How Important Is Communication?
As 7-Eleven grows towards 10,000 stores—the company’s goal by 2015—communications between franchisees, 7-Eleven, Inc., and vendors becomes increasingly critical and at the same time increasingly complicated, not just because of the size of the organization, but because of the time it takes to generate informative, high quality communications. Today we have Zones with 500 stores and someday we could have Zones with over 1,000 stores.
With so many more players, building relationships between franchisees and SEI operations and merchandising staff, as well as market managers and Zone leaders, will become increasingly difficult, but not impossible. It will be a challenge for 7-Eleven to take advantage of scale and size, and at the same time communicate with franchisees, provide us with the services and the leadership we need, make us feel part of the 7-Eleven family, and utilize our feedback as an asset.
As we progress, the technology for communications must improve, and everyone along the line must improve their communications skills. In addition, the field consultant (FC) role must change, because it’s going to become harder and harder for communications to not only go up the ladder, but for decisions to be disseminated down. We need this process to work smoothly and quickly in both directions. In heavy contrast to the old days, if there are 1,000 franchisees in a Zone, it’s unlikely many franchisees will ever see a Zone leader or a Zone merchandiser. The FC is the one representative from the company we will always see.
Over the past several months, 7-Eleven successfully ran a pilot of 7hub, the communications successor to 7-Connect, and by the time you read this, will have expanded 7hub to all franchised stores (scheduled for Thursday, November 1). The company is launching a new Operations Manual to replace the On-Line System Support Guide (OLSSG) at the same time. 7hub will have an improved search function, and will be accessible from outside the store, and the new Ops Manual is promised to have the most accurate information on policies and procedures.
While this is a step in the right direction, the three words still most familiar to every franchisee today are, “Processed As Requested.” We see these words over and over again while we wait for online answers on our case(s). The question most franchisees are asking now is, “How long do I have to go without getting a response before I can talk to a live person?” In most cases the field consultant is the first and last level of face-to-face communications. Franchisees might see a Zone manager once a year, and this will get increasingly less frequent as we expand, so the person who walks in the store to share data with us needs to be loaded with answers or able to get the necessary answers. He or she needs to understand our concerns and be empowered to solve our issues.
Today, once the franchisee has communicated a problem to the field consultant and the market manager, and created and posted a case on 7-Connect (now 7hub) the next (and almost only) option is to take the issue to the local FOA. The FOA president and vice president can take it to the Zone leader, and somewhere along the way, the parties have to decide whether the issue is a single store issue or a systemic problem that has to be addressed at a higher level within SEI.
I have told senior management at SEI that we don’t need a new communications system, we need to fix the one we have. When we communicate a problem, and we tell our field consultant five or six times, it appears that he or she is not getting an answer or doesn’t know how to help us. 7-Eleven needs to put the same focus on our issues as they do on their own. 7-Eleven has a process and a plan for selling more fresh bakery, but we sometimes have trouble fixing a Sandin case within 24 hours. To take us to the next level of innovation in management it seems the field consultant, the market manager and the Zone leader need to be empowered to make more decisions. There has to be a better conduit between the stores and upper management making the decisions so the franchisees who are managing sales with customers get timely resolution of their issues.
This process will become more critical as the system grows. When franchisees need a solution quickly, it has to be someone’s responsibility. We don’t expect the field consultant to have all the answers, but we need to be able to get our unanswered questions escalated. At some point we need to get our concerns addressed with one-on-one communications, because our CHD currently is not an effective tool. Information has to flow from the franchisee to the field consultant to the market manager and back down in a timely manner. Franchisees need more than, “Processed As Requested.” We need someone to explain the process to us and understand our concerns so the problems won’t persist. If my CDC or McLane truck has been late for the last three weeks, and they’ve re-routed the trucks and it will be fixed in three weeks, and that information never makes it to the store, I can’t save time and money by adjusting my orders and payroll.
At all levels, whether it’s communicating with our kids, communicating with our neighbors or relatives, or communicating with 7-Eleven, the world has changed. We’ve been cast into a highly effective world of digital communications, but sometimes, a personal touch is necessary. It’s an art that is being lost. Some issues need one-on-one interaction with the person that can solve the issue. Maybe it’s not more communication that’s needed, but it’s the quality of the communications that needs to be addressed.