The VW scandal has shaken the automotive industry. In recent times, it hasn’t been uncommon for industry sectors to face scandal or massively increased regulatory constraints; just think of the banking sector and national supermarkets, over the past few years says Mark Kirby

But news from VW – one of the most trusted and reliable brands in the car business – took us all by surprise. Having impacted the wider car manufacturing community, potentially five per cent of road users are looking at having their cars recalled because of the scandal. Our thoughts this season, are with the customer service teams that are working round the clock to ease the pain, if only slightly, for worried motorists.

There are 29.6 million cars on the road in the UK, but with reports saying that as many as 1.5 million VW cars may have to be recalled, registering it as one of the biggest automotive scandals in history, the operational, behind the scenes reaction from VW is going to have to be an immensely strong and unified one.

The VW customer service team should have all the tools in place to handle customer queries and complaints on a variety of platforms, but also in an efficient manner. On a product recall of this scale, erecting more call centres or increasing customer service staff numbers may not be enough to handle hundreds of thousands of customer interactions.

Taking the first step

When the scandal came to light in September, many VW owners understandably wanted to know whether their vehicle had the fraudulent software installed. To provide customers with further details, VW set up a new self-service testing system, to help customers determine whether their diesel car had been impacted by the crisis. Customers were asked to input their vehicle’s identification number into the checking system. This immediately told VW which cars were affected, but customers were not provided with an immediate answer to many of their outstanding questions. Waiting for VW to contact them directly, within an uncertain timescale, many customers were left very much in the dark.

In today’s digital society, customers now demand a high level of speed, convenience and transparency when it comes to service. It’s all about real-time. Considering that 70 per cent of customers expect a response to email enquiries within three hours,[1] VW’s unified customer service approach is imperative in keeping customers well-informed and keeping customer complaints to a minimum, particularly when the fault lies with the company.

However, in the light of the recent announcement that 800,000 of VW’s petrol cars have also cheated the CO2 emission test, further pressure has been placed on the customer service team to perform. With the news sending the carmaker’s share price plummeting by 10 per cent, the fastest drop since the diesel emission fraud was first revealed, the challenge to maintain strong customer relations and brand loyalty is now more important than ever.

Rebuilding reputation

To avoid harming its global reputation even further, the carmaker has a duty and responsibility to ensure that, regarding all queries, customers face neither extra costs nor effort. While call centres should be an important part within its crisis strategy, due to the shocking size of the scandal, there is the danger of pushing the customer service machine to the point of collapse. Recognising the limitations and costs of contact centres, VW’s decision to develop a simple self-service system would certainly be a first step in the right direction.

However, by deploying a more advanced self-service solution, VW could support as much as 40 per cent of customer enquires in real-time, reducing long contact centre queues and easing pressure on an already overburdened customer service team. By delivering informative content in real-time and guiding the customer through each step of the journey will not only reduce motorists’ anxieties, but also considerably strengthen confidence in the brand. If VW is determined to continue along the path of clarification and transparency, now more than ever, building trust and offering a convenient service solution to deal with a high influx of queries should be front of mind.

With the carmaker already suffering a 40 per cent loss in its value since September, and with every recalled car costing the carmaker just under £1800, nurturing those customer relations will be crucial in retaining their customer base and securing the company’s financial future. Whilst sending out product recall letters and setting up a basic self-service system is all part of a logical customer management process, more needs to be done to keep customers firmly in the loop or risk damaging its brand’s loyalty in the long-term.

If customers are not kept up-to-date and informed, the carmaker could run the risk of having a trust crisis on its hands. Some customers quite rightly might be left wondering – am I going to be carless this Christmas?

[1] Institute of Customer Service report

Mark Kirby is CEO of digital customer self-service company, CartAssist 

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