a loyal customer base by being responsive to customer issues that appeared on Twitter.
So take a tip from this experience: Monitor your Twitter company account by creating a search for your company’s name and offering. For instance, Firehouse Subs should have searches for “Firehouse Subs,” and “Subs” as well as the hashtags used for food so they can dialogue with current customers and potential ones.
That way, you can put out your “fires” without burning your reputation.