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Sep, 16 2010

Travails of franchise training

A good training programme is the backbone of any successful franchise business. But passing it down at various levels is like walking a tight rope, and not a cakewalk, as it may seem.

Of all the tasks that befall the new franchisor, perhaps none is as important as the role of training. In the services sector, it becomes all the more important. A sound training programme ensures that all franchises are operated in an identical fashion, according to the already proven system that the franchisor has created. To minimise the erosion of system standards over time, a franchisor develops an effective training programme that requires ongoing certification on core competency issues for franchisees and their key staff members. Hence, once a franchisee steps on to sign on the dotted line, he or she must evaluate the type of training being offered by the franchisor and should speak to the existing franchisees to understand how they have been trained. In spite of everything, training is a substantial part of the franchise package that you are buying.

What makes training franchisees tough

The franchisor, be it an emerging brand or an established, often faces difficulties in conveying the services to the budding franchisees, who, in turn, convey company’s services to retail clients, who then help generate revenues.

Dashradh Ram Nutakki, Vice-President, Channel Development, Reasoning Global eApplications, informs, “Being a product company, our franchise partners play a crucial role in distribution of our products, while adding immense value to client’s business through delivery of cohesive business services. The key problems in training are mapping the legacy knowledge and understanding of franchisees and their staff, product applicability, new technology and software as a service approach.”

“The biggest challenge that we face is training labourers who are unorganised, unprofessional, have limited education and need to be communicated very humbly,” says Manoj Agarwal, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Fastclean.

According to Vishal Gulati, Chief Executive Officer, Laksh Staffing Solutions, “Our strength is our business partners/franchisees, who hold it back and help in giving the same training to the new joining/staff at the location.”

As per J.K. Menon, Chief Executive Officer, Interworld Commnet, “Bringing them to the level of proficiency from where we can start training them for the real things. And, identifying the proficiency level they initially are, we sometimes make assessments to know where they stand presently in a technological area.”

How franchisors make it easy

To confront these challenges, franchisors have come up with several innovative ways. Re-feel believes in the concept of giving training to the trainers first. Samit Lakhotia, Co-Founder and Director, Strategy and Business Development,  Re-feel Cartridge Engineering, says, “We carry out extensive training and re-training programmes for trainers to help them stay in touch with the latest technological changes.” Fastclean has an innovatively designed marketing kit, which includes a portable DVD player (to show demo CD), all relevant documents, brochures, offer letters, etc and list of satisfied customers. “We follow a pre-visit exercise before approaching every corporate client and meet them through an appointment. This not only saves time, but also gives us all the attention during our call,” states Agarwal.

Every franchisor endeavours to provide best possible training manuals to make franchisees and their staff deal positively with the clients. They come up with systematic training programmes in key areas so as to offer standardised services to the corporate clientele, wherever they have presence across the country.

Lakhotia avers, “We always try to refurbish, modify and upgrade our training and operational modules that help in understanding the technical, marketing, administration, accounts and other functional aspects of the business.”

Types of training

Training is broadly of two types based on the nature of know-how provided. One is initial technical training, which generally follows the structure of the operations manual and gives a good grounding in the knowledge and skills required. How long this takes varies from days to months, depending on the complexity of the business involved, but it is only a start. Then there is non-technical training, covering aspects such as business planning, budgeting, accounting, understanding cash flow, recruiting and managing staff, health, safety issues and so on.

Where these sessions are held and who pays for what, will again vary from franchise to franchise. This leads to another classification of training, depending on whether it is held in the classroom or on-location at a company-owned outlet or with another franchisee. It’s called headquarter training, onsite training and ongoing training, respectively.

Training is either conducted by the franchisor himself or highly qualified personnel hired by the franchisor. For example, Interworld Commnet calls its senior and industry experts or SMEs (subject matter experts) for training. However, Laksh Staffing Solutions do not arrange any professional trainer from outside although they do take help from their corporate/professional friends to conduct some special training programmes (outdoor training or soft skill training).

