What’s the Difference Between Brand Standards Inspections and Direct Customer Feedback

We all know the McDonald’s golden arches; large, golden, usually mention over a billion served… it makes them hard to forget. But what if a McDonald’s franchisee decided they didn’t like gold and wanted green arches instead, or maybe blue? Suddenly, this franchisee wouldn’t fit with the McDonald’s brand, would it? It wouldn’t matter that the franchisee serves the same food and operates at the same level of customer service and cleanliness because the advertising wouldn’t make sense and consumers accustomed to the golden arches would have difficulty identifying with the brand. This results in the franchise losing customers, causing the brand to suffer as a whole.

Now, this is a relatively easy fix for McDonald’s headquarters. The clashing colours of the arches should be an immediate red flag, but issues with a business aren’t always as glaringly obvious as a wrongly designed sign. If you own a brand with provincial, national, or even international franchises, how do you keep your brand consistent across all store locations? The only way is with a brand standards inspection- an objective assessment of your business by a third party, such as a Mystery Shopper or a Safety Inspector, who ensures that it is living up to the standards you have set. A brand is an experience, and in order for your brand to be successful, this experience needs to be consistent no matter where your franchises are located. If the experience is not consistent then it diminishes the brand, confusing consumers and causing you to lose business. As cliché as it sounds, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if you aren’t keeping a close eye on how each link is performing then eventually things are going to fall apart. Not only will you lose customers, but what investor is going to sink money into a business that doesn’t monitor their own performance?

Recently, many businesses have confused brand standards inspections with direct customer feedback. I want it to be made clear that although direct customer feedback is irreplaceably important to running a business, it is a different form of assessment than a brand standards inspection and collects an entirely different type of data. Direct customer feedback assesses the customer’s experience with your business, while a brand standards inspection assesses how the business is performing internally. It’s the difference between looking at the outside of a newly renovated house and thinking “wow, that’s beautiful,” while inside there are exposed wires, stripped floors, and disconnected pipes. If, for instance, you have two franchisees and one is generating a larger profit than the other, but both locations are garnering positive customer feedback, then what’s causing this difference in profit generation? The customer isn’t going to be able to tell you. It’s likely caused by something so inconspicuous that neither the customers nor staff notice, such as one franchisee taking two minutes to serve food while the other takes five, or salespeople at one store upselling while the other does not. Measuring these standards and keeping them consistent is what defines a successful brand. Customers can’t give you the detailed insight concerning the specific standards that make up your business.  You need an objective party, acquainted with your standards, to do that. Such minor aspects of a business may seem trivial and won’t register with customer feedback, but they do have an impact on your profit and the long term strength and success of the brand.

I won’t argue with a saying as time-tested as “the customer is always right”, but that doesn’t mean the customer can manage your business.  Whether you’re a large, international brand or a small business, success is defined by providing a good and consistent experience, offering the customer that slice of familiarity and accountability no matter how far from home they are.  If you rely too heavily on customer feedback you’ll overlook the things that make your brand… your brand.

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