Volkswagen 38 Prototype (replica)
PHOTO: Iwao

For the Volkswagen Group Australia, the numbers spoke volumes, a 100% employee turnover rate for certain job roles/positions. It’s something the car company took seriously because, routinely, this meant dealerships were always having to start over in terms of customer experience, according to Jason Bradshaw, chief customer and marketing officer for Volkswagen Group Australia. 

A few years ago, when turnover was high and customer experience suffered, the company took action. “We very quickly pivoted our work from just being about customer experience to also being about the employee experience,” Bradshaw said. And, in turn, they made concerted efforts to connect employee experience to customer experience outcomes and constantly explore the correlation between the two factions.

Volkswagen is one of many companies actively trying to make those experience connections. After all, companies with strong employee experience and engaged employees tend to do better in customer experience, according to multiple industry reports. However, it's more than just the tired, “happy employees-happy customers,” adage.

Innovation Across Experiences

More than one-third of respondents’ companies are seeing, or expect to see, better customer experience and satisfaction as a result of their efforts to improve the employee experience, according to the report “Experience of Work” by The Economist Intelligence Unit. “Improved customer experience and satisfaction” ranked third behind the benefits of an improved employee experience in the survey behind improved employee productivity and improved employee engagement. 

Tim Minahan, CMO at Citrix, which commissioned the survey, said researchers found that consistently across industries and geographies, organizations report a strong link between employee and customer experience. When they give employees information and tools they need to be productive and a healthy environment to work in, that leads directly to strong business results. “It’s innovation across the board,” Minahan said.

Related Article: The Intersection of Employee Experience and Customer Experience

Customer Experience Efforts Lead to Employee Focus

The drive to link customer experience with employee experience at Volkswagen Group Australia actually began about 4 years ago with the formation of a customer experience division. Early in the program, customer experience officials discovered a challenge that was as great, if not greater, than its customer challenges: an employee challenge. 

“We had a significant turnover problem,” Bradshaw said. “And when that's happening, it's really difficult to get a consistent experience. We’re starting at ground zero experience for customers.” So they made the pivot: a customer and employee experience focus. 

Related Article: How to Measure Employee Experience — and Improve Customer Experience, Too

Creating Employee Experience Targets

The first step to improve employee experience for Volkswagen? Work with frontline managers at dealerships to focus on their leadership skills, their communication skills and their ability to onboard a team member within a dealership. “What does that first 90 days look like for a new team member?” Bradshaw said. They asked employees questions such as, “Are your leaders at the dealership inspiring you or creating an environment for you to do your best?” 

They used that data to in turn make several improvements at each dealership and create employee experience targets. It wasn’t just about getting to a certain standard for an Employee Net Promoter Score. The targets included participation in the employee opinion survey, onboarding activities, and some broader training and development opportunities. “And with those dealerships that invest time and energy into our employee experience program, we can see a direct correlation between the results that they get and the customer experience score and their profit,” Bradshaw said. Further, the dealerships that met their employee experience targets and customer experience targets see strong profits. “It helps reinforce the need for us to be absolutely intentional about improving our employee experience and at the same time our customer experience,” Bradshaw said.

Never Stop Learning

Volkswagen Group Australia has held innovation and training sessions on new models or existing upgrades of current models. At these events, it invites employees from all around the country to participate.

Great experience, right? Yes, Bradshaw said. The downside? Many employees felt left out and not up to speed on the new models, which in turn affected customer experience. “It actually disengaged a number of people,” Bradshaw said. “The people that didn't get to go were disengaged. It disengaged their desire to even talk to a customer about it. I even had a customer say once to me that the sales associate said to them that they couldn't help them because they didn't get to go on the trip.”

In response to this issue they held various trainings at different facilities, which saved some money and led to better training and education for employees. “It really has helped us move the overall experience that we deliver to customers, but in a way that's quite sustainable,” Bradshaw said. Volkswagen Group Australia had always had online training available, but employees held the perception that those who traveled for the learning sessions were "given the knowledge in a better way or more fun way."

Related Article: Want Better Customer Experience? Start With Your Employees

Open Communication With Employees

Volkswagen is not alone in its efforts to connect employee experience to customer experience. Bryn Butolph, CEO and co-founder of meal preparation delivery service Eat Clean Meal Prep, found that being available and showing commitment to employees has in turn led employees to care about customers just the same. "Making yourself available to your staff for questions is a must,” he said. “My staff knows at any time that they can call/text/email with any questions or concerns they might have. Again, this lends a hand to open communication and will allow for trust and assurance for your staff to know that you're available at all times.”

The constant communication and contact between management and their staff will continue to engage them in their work, Butolph found. “If you care about your employees,” he said, “they will care about your organization.”

Pats on the Back Still Count

For some, connecting employee experience and customer experience is as simple as saying thanks. “Whether we congratulate our team at our monthly company lunches or in a company-wide email blast, taking every opportunity to thank team members — no matter how small the task or ‘win’ was — can translate into even greater success for our clients,” said Matt Erickson, marketing director of National Positions. “We recently had a client email our CEO with a message of gratitude for the results they had gained, calling out team members directly. This email was forwarded to the entire team at headquarters to not only recognize the employees involved, but also to remind everyone of the difference our efforts make to our clients, and, in turn, their employees."