How data and employee advocacy are helping Volkwagen achieve CX innovation

Director of customer experience for the automotive brand in Australia talks about the data-driven customer and employee insights, technologies and cultural changes that are helping lift CX standards in the business

Adopting AI-based capabilities for social media and text analytics are just the latest examples of how Volkswagen is opening up “customer insights gems” that improve its experience game, its CX leader says.

Two years into his role as Volkswagen Australia’s first director of customer experience, Jason Bradshaw’s quest to transform the automotive company from product-led to customer-led approach continues to accelerate. And it’s the combination of data with a keen eye on employee experience that is helping him achieve success.

Among his latest priorities is installing Salesforce Social Studio and Einstein Analytics as well as advanced text analytics across the brand’s social platform. The group rolled out the vendor’s full suite of business management tools including Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Community Cloud about 18 months ago and is working to integrate the lot to inform its CX portal for dealers and HQ.

“The great benefit of having different data sets is not that I believe we’re going to get a completely different picture,” Bradshaw tells CMO, noting the brand receives 60,000 pieces of customer feedback each year through its touchpoint surveys alone.

“It’s a different lens and an important data point – it tells us how customers are still feeling about the experience with us. The benefit is you’re getting nuanced information.”

It’s this desire to get as many perspectives as possible that also sees Bradshaw continue to invest in third-party customer insights. Alongside its own in-house CX portal, Volkswagen commissions industry research every quarter to better understand brand perceptions and customer satisfaction at different points in the customer journey.

For example, while Volkswagen surveys customers 48 hours after a purchase, third-party providers do so 30-45 days later.

“If I think about a customer bringing in a vehicle for service, our data set might say the drop-off experience is a potential friction point. But sometimes other data sets will take it to the next level and gives us an insight that a customer wants to be able to pick up their vehicle at the end of the service and doesn’t want to wait more than three minutes,” Bradshaw says.  

“I can only put those dots together by having those multiple data sets that give us a key fresh piece of information. When I give that back to dealers, instead of saying it’s about A, B and C, we also say ‘you need to create an environment that means that someone is being served in this time period’.”  

Volkswagen launched its CX portal 12 months ago to deliver real-time insight into customer experiences across various touchpoints. It’s powered by the Qualtrics XM Platform, available to both dealers and brand employees, and represents a continuation of surveying customers post purchase or after a service interaction.

Read more: 10 ways Volkswagen’s first chief customer officer is driving a new experience agenda

Over the past year, the portal has been expanded to better understand customer experiences during inquiry and test driving phases.

“It’s a critical point to the customer, in starting to build that brand loyalty and understanding what our opportunities are to improve CX,” Bradshaw says. “Our research shows us there are in fact customers coming in who won’t want to do a test drive. Those sorts of insights have helped us to work closely with dealers around the first step, which is making sure know the customer and understand what knowledge gap they’re seeking out and what we should be addressing before they make their buying decision.

“For others, it could be accessing a raft of features and benefits around a vehicle. Or some know what they want, but might have some questions answered around specific features or optional extras.

“So we’ve evolved our platform to help us understand these nuances and then educate dealers around taking that moment to explore the best path for that individual.”  

Power of employees

It’s not just end customer views that matter. Employee advocacy as a mechanism for customer advocacy is another key area of focus for Bradshaw. To help, Volkswagen is rolling out a national employee advocacy survey following a pilot test in 2017.

“Because we operate a franchise business, this was about measuring how we create advocates in team members across dealerships nationwide in partnership with dealer partners,” Bradshaw explains. “With each question about the dealership, there’s also one on brand support.

“We want to build loyal team members that want to stay in the brand and advocate. Our success will come down to partnership between the dealers and ourselves to motivate the individual.”

As the brand, Bradshaw says he can’t address payroll, work conditions and benefits at an individual dealer level.

“But I can inspire the team member and make their job easier to ensure we have right processes, and have the right information,” he says. “What initial feedback showed us is that there are absolutely areas we can improve as a brand around the way we communicate with team, and deliver training, for instance.”

For example, the way Volkswagen historically launched a new product was to fly 1-2 sales consultants for each dealership to a location for immersive training. Through feedback, Bradshaw and his team have discovered other sales consultants were feeling left out and disadvantaged as a result.

So with the launch of Golf 7.5 this year, the car company’s training team visited every dealership, giving all sales consultants and service advisors hands-on training.

“The feedback was phenomenal. And team members believed it delivered more value to them,” Bradshaw says, adding costs were about the same but more time had to be spent on training. Ensuring almost daily feedback from teams in the field as well as dealers was a key part of winning executives over to the decision.

“We also communicated to sales and marketing colleagues around what we were doing to ensure elements we lost one way were outweighed by benefit of reaching 2000-3000 people,” Bradshaw says.  

“It was a courageous move to make a dramatic change. And it will be product dependent – that was another lesson we took from it. Our Crafter commercial vehicle is different, for instance, and people responsible for getting people to buy that vehicle are very different. With that, we’ll hire a warehouse and show how this light commercial van can be used in the setting it would be used in by most buyers.”

For Bradshaw, the strength of any customer experience management program is taking insights and making changes over time to programs to get best return position for employees.

“That in turn flows on to the customers. We know when team members are more knowledgeable, they deliver an easier experience for customers. It’s a foundational pillar for us,” he says.

Being willing to change

To highlight how initiatives have had to change in light of feedback, Bradshaw points to the ‘I am Volkswagen’ microsite, initially designed to attract new people to work for the brand’s dealerships. Originally conceived as an on-boarding site, the team quickly realised its approach didn’t suit a franchise operating model.

Although 100-200 people per month were expressing interest through the site, Bradshaw says it’s since launched on-boarding experiences more aligned to the training program. Going live on 2 January, the new-look platform sees on-boarding and platform within one platform.  

“Dealers can register new team members on the one platform that will then enable the on-boarding experience, learning pathways and give them access to various systems we need them to use,” Bradshaw says.  

In addition, the CX team has launched a fortnightly product webinar series for dealerships to reinforce product knowledge in the network.

“Customers have evolved, and the depth of knowledge they expect from sales and service have increased. Our range is also diverse,” Bradshaw says. “We’re launching this to constantly provide different points of view on the product and feedback.”

Last year, one of the more controversial decisions Bradshaw made was debuting a dealer star ratings system allowing end customers to rank its dealerships. Twelve months on, he claims great stories have come out of it and been shared across the network.

“Customers see that a dealer has a superior rating and they’ll deliberately buy from them,” he says. “We’ve also had customers saying to their dealer to please explain why we are not five-star rated.

“We’re still the only brand in Australia that publishes on website the customer experience with unfiltered ratings from customers. And there’s a lot of data behind it that helps us sit with dealers at individual level to work our customer areas of friction and how to improve them.”

It’s these distinct needs by dealership, geography and customer lifecycle that also saw Volkswagen launch a CX management platform. Staff of every level within a dealership can log in, and see areas of improvement for their business at an individual level.

“All of this is about all team members having access to the right information at the right time,” Bradshaw adds.  

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