Volkswagen Group Australia’s obsession with improving the customer experience and making life easier for customers, has placed the company in the top spot for brand loyalty in the Australian automotive industry. Jason Bradshaw, chief customer and marketing officer for Volkswagen Group Australia, talks about their customer experience journey.
Back in in 2015, Volkswagen Group Australia knew the experience it provided customers was inconsistent at best. This impacted brand loyalty as well as generating significant inefficiencies, where substantial resources were spent on fixing preventable problems. Employee turnover was on the rise and customer satisfaction ranked lowest against all automotive brands in Australia.
Jason Bradshaw was brought onboard towards the end of 2015 as chief customer officer to guide the group on a new journey, Bradshaw comments, “The remit I was given in the early days was about defining what our customer experience should look like, and then implementing programs to develop and sustain that focus on customer experience”.
“Over the years my role has expanded, where I am now chief customer and marketing officer. This shift in my role stemmed from the realisation that the customer’s experience starts from that moment they start interacting with the brand. So, the moment the brand is out there, making promises about what life is like owning a Volkswagen, we are really starting to build that customer journey.”
Bringing everything under one umbrella has allowed Volkswagen to drive internal efficiencies across all customer facing operations, but more importantly it allows customers to be provided with a very streamlined, connected and consistent experience.
Providing a consistent experience to all customers
Volkswagen has a network of 106 dealerships across the country. All customers whether they are purchasing a vehicle or having it serviced will ultimately complete their purchase through a dealer. It was important that regardless of how they connected with the brand, a customer has a consistent experience.
Bradshaw comments, “If you walk into a Volkswagen dealership in Sydney the experience should be extremely similar to the one you get from a dealership in Melbourne or in Hobart. We encourage our dealerships, to some extent, to embed themselves in their community, but there are some consistent elements that we expect every dealer to undertake.”
“To drive consistency across the network, we have what we call our Volkswagen experience promises. Those experience promises are essentially our guiding light or our North star for each of our actions. They apply as much to a dealer in a regional area as it does to our biggest dealer in Sydney”, he adds.
It was important that everyone in the dealerships and at head office was brought on the journey and took ownership of the customer experience. “We formed what we called the customer hero network. Representatives from each dealership across the nation would come together, physically, each quarter to identify and discuss what were the systemic issues that were causing dissatisfaction for our customers. We then used this group to crowdsource – if you like, solutions in response to the challenges identified”.
The hero network was a critical component in Volkswagen’s strategy to get people owning the customer and committed to improving the customer experience. “Every quarter I would meet with senior leaders from every dealership. I would talk to them about the top three things that customers were telling us in the last quarter that weren’t working. I would also highlight the top three things that were working – it was equally important to celebrate success and not focus only on the negative.”
Customer Insights and Feedback in real-time
One of the things the customer hero network highlighted was around the access to information and the timeliness of that information. Prior to 2017, it would take the customer insights team a month to collect and analyse customer feedback and produce the necessary reports to send to various teams and dealerships.
As well as being inefficient and time consuming, a lot of the data and reports would be out of date by the time someone viewed them. The information was not easily and immediately available to enable issues to be identified before they become a major problem.
In 2017 the company deployed a CX platform from Qualtrics which gave Volkswagen the ability to collect and analyse customer feedback in real-time through a single platform. “For example, a customer who has had their car serviced will be sent a survey invitation by SMS or email within 24 hours, where they can complete the survey on any Internet enabled device. As soon as that survey is completed everyone, who needs to, will have access to those survey results”.
“The feedback is linked to individual employees, where individual service advisers are able to see reports that highlight all feedback that relates to them. The leaders at each dealership can access insights relating to their team in real-time. The dealership owner or the manager of the dealership will be able to see their dealership’s. In head office each department can see the information that’s relevant to them based on their job roles”.
“The reporting from the platform can be as granular or as high level as the individual wants and their permissions allow. In an instant our reporting dashboards can show the areas of greatest opportunity but will also allow someone to drill down into verbatim comments from customers”.
Putting the customer at the heart of every decision
Implementation of the new system has delivered significant productivity gains where the process for collecting and analysing customer feedback has been fully automated. “We receive over 100,000 pieces of feedback from customers a year. Now my customer insights team don’t sit there generating reports because there are dashboards and online reports that are available in real time to everyone in the company”.
The immediate and timely access to information helps ensure that the customer is at the centre of every decision Volkswagen makes. “Thinking about the last five years, things really accelerated when we got to the point of democratising data through the Qualtrics platform and allowing us to put the customer in the heart of every decision”, says Bradshaw.
“If were looking to launch a new product or update a product, if we were looking to change our servicing offering or our digital offering online or even the way we train our team members. We inform all of that work now with customer data. There is no excuse for our team members not considering the customer in the development of any program or change proposal”.
“Any proposals or changes that come forward, our teams have to link those proposals to a customer benefit. Is it going to make it simpler for the customer? Is it going to make it more personal for the customer? What are we making happen for the customer? How are we making success happen for the customer?”
Digital transformation and COVID
Customer feedback inspired Volkswagen to undertake a range of digital projects. The development of these projects accelerated due to the impact of COVID 19 and the restrictions imposed due to lockdown. One such project was the development of an ecommerce strategy that led to the launch of Volkswagen’s online store in April 2020. “Whether it be online service booking, or purchasing a car online, all these digital initiatives that we’ve launched have been born out of feedback directly from customers”.
“Our customers talked about wanting it to be easier to book in their vehicle for servicing and to maintain their vehicles in general. From that and our desire to make things simple for customers we not only launched online service booking but also launched Volkswagen care plans which is a prepaid maintenance package which they can purchase”.
One of the big changes over the last 5 years is that consumers have become more digitally native and tech savvy. They expect to be able to interact with a brand through a variety of digital channels. “We needed to become more digitally enabled to serve our customers. Five years ago, if you wanted to get your vehicle serviced you would need to ring and book it in with your local dealer. Now you can go visit Volkswagen.com.au and book in your vehicle and get all the pricing associated with that servicing online and then choose which VW dealership you actually get the service carried out on”.
Since April, Volkswagen has sold 460 cars online as well as 550 customer car plans for servicing, a total sales value of $36 million. Aside from strong growth in revenue and improving customer lifetime value, according to Roy Morgan, Volkswagen’s commitment to customers has allowed it to gain top spot for brand loyalty in the automotive industry. Employee turnover across the dealership has been reduced by 80% while profits for many dealers has doubled.