HERNDON, Virgina. -- Volkswagen Group of America says fixing its quality also means improving its ties to customers.
"We have to be very blunt and say we have not been performing systematically at a level we expect this brand to achieve," says Jonathan Browning, who has headed Volkswagen Group of America and the VW brand in the United States since October.
Browning created the post of vice president of customer experience and filled it with Mark Barnes, who had been COO and vice president of sales. VW Group of America no longer will have a COO, Browning says.
Barnes, who began his new job Aug. 15, has been charged with improving customer relations on the dealer and brand levels, as well as through Volkswagen Credit.
"Some of the things we have been focusing on are initial customer interactions with dealers," Browning says. "A lot of people make the first contact through the Internet, and how we respond and the timeliness is essential in terms of triggering the right steps."
Equally important, he says, is for VW to better explain vehicle settings and features when delivering vehicles to buyers. This includes setting up Bluetooth connections, using the navigation system and even selecting favorite radio stations, Browning says.
Barnes, a former Hyundai and Nissan executive, says VW must work on boosting its customer loyalty rate from today's 39 percent, improving its consumer call center and enhancing dealer training.
"We have to get dealers focused through awards and discussions," he says.
VW does not tie part of its dealer discount to improving customer satisfaction. But it added incentives earlier this year such as extra bonus payments for sales personnel if they meet certain targets, Browning says.
VW also kicked off a president's club that will recognize the top 10 percent of its 590 dealers in customer service ratings. Those dealers will be allowed to advertise their ranking on the dealership Web site and be rewarded with a trip, Barnes says.
Barnes is to recommend ways to improve customer satisfaction by the end of September.