Create A Case!
Tenured franchisees remember the good ol’ days, when communication between storeowners and SEI personnel—whether it was the field consultant, the merchandising staff, the audit department, the maintenance department, or clerks from the accounting department—was face-to-face, or at the very least voice-to-voice, via the telephone. This allowed for two-way communications and led to more complete understanding by both parties. Back then, franchisees and 7-Eleven employees knew each other and their families. There was truly a feeling of belonging to a community. Many franchisees would agree, however, that while this process was extremely satisfying, it was not cost effective.
In the late 1980s, SEI began a process of centralization that continues to this day, and franchisees could never have foreseen the result. It culminated, this past year, in the total concentration of every department—except market managers and field consultants—into the Store Support Center in Dallas. It has been reported that many SEI employees were terminated in favor of communication automation, because the new automated system promised a streamlined process to respond to questions, as well as quick replies with a communication trail. All one had to do was “create a case.”
To quote a line by the character Frank Shirley, the CEO from the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Sometimes things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks. I guess a healthy bottom line doesn’t mean much, if to get it you have to hurt the ones you depend on. It’s people that make the difference, little people like you.” Hopefully, franchisees have not become the little people.
To franchisees, this latest edition of centralized automation seems to make the process more important than the result. Franchisees can understand the need for thorough documentation to clearly communicate issues, but there is virtually no flexibility for emergency situations, particularly involving employee payroll.
Too often the answer franchisees routinely receive is: “Create a case!” These days, field consultants and market managers seem to focus more on their message of the week and less on solving the very real problems frustrating franchisees. While ideally franchisees want to concentrate on building sales, in reality they are distracted by repeated equipment breakdowns, the nuisance of the constant stream of altered or deleted promo master items, accounting errors and omissions, a revolving door of merchandising mistakes or product delays, improper setup information resulting in factoring of recommended items, and accounting missing scanned documents. The answer: Create a case!
But there seems to be an undisclosed protocol for processing cases. Some cases are allowed to be processed up to forty-five days, further compounding the problem. This allows the problem to replicate with subsequent identical cases, each given another forty-five day window, resulting in a known problem to continue for three months or more.
Multiple store franchisees may have the identical problem in each store. Because there is no way to link cases and the cases are assigned to a myriad of employees within the work group, the same issue is reviewed by different people, resulting in different and conflicting answers sent back to the franchisee. Franchisees do receive an email that there is a reply available, but the answer is not generally included in the email and requires opening several other windows to read the notes for the case. Furthermore, if the answer needs to be challenged the franchisee cannot reply to the sender because it is an unattended mailbox, so he or she must once again create a case.
Cases created for the Merchandising Department seem to never see the light of day. Once a case is created, it appears to be closed immediately. The process appears to be to close the case when it is assigned to someone within the Merchandising Department, not when the answer is generated. Seldom do franchisees receive an update, let alone a resolution.
Despite many improvements, some maintenance cases get lost. While everyday routine cases are processed accurately, the once-in-a-lifetime issues get lost. When one of these cases is assigned many times, the service pro-vider is unable to perform the work and the case is closed. Seldom is that communicated to the FSR, and the franchisee must be diligent to catch that the case was closed without the work being completed or if the service provider even visited the store. Again, these cases seemingly drop into a bottomless pit. Franchisees have reported waiting a year or longer with no fix in sight.
Franchisees are waiting for 7-Eleven’s nationwide centralization endeavor to produce financial results on their side of the ledger. Once again, this latest initiative seems to reduce expenses at the expense of the franchisee’s time and frustration.