Retooled, Refreshed, and Renewed: The 2022 FCXC breaks new ground for customer marketing
The first Franchise Customer Experience Conference (FCXC) debuted in June at Atlanta’s InterContinental Buckhead hotel. The retooled event (formerly known as the Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference) was billed as “a groundbreaking new space for the ideas, inspiration, and networking for franchise leaders charged with improving the experience and outcomes for all customers, including consumers, businesses, franchisees, and employees.” Based on attendance and feedback from attendees, the conference met its expanded goal, and then some!
We tweaked our annual consumer marketing conference to deliver a new educational and networking event for an expanded range of customers: franchise executives tasked with building a better experience for all of their customers, from franchisees and prospects to consumers to corporate employees—and to recognize the increasing overlap in the roles of marketing, operations, and technology in franchise system expansion and survival.
Along with input from our Conference Advisory Board and past attendees, we reworked the content to help franchise leaders build a deeper understanding of the data, best practices, and tools available to leverage marketing, operations, and technology resources for brand success.
The event also marked the first marketing conference hosted under the new, 10-year alliance between Franchise Update Media and the IFA. In addition, the conference presented highlights from the Annual Franchise Marketing Report (AFMR) and revealed winners of the Franchise Innovation Awards. (See separate stories on both in this issue.)
Keynote speakers, general sessions, breakout sessions, and a sold-out Sponsor Networking Area all helped deliver on the promise of the new customer experience conference. This year’s Platinum Sponsor was ChoiceLocal.
Day 1, Pre-conference
The IFA kicked off the event with two CFE workshops: “Franchise Management and Compliance” in the morning and “Leading Customer Loyalty” in the afternoon. In the former, senior executives learned how to take proactive steps to reduce risks, manage growth, and build a stronger, healthier franchise system. The latter focused on providing attendees with real-world examples of how to build a customer-focused culture to inspire and win customer loyalty and how to use accountability metrics to increase customer retention.
Day 2, Main event
Things got going with a continental breakfast followed by a CEO Summit focused on customer experience best practices. Led by customer experience guru John DiJulius, the all-morning session focused on four experiences that make a company a place employees love to be part of: recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and retention. “Your recruiting should turn people on and off.” The goal, said DiJulius, is not only to attract those who fit well with a brand’s existing culture, but also to discourage those who won’t.
The session alternated between presentations from DiJulius and the roundtable challenges he gave each table of top executives to brainstorm ideas and share both what was working for them and what wasn’t. Attendees also made peer-to-peer connections they intended to build on in the coming year.
One of the topics that rose to the top was the need to focus on employee mental health and wellness during stressful times. One suggestion from DiJulius: “Don’t allow employees to cash out their vacation days. Make them take time off.” This applies not only to frontline employees, but also to franchisees. He also suggested including behavioral health coverage in employees’ benefit packages.
The morning also offered simultaneous breakout sessions on operations, technology, and marketing topics. The Operations & Technology Track session was “Franchisee Buy-In to New Programs, Tools, Systems and Technologies.” The Marketing Track’s session featured “Mapping the Customer Experience Journey.” Through panel presentations and roundtable discussions, participants tackled common challenges and shared best practices in culture, system sales, unit economics, and technologies, all examined from a customer experience perspective.
Lunch in the Sponsor Networking Area followed, with the Exhibit Hall open for the first of three opportunities for attendees to visit with suppliers and network with their peers.
The first general session and keynote speaker followed. Therese Thilgen, co-founder and CEO of Franchise Update Media, and Jennifer Brandeen, chief revenue officer of the IFA, welcomed attendees and highlighted the significance of the conference’s name change, refocused content, and the importance of brands developing a more holistic view of the customer experience.
DiJulius, founder and chief revolution officer of The DiJulius Group, next took the stage for the FCXC’s first keynote presentation. He wasted little time describing what he sees as a “customer experience recession” in the world today, and how refocusing on the customer experience can help correct the current imbalance. “Build a culture your employees love,” he said. “Manage your customers’ expectations by being more transparent.”
FRANdata CEO Darrell Johnson followed with his annual economic outlook for franchising. “Franchising is doing all right this year and tends to lead in recoveries,” he said. However, with rising inflation and flagging consumer sentiment, he advised attendees to prepare with “a higher level of caution and likelihood of a recession in 2023.”
Other items he discussed included the jump in private equity activity, with 2021 a record year for franchise M&A activity; which changes from Covid will likely be permanent or temporary; and how rising costs (supply inputs, labor costs, and rent among the leaders) will affect unit economics. When it comes to operations, he urged franchisors to pay closer attention to their newer units, which, he said, are most vulnerable 12 to 36 months after opening.
IFA President and CEO Matt Haller followed to highlight the association’s campaign to raise awareness of the important role franchising plays in business and communities throughout the country. “The Open for Opportunity campaign is building awareness, changing minds, and highlighting the value and opportunity of franchising,” he told the crowd. (For more on how to get involved, see his column in this issue.)
