Behind Volkswagen's New Customer Experience Strategy

Brian Cantor

Little wavering would be expected if you polled American enterprises about the importance of the customer experience—virtually all would identify it as fundamental to the success of the business.

But if you instead asked for concrete facts and figures on what initiatives have been launched, how their success has been tracked and how future customer service strategy will change in the wake of those results, you would stumble upon a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Aware of the difference between thinking and doing, Volkswagen of America recently announced the creation of a "customer experience organization" that will fall under Mark Barnes, the auto company’s head of sales.

Barnes, now the Vice President of Volkswagen Customer Experience, will oversee the company’s Volkswagen Academy, Customer Care, Customer Experience and CRM functions in order to "determine and implement strategies and initiatives to support the customer experience in all business activities."

Alignment between Volkswagen and its customers will happen at the corporate and dealership levels.

While any definitive, corporate-backed effort to map the voice of the customer has the potential for benefit, the new Volkswagen structure ups the ante by giving the Customer Experience organization a seat at the executive table.

"Awareness within the highest levels is one, since this will be brought to the executive-team level," says Barnes of the program’s anticipated results in an interview with Marketing Daily. "I will remain a member of that team with the same responsibility I had in sales, and will report up once a week. So this will be the first time what we are doing from a satisfaction standpoint will report to that level."

Creating an unbroken chain between the customer, front-line reps, customer experience managers and the C-level is necessary for creating an ability to act on the voice of the customer, and Barnes is confident the restructuring will protect that consistency of message.

"It's also about not having different messages, but one common message all geared toward what we are calling the "Volkswagen Vow," notes Barnes.

Barnes is not alone in that philosophy.

In an exclusive video with Call Center IQ, OptionsExpress’ EVP of Signature Services Phil Bennett stressed that call center managers need to assure customer experience objectives are consistently recognized and communicated between front-line agents and the C-level.


Tom Graves, director of customer service for Carolina Biological Supply, meanwhile, explains that executive buy-in enabled his organization to drastically improve its customer service and resulting Net Promoter Score.

"What makes it easy for us in our company is that it starts at the top," explains Graves of Carolina Biological’s improved customer experience. "Our CEO [and] VPs are all on board, and that makes the director of customer service job easier than [it is for] some who do not have that support."

Barnes’ ambitions for Volkswagen, however, are not limited to assuring executives are clued into and concerned about the customer experience. He also wants to incorporate customer insights across various business functions, assuring no facet of Volkswagen’s overall growth is inhibited by customer dissatisfaction.

Incorporating a customer roundtable, for instance, "will let us understand what impediments are keeping us from growing our business as well as growing our satisfaction. Where are the gaps customers are experiencing in purchase and ownership process at Volkswagen?

Potentially-impacted by the findings, in addition to the customer service function, will be dealerships and the Volkswagen product lines themselves.

With revolutions like social media exposing infinitely more eyeballs—both inside and outside the company—to chatter about brands, the value of analyzing and acting on the voice of the customer (and the harm of ignoring it) has never been more clear.

But analyzing and acting are very different things. Volkswagen’s restructuring hints at a potential roadmap for making real progress in the customer experience realm. Executives do not simply need to acknowledge that the voice of the customer is important—they have to feel compelled to sponsor the strategies needed to cultivate a more favorable voice.

Global companies like Volkswagen need to pay special attention to customer experience. Get insights from the best at the International Contact Center Summit!