James Douglas has evaluated VWCV’s offering and implemented changes that recognise the equal importance of sales and aftersales. Stephen Briers reports
James Douglas has spent the past 12 months reacquaint-ing himself with the van market. The Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) sales director has taken time to understand exactly what products his customers want to buy, the type of ownership experience they desire and what role the company should play during the life of the van.
It comes down to, he says, having the right services and the right support structure in two key areas: the central function (how flexible VWCV is in meeting the bespoke needs of larger customers), and the retailer network of 73 van centres and 25 authorised repairers (how they support smaller businesses) .
Changes have already been implemented which have created new roles. Douglas has appointed Pete Janes as fleet aftersales manager to provide a link between the customer and the retailer or centre.
Janes will ensure VWCV can meet any bespoke need of a customer, building new aftersales programmes that can be rolled out across the business where appropriate. He will also be responsible for handling any issues that arise during the life of the van.
At the same time, Katie Benson has been promoted as fleet development manager, another new position, to support B2B programmes for the network.
“We didn’t have a small business programme,” Douglas says. “Now we are recruiting five heads for it. The main thrust is the in-life support for customers.”
Douglas has substantial experience in fleet. He spent more than four years as fleet sales director at Audi UK and was previously head of fleet then corporate sales director at Nissan GB, where he first learned about the van trade.
He knows that the experience fleets and their drivers receive over the lifecycle of the vehicle can make or break a relationship.
“Product is 50% of the package; how they are looked after is the other 50%. We need to be bespoke when the customer needs it – that’s the focus,” Douglas says.
VWCV is building on the mobile servicing clinics launched last year with a goal of doubling the number of vans to 20 “at least” by the end of this year. This, believes Douglas, is the future for aftersales.
“I would be astonished if this is not how we provide our aftersales services in the future,” he says.
“It offers incredible and unique value because we go on site and service the vehicle when and where the customer wants us to.”
And he really does mean when. “We have one customer where we go in at 4am to make sure their vans are ready to go out at 8am. For another, we service between 7pm and 10pm at their premises. It means they don’t lose any money by their van being off-road.”
The service is targeted at larger corporates but will cascade down to smaller businesses as the network of vans expands.
It will also extend beyond servicing into other aftersales work, including inspections, MOTs, software updates, minor warranty work, tyres, air-con – “basically almost anything that doesn’t require a ramp”, Douglas says.
Eventually every van centre will have a mobile van; it’s what customers will expect as they seek to maximise the uptime of their fleets. All vans are Crafters, but Volkswagen is looking at fitting out Transporters and Caddys for more minor work.
The service is also leading to new sales opportunities, supporting Douglas’s 50/50 claim for winning business.
“For most businesses, aftersales is the intangible – you can’t be certain how well you will be supported,” he says.
“This (mobile servicing) is a security blanket for the customer.”
The absence of a small business programme has not hampered VWCV’s sales efforts with local organisations; it has historically been one of the company’s strengths thanks to the relationships nurtured by its van centres. Where it lacked volume was in the corporate market.
This is now changing after the creation of a new team three years ago. The slow burn of progress with the UK’s largest fleets is finally coming to fruition as recent deals with Royal Mail and British Gas show.
Large corporate fleets will continue to be a priority, but that won’t be to the detriment of local business. Here, retailers are battling against a growth in online purchases as brokers gain greater foothold with SMEs.
“It’s important our retailers have strong relationships in their local community – I believe businesses prefer to buy locally from someone they know and trust,” Douglas says.
“But we have seen growth in online, especially contract hire brokers, because companies think they are getting a better deal or the speed of transaction is quicker.”
Neither is necessarily true, he claims. VWCV “can do a good deal” and, with its new small business programme, will be able to create high value packages that incorporate service and maintenance.
“The (broker) prices I see online are also available in the dealership – we have to make the customer aware of this,” he adds.
At the end of July, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle registrations were 19,920. Douglas says this is ahead of both plan and budget with an order bank up by 1,000 units on last year.
However, not all models are contributing to growth, with Caddy down 15%.
Look behind that headline figure and the cause comes down to one big deal with British Gas which is “in a fallow year”, according to Douglas. “Caddy is down by design.”
Elsewhere he is not seeing any market slowdown, despite claims by some competitors. Customers are still buying vans and Volks-wagen is still winning business, buoyed in part by its expanding range of factory-build and off-the-shelf conversions.
“It’s opening new opportunities with customers we’ve not been able to speak to in the past,” says Douglas. “It’s a huge focus for us.”
The biggest uncertainty facing the market comes from alternative fuels and legislation.
Air quality and clean air zones are forcing fleets to reconsider their fuel mix. Some, says Douglas, will have to make big changes to their businesses with heavy investment in Euro 6 diesel and electric alternatives.
He believes electric is on the cusp of substantial growth, although “no one has brought the perfect model to market yet”.
Volkswagen’s own solution is the eCrafter, which is undergoing trials with a handful of fleets ahead of market launch later this year. Meanwhile, at the Hannover show later this month, a selection of “interim” fuel solutions will be shown.
And petrol? “There has been interest, but not as much as we thought,” Douglas says. That said, petrol now accounts for 7% of Caddy sales, up from just 1% two years ago.
Having spent 15 months re-evaluating the business, Douglas now has a clear objective in mind. He wants Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to offer every service a customer might want.
“We have a sufficient range of products, financial services, bespoke aftersales support structures and funding packages that you could argue we are a mobility provider,” he says.
“We also offer rental and we are about to bring on stream a flexi-rental product through Volkswagen Financial Services.
“It’s about advising customers how our goods and services can help them to reduce cost, reduce risk and improve efficiencies.”
VWCS considers upping its telematics solution
Volkswagen Commercial Services has been offering telematics solutions for several years via its Financial Services division and is now looking at putting together a brand solution.
“We see an opportunity with small businesses that won’t have thought about the benefits of understanding and tracking their vehicles and also predicting maintenance needs,” says James Douglas.
The project could get the green light for launch later this year and, explains Douglas, is not a technology solution, it’s down to process.
“It’s understanding the benefits of the data and matching that analysis to the customer’s business in a way that saves them money or takes risk away,” he says. “It’s another tool to offer value to the customer.”