Franchise Update Media’s Chief Content Officer Diane Phibbs then presented highlights from this year’s Annual Franchise Marketing Report (see separate story) before turning over the stage to a panel discussion, “Creating a Customer Experience Culture—A Massage Heights Case Study.”
Sam Ballas, CEO of East Coast Wings & Grill, led a panel of Massage Heights executives and one of the brand’s franchisees through an in-depth discussion of how the brand recently reimagined its vision, mission, and core values through its new “Culture of Care” program. Their efforts included an updated logo along with employee, franchisee, and guest initiatives that helped execute the brand promise.
With the day’s sessions wrapped up, the Sponsor Networking Area reopened for a cocktail reception and a second chance to visit the supplier booths and network with other attendees.
Day 3, More is better!
Chris Riddell, global futurist and inspirational speaker, kicked off Day 3 with an entertaining, fast-paced general session presentation focused on putting today’s rapidly changing and disruptive digital world into perspective. Backed up by a lively, information-packed series of videos and slides, the former CDO of Mars Australia and New Zealand began by telling the audience, “The world is driven by humans, technology is just the enabler.” However, he said later, “We’re all consuming and generating data all the time. We’re addicted to technology.”
Looking at the changes technology has wrought in our work and our lives, he said, “Everything we’ve seen in history in now being reinvented.” And, “Good is no longer good enough, you have to be extraordinary.” His high-energy presentation covered how technology and geopolitics are forces that will continue to change and reshape the world. In the end, he made the case for a future that will be better than today.
Next up on the main stage came the four finalists for the top two 2022 Innovation Awards: one for Overall Marketing Innovation and one for Overall Operations & Technology. Each presented their entry in the competition, describing and detailing their goals, strategies, tactics, and results. The Overall Marketing award finalists were Handyman Connection, Wild Birds Unlimited, Kiddie Academy, and Goldfish Swim School. The Operations & Technology finalists were Checkers & Rally’s, Hand & Stone Massage, Inspire Brands, and Smoothie King. (See full coverage of all Innovation Award winners elsewhere in this issue.)
Attendees gathered one last time in the Sponsor Networking Area for lunch and a final chance to rub elbows with peers and suppliers.
Breakout sessions completed the afternoon with topics such as “Targeted, Direct Marketing To Drive Location Revenue,” “The FBC/Franchisee Relationship—the Foundation for the Customer Experience”; “Understand & Leverage Data To Grow Lifetime Customers”; “Marketing & Media Options To Make Memorable Connections”; “Field Operations Support To Enhance the Customer Experience”; and “Back of House Solutions To Support Operations & Profitability.” All sessions were well attended and featured lively discussions.
The day’s educational opportunities wound down with two general sessions. The first, “Customer Experience: The Culture, Mission & Purpose of the Brand,” was led by Adam Contos,
a partner with Area 15 Ventures and, until this past March, CEO of RE/MAX. The two panelists were Scott Deviney, president and CEO of Chicken Salad Chick, and Ryan Aschauer, CIO of Floor Coverings International, who dug deep into the foundations of how a brand can provide the best possible experience for its customers.
The day’s concluding session, “Customer Experience: Roundtable Challenge Session with Keynote Speaker Jason Young,” drew a large and enthusiastic crowd ready to meet the challenge head-on. Young, a former senior executive at Southwest Airlines, is a renowned training and development expert and author of The Culturetopia Effect and Servicetopia: The Ultimate Customer Service Experience. He shared numerous CX stories from his days at Southwest, the importance of developing a customer experience culture, and led the tables through an exercise where each created a fresh way on the spot to enhance the experience at their business. This session provided a neat bookend to the first keynote talk from John DiJulius the previous day.
With the day’s educational sessions now complete, attendees headed up the road to Maggiano’s Little Italy for the closing dinner reception and the official presentation of the 2022 Franchise Innovation Awards.
Day 4, Action planning
The final day closed out the event with a morning session called, “Build Your Action Plan for an Elevated Customer Experience.” Jack Monson, president of Social Geek Radio, led the panel, which consisted of Matt Friedman, CEO of Franchise Founders, Brittany Graff, senior director of marketing at Painting with a Twist, and Jackie Adams, senior director of operations and new franchise development at Floor Coverings International. The panelists helped attendees sort through the ideas and strategies they’d learned over the previous days and help them create an action plan they could take home to rework, refine, and improve their customer experience.
Plans already are under way for next year’s FCXC, June 20–22, 2023 at the InterContinental Buckhead in Atlanta. Keep up with plans, speakers, and the agenda on franchising.com.
FCXC BY THE NUMBERS
Franchisor executives: 185
Franchise brands: 160
Breakdown of attendees
Vice President: 37
Brands by Industry Segment
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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 3, 2022