Franchisee Field Audits: Why Excel Sucks
We all love spreadsheets (Excel and the like) as general purpose solutions to business problems. However, forward-thinking franchisors hate them for field audits. Anyone who has managed a chain of stores, franchise or not, recognizes the value of performing field audits. By visiting every location on a recurring basis, you ensure compliance to operational standards, brand consistency and also have the opportunity to coach staff at each location to improve performance.
The sad truth, however, is that a big portion of the field team’s efforts are wasted when the team is still using ineffective spreadsheets (or worse: paper!) to perform field audits. Here’s why.
Reason #1: No actionable insights
While each individual audit is beneficial, you need to be able to see real-time aggregate analytics to properly leverage the power buried within your field audits. As the number of locations (and thus audits) rises, you can’t rely on your gut instincts to become aware of your weaknesses. Without significant manual work, Excel cannot easily report on the most common system-wide failures across your network. Additionally, slicing and dicing data across different regions or identifying trends over time is so cumbersome that it usually is never done.
When you are able to extract actionable insights from your field audits, your training team can make data-driven decisions about which training content would be the most beneficial to the network.
Reason #2: Corrective actions ignored
We’ve seen it time and time again when performing field reviews using Excel: the field coach visits a location, identifies flaws which much be corrected, discusses these items with the staff and leaves behind a nice report. However, during the next inspection, the coach realizes most of the suggested corrective actions have not been implemented. The reason behind this is simple: no one is accountable for getting things done. Even if you want to improve, the report gets shelved and people forget what needs to be done.
Having the appropriate checks and balances in place helps drive accountability and ensures corrective actions do not fall through the cracks.
Reason #3: Not all parties are engaged
Years ago, the primary purpose of a field audit was compliance. Today, in most systems, this has shifted towards having a conversation around weaknesses with the goal of continuous improvement. Compliance is still important but policing is not the most effective way of driving change. When filling out an Excel spreadsheet and shooting off a copy by email, the coach is not effectively enabling communication and this obviously reduces engagement.
Modern approaches enable each location to review detailed analytics about their unit, how they compare to the system benchmark and, more importantly, access valuable resources to help them improve such as operations manuals, training material, personalized action plans and more. The system empowers each unit to be able to work on improving themselves, without constant supervision.
Field coaches are not field cops. Field visits are the best opportunity you have to work together to improve.
Reason #4: The coaches are not accountable
We’ve previously mentioned how Excel doesn’t hold staff accountable for fixing corrective actions, but it also doesn’t hold auditors accountable for performing quality visits. As a VP of Operations, it is important to be able to measure your coaches to ensure that they each visit the target number of locations per period, spend an adequate amount of time with each location manager and that your team is calibrated to each perform audits consistently and according to your guidelines. Excel reports can easily be fudged by a subpar field coach, depriving the location of the valuable guidance a coach should be providing to them.
It has been proven that business coaches can have a remarkable impact on each location’s performance. Excel doesn’t give you the level of traceability to ensure the coaches are performing their jobs adequately.
Reason #5: Lack of integration with data sources
Yes, field audits improve brand consistency and operational compliance. That said, you should not forget that forward-thinking systems utilize field visits to improve performance across the network, not just compliance. Improving performance is a multi-faceted task which implies looking at financial performance, mystery shopper scores, customer satisfaction data, online review sentiment analysis, and much more. You may be able to store some stale copies of the information in Excel, but the value is still limited.
Coaches should be able to access real-time information to help them make informed decisions about which of the unit’s weaknesses should be addressed first.
Bonus Reason #6: Not leveraging the power of pictures
A picture is worth a thousand words but most audits designed in Excel aren’t structured to attach pictures to better describe flaws as they are discovered. Field coaches sometimes whip out their phones to take a few pictures and store them in some centralized repository with the Excel report. However, as extracting pictures from their phones is a cumbersome process, most field coaches don’t take as many pictures as desirable. Pictures are great communication tools for anyone reading the report at a future date. They are also great proof/validation for legal purposes.
If the process to attach pictures to appropriate locations in a field audit is not streamlined, your system is losing out on this valuable asset.
In summary, although Excel is an exceptionally versatile business tool, there are many areas where it is weak. A field audit app will drastically increase the impact of your field visits. Take a peek at our field audits app to see if it could help you perform more effective field reviews.