The product may make the initial sale but experiences creates brand loyalty. That’s the view of Volkswagen Australia’s Chief Customer and Marketing Officer Jason Bradshaw, who has spent the last half decade developing a data driven customer experience culture and strategy at the automotive manufacturer.

This year Volkswagen Australia began selling vehicles online for the first time in Australia, extended its service plans to older vehicles and made them available online, and launched the “world’s smallest dealership” – an augmented reality tool for consumers to view vehicles in their own driveways.

The changes are the culmination of a multiyear strategy to use data from both employees and consumers to inform workplace, product and service experiences. Bradshaw argues it’s working.

Since April, Australian consumers have purchased over 460 new Volkswagen cars online and more than 800 prepaid service plans, generating over $36 million in revenue at a time when consumers are rightly cautious about large buys.

“I think experience really cements loyalty,” Bradshaw told Which-50. 

Volkswagen Australia chief customer and marketing officer Jason Bradshaw. LinkedIn.

“That product experience in a physical goods world like [Volkswagen] is important. It has to be dependable, it has to be the expected experience. But the true loyalty to the brand comes from those touch points, those interruptions in the ownership cycle – whether desired interruptions or otherwise.”

Those experiences reinforce the consumer’s brand decision and encourage future business, Bradshaw says.

For an auto manufacturer, chief among the interruptions to the ownership cycle is the purchase of a vehicle, where a frictionless experience is critical. Volkswagen has established  customer and employee standards for its network of dealers around the country. The ones that exceed the experience standards are making double the profit on average, according to Bradshaw.

But there are also opportunities to cement loyalty later in the ownership cycle, Bradshaw tells Which-50.

“Every time a customer gets their vehicle serviced, then is that reinforcing that they’re valued? That this is the right choice for them? Is this the experience that they believe delivers value to their life?

“And so, for me, that experience is what sells the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth vehicle.”

Volkswagen Australia undertook research to understand the value buyers place on service packaging, using the feedback to overhaul its own “cookie cutter” offering into one “100 per based on” buyer customer feedback.

Driving with data

The focus on experience at Volkswagen Australia has evolved since 2015. It began with a focus on customer experience, then moved to employees of both Volkswagen and dealer partners. 

Collecting and analysing data on the experience of dealers allowed Volkswagen to understand why the best were succeeding and how that experience could be replicated at other dealerships through training and incentive structure. 

“We saw that, again, the key there was democratising that employee experience data,” Bradshaw says. “So not just giving the data to the manager of a team of salespeople in a dealership, but rather, also giving the de-identified data to our training department [to understand] what is it about our training that’s enabling employees in dealerships to be brand advocates and to be successful?”

Volkswagen Australia tapped Qualtrics, the US experience management platform company SAP paid US$8 billion for in 2018, to track, combine and analyse the experience information.

Qualtrics is used by Volkswagen to connect data sources and surface information on experiences. Bradshaw says it’s a far cry from the traditional approach and arms the business with new tools.

“It goes much beyond managing the experience, but rather, giving people the real time information to drive decisions that lead to better outcomes for customers, employees, and for our dealer partners and the business.”

Bradshaw says the Qualtrics platform essentially “connects the dots” on experience data.

“For us, our experience strategy really was enabled by the power of the Qualtrics platform giving us that ability to democratise data across each of the core disciplines, and see in real time that connectivity between products, brand, customer or employee to drive real time decision making.”

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