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Franchises Turn to Automated Customer Feedback Innovative software empowers franchise owners to respond to customer reviews instantly.

By Jason Daley

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It used to be said that getting the customer in the door was the hardest part of business. These days, however, it's what happens when the customers close the door behind them that causes the most headaches for business owners. In the age of instant, anonymous reviews, tweets and other cyber-criticism, one bad sandwich or rude clerk can quickly become a black mark on a company's permanent record.

Atlanta-based Listen360 (formerly Systino Systems) is giving business owners a fighting chance. The firm's web-based software is designed to survey and analyze customer loyalty and give owners a heads-up when discontent is brewing. "Franchising was the perfect place for us, because we could sell the system to a franchise brand and reach potentially thousands of small businesses in one sale," says chief customer experience officer Angela Bossie, who oversees Listen360's operations.

The concept is simple. Customers are asked, "How likely are you to recommend this business?" and a series of follow-up questions. If the customer wouldn't recommend the business, franchisees are alerted and given the option to remedy problems. Listen360 has doubled its franchise customer base each year since its 2008 launch, and now serves 65 systems with 14,000 franchisees.

We talked to Bossie about how data can translate into dollars.

Angela Bossie of Listen360How exactly does this work?
Listen360 alerts a franchisee when one of their customers has either declined in satisfaction or responded that they're unhappy, so that they have a specific action to take to fix the problem. That's really important for a small-business owner. They can't stay on top of everything.

How is your system superior to comment cards or online surveys?
Most franchises have a 5 to 15 percent response rate from customers. Our system is so quick and simple it gets between 30 and 50 percent.

When we first went live I had my profile set so that I would receive a text message every time we got a detractor comment. I would drop what I was doing and call that person the minute they hit "enter" to get them turned around. Customers were flabbergasted. The system really allows you to be a customer-service rock star.

Is it worth the expense to satisfy one or two angry customers?
We know a lot about the customer because we typically integrate with the point-of-sale system. We know how much they spent and when they made their purchase or had their service. We know how much that customer's annual spend is, and we can place all of that along with the customer's comment on the screen for the franchisee to see in real time, along with everything they need to follow up. That's one of the things franchisors appreciate; it's very motivating to be able to see that this is not just one person complaining, but there might be $25,000 at risk over the lifetime of this customer.

What's a problem you helped fix?
One brand we worked with noticed that they were getting lots of negative comments about their pasta. It turns out they had switched manufacturers and didn't get updated instructions, so people didn't know the appropriate time to cook it. They were able to reach out to their supplier for the correct information and get it to employees before the weekend rush. It was a problem they were able to learn and correct throughout their system between Wednesday and Saturday.

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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