Crowdsourcing Customer Support Engages a Community

By Illya Berecz

The goal of the North American Association of Subway Franchisees (NAASF) is to help its 8,000 member franchisees maximize their profitability and their investment in the Subway brand. Our year-and-a-half-old online community is now the most effective way we’ve ever had to let our members share best practices, explore industry issues and get to know one another. By crowdsourcing information from the community, we’ve been able to provide greater value to our members.

In the early days of our organization, we relied on email campaigns and a basic Website to reach members, but periodic town hall meetings were our best discussion forums. While very popular, these meetings were offered sporadically, and time and distance prevented many busy franchisees from attending. The town halls also offered no way to nurture the relationships that were formed. We tried implementing a rudimentary discussion board, but it eventually stalled from lack of use.

In 2014, I witnessed a presentation of Higher Logic’s online community platform. I was intrigued by the possibility of an easy-to-use way for members to communicate and share information and resources. After thorough vetting by NAASF’s board and executive staff—who also examined other solutions—we implemented the platform with the help of a deployment partner, eConverse Social Media, to handle the technical transition. The implementation took about three months.

Upon launching the new community in February 2015, we conducted a few educational webinars to show members the benefits, the process of signing up and how to use the community. We now have 6,690 members and a participation rate of more than 80 percent. In addition, we averaged 85 new discussions per month during the first year. Approximately 14.5 percent of community members have contributed, and the average open rate for our Open Forum Digest is now 29 percent. Both stats are well above industry averages.

Although the initial goal of the platform was to improve communications and facilitate sharing best practices, we soon realized the value of leveraging crowdsourced information for problem-solving and advocacy.

Crowdsourcing for Problem-Solving

Our discussions form the heart of the community. Members post around the clock, offering opinions and suggestions on every imaginable topic related to running their business: making sandwiches faster, cleaning tips, advertising strategies, etc.—all with the goal of increasing franchisee profitability.

Our members also help one another. For example, one member posted step-by-step instructions and a video walkthrough detailing an inexpensive fix for a common problem with sales receipt printers.

Another memorable example was when a member asked where she could rent an air-conditioning unit while her store’s unit was being fixed during a heat wave. Instead, a franchisee whom she’d never met offered to loan her two portable units. He even drove them over and helped her connect them! Our members love these discussions because they can save money and eliminate the need to contact Subway corporate or another service, but they could never have happened without our community platform.

Recently, the online community also proved to be the perfect forum for members, NAASF and other contributors to weigh in on ways of dealing with temporary shortages of some ingredients in Subway sandwiches.