When the pandemic struck early in 2020, many companies were forced to make changes to ensure their companies would survive the business climate. One of the biggest challenges for some business owners was staying connected to customers while abiding by strict COVID guidelines and social distancing mandates. Due to the inability to visit face-to-face with customers, some organizations lost touch with their customer base.
One franchise that has developed best practices to ensure franchise owners not only survived but thrived in this business climate is Gotcha Covered, a North American window treatment franchisor that saw record growth amid the COVID pandemic. Paul Linenberg, president of Gotcha Covered, is here to discuss what his franchise did to maintain that personal connection with the customer while also providing quality consultative services.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What were some of the difficulties Gotcha Covered franchise owners faced during the pandemic?
Paul Linenberg (PL): The biggest difficulty that many businesses had to address, as well as our own, was the uncertainty of the business climate during the early stages of the pandemic. Once the phones stopped ringing, there was a concern with what was going to happen next. Personally, life experiences taught me that uncertainty is the hardest environment to work under. Whether it is good or bad, it is easy to plan when you have an outlook or an idea of what the business climate is going to look like. With the pandemic, we had never experienced anything like it before. So, we and our franchise owners didn’t know what to expect.
There was a time when the demand had fallen off and the only activity for our owners involved projects that were already in progress. During that time, there was a concern about how were we going to be able to stay connected with our customers and survive this global event. For anyone that was around in 2008, there was a feeling of history repeating itself. We did not want to suffer the same losses as we did during the recession.
It was also during this time that we were thankful to be operating as a franchise. Many independent companies had to develop methods to overcome these challenges on their own. As a franchise, Gotcha Covered was able to strategize as a team and create a plan that ultimately allowed us to thrive during that time.
FC: At Gotcha Covered, you are known for your excellent end-to-end customer experience. What were some techniques or resources you provided to franchise owners to help them continue delivering that same experience while social distancing?
PL: Gotcha Covered was one of the first companies, that we’re aware of, to pivot immediately to virtual appointments at the beginning of the pandemic. Our team worked to quickly change our marketing message across all platforms (social media, website, etc.) to heavily promote virtual appointments. That allowed us to continue doing business in a way that worked for our consultative sales process.
With that said, very little was lost in terms of the experience when we converted to virtual appointments. We could still provide samples to prospective clients, which is very important because of the nature of our product. People still wanted to see how our product could be incorporated into their homes, and our advancement in technology allowed them to do that.
FC: What were some of the new technologies that you introduced that helped empower franchise owners while also allowing them to continue connecting with customers?
PL: We were able to utilize our proprietary software in many different capacities. Gotcha Linked was built in-house for our own purposes prior to the pandemic, and it was customized for our franchise owners to help them run their businesses. Once we saw the need for virtual appointments, we shifted our software development very quickly. Thankfully, because of where we were as a company, we had some of these tools almost ready for deployment. Once these changes were made, it allowed homeowners to explore their options and style before the appointment ever happened. This also allowed our franchise owners to prepare for the appointment using the technology we provided.
FC: How were franchise owners able to perform their typical walkthroughs for client homes?
PL: The issues with walkthroughs were not that challenging, thankfully. When the nation was in lockdown, we utilized our virtual appointments and video applications such as FaceTime and Duo. By doing this, it allowed customers to walk us around their homes while abiding by the COVID guidelines.
Once restrictions were lessened, we were able to go into the customers’ homes if they were comfortable with it. All they needed to do was give our design consultants access. So, it didn’t slow us down much because technology made it easier for us to do our jobs and stay connected in that fashion.
FC: Overall, with the need to work remotely and social distance, how were franchise owners able to maintain customer relationships?
PL: The methods we used to create and maintain relationships with our clients were similar to what we did before the pandemic. The media was different and the meetings were different, but the relationship building and process were still the same. We still had all the touchpoints we had before because technology allowed us to communicate with our customers. Our clients remained just a video call or Zoom meeting away at all times. So, the relationship-building didn’t change much. It remained strong throughout the whole ordeal.
FC: While franchise owners were working remotely, what are some best practices that the company developed to ensure franchise owners continued having the same success while also providing an excellent customer experience?
PL: Other than conforming to the local protocols and the conversion of the marketing to virtual appointments, I think the key for Gotcha Covered can be attributed to the shift toward technology. That allowed our owners to bridge the gap between in-person meetings and virtual meetings. Thankfully, we already had processes in place that made it easier for that transition to happen. With just a little bit of time and effort, we were able to complete the additions to Gotcha Linked and get it into the hands of our owners.
In addition to the technology, our goodwill toward our customers, our revisions to the marketing message and the shift to virtual appointments all helped us continue connecting with our customers and continue providing the excellent customer experience we are known for.
Paul Linenberg is the president of Gotcha Covered, a custom window treatment franchise that has over 120 franchises in the United States and Canada combined. The company specializes in providing end-to-end consultation to its clients. For more information, please visit gotchacovered.com.