Keeping a Watchful Eye
By Bruce Freeman
As a child, David A. Milman bought 10-packs of gum and resold them at school, piece by piece. He kept his inventory in a shoebox warehouse under his bed and replenished a daily supply in his locker. He learned a valuable lesson when another student stole his supply; he complained to a teacher and got his gum back, but his business was gone. At that moment he learned to keep tight control over operations and communications, knowing that to lose sight of even one aspect, can chew up your business and spit it out.
While a sophomore at Syracuse University, Milman worked as a programmer and he noticed that plenty of people were selling computers and parts, but few were servicing or trouble-shooting installations. By 1985, he developed a business, Resucecom.com, providing one hour on-site response computer services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Customers could request service from anywhere by calling the national help line 1-800-RESCUE7. The business grew rapidly, but was very labor intensive, so he concentrated on bringing additional technicians on board.
The business grew and 12 years later Milman had expanded to six cities in the eastern U.S. His method was to find great information technology people, train them in his business procedures and set them to work in a geographical area. The problem was that once he went back to Syracuse, personnel would work for awhile, and then leave to try and make it on their own; his supply of trained personnel kept disappearing. By 1997, he was demoralized and looking for a way to break the never-ending cycle. All along, Milman had been working on a technology-based infrastructure system he called System One (Patent Pending) that provides instant communication between parties, which was helping the organization to grow. A search on the then brand-new Internet brought him to franchising and he realized that with a little modification, System One would provide the infrastructure and systems needed to make franchising work.
In 1999, a technician in his Rochester, New York branch announced his imminent departure, so Milman asked him to buy a Rescuecom franchise and history was made. By year-end 2001, Milman had seven franchises and by 2002, he had 30. As the number of franchises grew, Milman found that the initial training in Syracuse wasn’t enough, people would stop following his carefully laid out protocols, and would eventually become unhappy. He realized that communications with the franchisees needed to improve, so he decided to hold a first annual conference, bringing all the franchisees together in February of 2004.
At the conference, they talked about how to move their business forward and how to keep employees happy. Now, Milman also holds quarterly conferences in different parts of country; improving the business through teamwork, building relationships between corporate and franchisee as well as between franchisees. Franchisees know they can rely on each other to solve customer problems and are working together to open partnership businesses.
In addition, National weekly conference calls have also been instituted to address daily issues and troubleshoot problems. Currently, Rescuecom supports 80 franchisees and training classes average seven new franchisees a month. Rescuecom measures itself by the satisfaction of its customers through a liberal guarantee of service and a 24/7 call center. If a customer isn’t happy, Rescuecom sends a technician out at no charge or refunds the customer’s money.
Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom
David Milman has one luxury many franchise businesses don’t have; he is able to screen candidates through technical questions as well as through personal evaluations. He knows that customer service is his most important priority, so integrity is paramount. He has put documented procedures in place which help franchisees deliver the exact same service system-wide. System One sends the information from the call center in Syracuse direct to the technicians’ hand-held computer. Then, Rescuecom monitors the call every step of the way, from arrival to customer satisfaction.
But more than technology, Milman has learned that there is no substitute for personal communication. His understanding of his people’s need to learn from each other is just as important as the technology they use daily. Milman and Rescuecom have come a long way from selling gum to schoolmates, but it’s the lesson hard won that often has the most impact.
Bring parties together through communication, both technologically and in-person.
Could This Work For Me?
Most problems in business can be prevented or solved through increased communications between involved parties.