Re-feel has an in-house team to take care of the training and updation part. There is a separate R&D team, which works hand in hand with the training team for technology sourcing and putting it in the training model. The franchisees of Laksh Staffing Solutions are supposed to spend at least three to five hours per day to operate a location successfully. The company gives them assistance at their respective locations, as a dedicated franchise manager visits the location every month.

In case of Reasoning Global eApplications, end-user training on product usage and its application are centralised, given the product eco-system, which is just beyond technology. Reasoning Global e-Applications has designed a distinct training programme for sales and marketing teams (company, product and market orientation) and technical teams (product, technology and service delivery orientation).

“Our existing knowledge base is made accessible to franchisees to sharpen their learning, followed by practical assignments pertaining to their responsibilities. It helps them to adopt as per our requirements,” adds Nutakki.

Re-feel supports the franchisee with start-up and interior manual as part of their pre-operational guidelines. “We offer them various operational manuals such as technical, marketing, administrative and other training modules,’ says Lakhotia.

Keeping in mind the changing technology, training manuals are updated from time to time. Fastclean updates its training manuals regularly and keep its franchisees updated through mails/sms/one-to-one communication. It also educates them about what not to be done and the pitfalls to avoid. “We have a very high end system and all our partners are connected to our data center. Being connected to Mylife, they can access all materials easily. Therefore, the first interface is always online. Depending on the severity of the issue, these challenges are then transferred to the closest officers for solving,” enlightens Sukanta Paul, Marketing head – Consumer Business, Sify Technologies Ltd.

Assessing ability

It’s the franchisor’s responsibility to conduct an evaluation test after completion of the training to see how much a franchisee has gained. On this, Nihar Parida, Vice President, Logistics & Marketing,  Uniworld Logistics Pvt. Limited, reports, “This is an ongoing process. We have a separate audit team and the supervisors are administered on this. There is an in-house incentive and programme to incentivise the best person.” In tank cleaning servicing, Fastclean has innovatively designed a satisfaction report, which a team of technicians get filled up after completion of every job of cleaning and disinfection of tanks. Agarwal adds, “This is further signed by the client, who is our best auditor for quality check. This keeps the quality standards at par with the client’s satisfaction.”

Sify Technologies Ltd, on the other side, conducts regular assessment tests. Adding to it, Paul says, “We have a dedicated sales and service team who engage with the franchisee regularly. Also, we have a dedicated outbound call center that gets in touch with the retail franchisee.”

The franchisor often visits the franchisee’s outlet to conduct audits. For Interworld Commnet, visiting the franchisee’s outlet is an integral part of their quality assurance activity. Menon states, “Our franchisee supervisor visits the franchisees once in 15 days to ensure quality.” Laksh Staffing Solutions have a standard reporting structure, which includes daily, bimonthly and monthly reports. Visit to each location happens once in a month. A Re-feel engineer visits the outlet during the initial stages and helps franchisee brush up with a second round of on-the-job training. The different departments are constantly in touch with the franchisees for regular updates.

Overcoming challenges

Training the franchisees in such a way that they effortlessly run the centre and deliver their services is any franchisor’s dream. Infiltration of international labels in the Indian market has eventually generated a demand in the service sector. To fill the gaps, the companies have started outsourcing products and services by hiring another company to handle and deliver services for them. Menon mentions, “At this moment, we do not see anybody even close to us in terms of competition. We always keep an eye on the new entrants and have specific plans to stay ahead always.”

The service industry is facing threat from the unorganised players, who have not been successful in delivering quality service to the clients. “At Re-feel, we combine superior quality with reasonable price in the remanufactured cartridges and in cartridge refilling. We ensure cost-effective, highly engineered solutions for the individuals and our corporate clientele,” declares Lakhotia.

For franchisees, the longer the training, the more expensive it becomes. Likewise, for the franchisor, time spent training is time not spent doing business, the purpose for which he has got a franchisee. So training has a cost. Thus, it becomes incumbent for a franchisor to measure these costs--both for himself and the franchisee--against the complexity of the system, the potential for error and the importance of the brand, both now and in the future

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