By Jeremy Gibault, Senior Manager-Information Systems, Firehouse Subs
I started my IT career in a mom-and-pop computer store, building computers from piles of individual parts and consuming unlimited supplies of Mountain Dew. A big part of my job was helping and calming customers who brought in broken computers; clearly upset they just lost everything. Having that much caffeine in my system probably wasn’t the best idea at the time, but I learned customer service skills go a long way in the break/fix world of IT. Listening to customers, finding the root cause of the problem and empowering people with actionable information felt extremely rewarding as well.
At Firehouse Subs, we also listen, learn and empower all of our guests. The IT team categorizes customers into three distinct groups: restaurant customers buying our delicious subs; franchise buyers; and internal customers like marketing, franchise sales, real estate, etc. Each category requires their own method of relationship management to ensure we care for them and empower them in the best way possible.
First, let’s take a look at the customers who walk into our restaurants. Marketing research shows our target audience is 25-54 year-old males, who Firehouse Subs dubs as “my kind of guys.” To effectively target this audience we need to understand several things like what menu items do they typically purchase? How frequently do our most loyal customers visit? How often do our least loyal customers visit?
We are always looking to improve customer relations, and the way to do that is by understanding our customers first
Previously, we relied on our database of customer-supplied email addresses and contacted them through our email newsletters. However, that method does not always provide the most insightful answers. In today’s fast-moving world, we need to move quickly and adjust our strategy appropriately. To accomplish this, Firehouse Subs recently launched a new rewards program to answer many of these questions. Our program enables customers to enroll with just a little bit of personal information and preferences, and in return, they earn points towards rewards like free double meat on a medium sub. Once enrolled, we track how frequently they dine with Firehouse Subs and what menu items they prefer, all of which monitors the effectiveness of our marketing initiatives.
Firehouse Subs Vice President of Franchise Development, Greg Delksoften says, “We sell subs and we also sell franchises.” Firehouse Subs wouldn’t be the brand it is today without our hardworking franchisees. Supporting franchisees begins as soon as they submit an inquiry form on FirehouseSubs. com or call the Franchise Development Team for the first time. Their information goes into our internal customer relationship management (CRM) database, which is then analyzed. With more than 900 Firehouse Subs restaurants, and an opening projection rate of 2,000 restaurants by 2020, we possess significant restaurant opening experience and have a very comprehensive, detailed checklist to make the process easier on franchisees. The CRM database keeps copies of all legal documents, addresses, phone numbers, business partners, and many other tidbits of information about their business.
Having all this information at our fingertips allows Firehouse Subs to better to serve franchisees’ needs, whatever they may be. Additionally, we analyze demographic data to see if their real estate site selection, or future restaurant location, matches the ideal demographics needed to give our franchisees the best shot at success in their new business.
Before Firehouse Subs, I worked in other large organizations with successful ticketing systems. Unfortunately, the way they were implemented left little to be desired. Their company policy did not allow us to help customers unless the customer filed a ticket. No exceptions. I’m sure management had their reasons but this put the technicians in a really bad spot. In setting up Firehouse Subs’ system, I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen. Firehouse Subs IT Support Manager, Bryan Robst, set up a web-based help desk ticketing system that allows our internal customers to immediately communicate an issue. The IT team prioritizes and resolves the issues in a logical manner, but if someone requests our help as we walk about the campus, we are empowered to either solve the issue or put it into the queue, depending on the situation. People should always come before policy.
Things are moving fast at Firehouse Subs and I am proud to be part of this organization. We are doing wonderful things and will continue to grow and become better. We are always looking to improve customer relations, and the way to do that is by understanding our customers first. I think fondly of my late nights building computers with my friends in that small computer store. While I don’t keep in touch with any of them anymore, I will never forget the lessons I learned. Listening, helping, finding the root cause, and customer service skills are important. Empowering people with actionable information is key in this business.