As the new Senior Vice President Customer Experience, Carsten Wreth has been responsible for the customer experience for all brands and business units in every Groupe PSA region since 1 October. Wreth is a member of the Group Sales & Marketing Office team, which is headed up by Albéric Chopelin. He will also be tasked with launching the Groupe PSA e-commerce platform and introducing a standardized customer-relationship-management system across all countries.
Carsten Wreth joined Opel in the newly created role of Vice President Customer Experience in January 2015 with the goal of making the company even more customer-focused. Prior to his move to Rüsselsheim, Wreth had gained extensive experience first as a consultant and later as an executive in the customer journey area before most recently serving as the CEO of Telefonica Global Services. Wreth holds a degree in business engineering from the University of Kaiserslautern.
Mr. Wreth, when was the last time you had personal contact with an Opel customer in your role as Vice President Customer Experience? And what did you talk about?
Carsten Wreth: The last time was just this morning. There was a letter on my desk from a customer who has been waiting for a spare part for quite some time. I gave him a call, apologized, and explained the situation. It didn’t solve the problem on the spot, of course, but I think the customer appreciated that I got in touch with him. Our conversation was a good one on the whole.
It sounds like working in Customer Experience primarily means dealing with complaints…
The conversation I had this morning was actually an exception; I only get involved in special cases. Our aim is to get better with every piece of feedback and every complaint we receive. To help us achieve this, we have introduced fixed processes over the last three and a half years. We now compile all the feedback we receive from customers as well as journalists, sort it according to model, assembly group, and component and transfer the information back to the respective engineering unit. Fewer complaints are coming in, and we’re not receiving the same comments over and over.
Can you give some examples of problems this approach might help to resolve?
Many customers have complained about the placement of the seat height adjustment, for example. We passed this information on to the engineering employees who are in charge of this feature, and they have now repositioned the switch. Another example is the USB port, which was located in the armrest. This meant that the driver had to fumble around without being able to see it while they were driving – it wasn’t very well designed. This has been addressed by moving the socket farther forward so it’s in the driver’s field of vision.
You took on the newly created role of Vice President Customer Experience nearly four years ago. Have you simply developed processes like the close links with Engineering, or have you set these up from scratch?
The procedures and processes are new in their current form. Customer feedback was of course passed on previously as well, but this was based on personal contacts to some extent. We gave the entire system a professional setup, and one that’s designed to be sustainable as well. We ask questions and get to the bottom of things: “What happened with problem XY?”
“In the future, there will be two firmly defined ‘gates’ for all of Groupe PSA where we take a very close look at everything that’s relevant to customers.”
But it could be that you discover things by accident to some extent. Shouldn’t we be actively asking customers questions before they get in contact with us as well?
I actually just introduced a related program called the Customer Experience Gating Process in the Engineering Center. In the future, there will be two firmly defined ‘gates’ for all of Groupe PSA where we take a very close look at everything that’s relevant to customers, such as the cockpit, steering wheel, and infotainment, during the vehicle development process. We will then work together with selected customers to check whether we have thought of everything and identify what could be improved further. This will not only help us to boost customer satisfaction but also work in a more business-oriented way.
That covers the work that happens at the interfaces between the manufacturer and the customer, but customers and dealerships are the ones who actually come into contact most frequently in practice.
That’s correct; the connection between the customer and the dealership is the most important one of all. Whether it’s a sale, a vehicle delivery, or the large Aftersales area, the dealership is what determines the customer’s experience with the Opel brand. We put a lot of work into developing a measurable, universal indicator of the dealerships’ performance that tells us how good a dealership is. The one thing we are ultimately certain of is that it comes down to a single aspect: loyalty. Things don’t always have to be perfect, but they need to be good enough on the whole that the customer decides to buy an Opel again. That’s the key indicator. And this is why we developed a concept and formulated an individual loyalty goal for each dealership. Every operation is measured according to this.
Are those values rising?
Yes, they are. We have worked hard to convey the importance of the concept to the dealers. The good ones know that their work is successful and receive financial incentives. We provide others with advice on what they need to change. And this has been successful, because loyalty is growing, as can be seen in the significant increase in customer loyalty values in 2017. We don’t publish figures for this, but we succeeded in closing the gap between ourselves and our best competitors much more quickly than we had planned.
How much is digitalization changing your work in terms of customer expectations?
It’s changing it a lot. We are competing with the experiences our customers have with Amazon or Apple, for instance. Let’s take Amazon as an example: The customer purchases something for 15 euros and can track their package’s exact location. This outstanding focus on the customer experience is Amazon’s core competence as an online retailer, in addition to logistics. And even though our core competence is something very different as a car manufacturer, the customer expects the same service from us. We are compared with the best, and this is justified to some extent. At the end of the day, customers have bought a product from us that costs thousands of euros. We have applied the ‘where is my package’ question to our own situation and provided an answer to it.
The core idea behind Customer Experience’s work is putting the spotlight on the customer and all of their needs. Regardless of how they get in contact with Opel, the customer should receive the service, products, or information they’re looking for. If this is successful, the customer experience will be the best it can be. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was a pioneer when it came to the customer experience. His credo was, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” This idea has received a further boost thanks to the increasing number of ‘touch points’ that have developed between companies and customers. Websites and online configurators, for example, have become a matter of course. And the opportunities to meet a customer’s expectations are equally extensive – as are the chances of falling short of them, should something go wrong.
And what answer did you come up with?
We keep our customers up to date on their vehicle. As soon as they have signed the contract, they receive an invitation to an online platform called ‘My Owner Center.’ We have defined four points at which we provide customers with information: We confirm the order, let them know when the car goes into production, and update them when it leaves the factory. The fourth and final step is sending them the date when the vehicle can be picked up from the dealership. But the best part is that the customer receives a video where they can watch their vehicle leaving the plant. The first buyers who had the chance to use this service in early 2017 gave us a clear indication of its success. They immediately wanted to share the video and their excitement with their friends on social media. And that’s the best result we could have hoped for, of course, because product recommendations from one friend to another can’t be beat!
Is this service available for all of the models?
It’s available for every model that is manufactured in any of the core Opel/Vauxhall plants. And this service has a very positive side effect as well, because customers become familiar with our My Owner Center platform very early on. This means they are using a platform where we offer a wide range of additional services and advertise other campaigns, like the snow tires we are currently promoting.
You have been Senior Vice President Customer Experience for all of Groupe PSA since October. How did that come about?
After the merger with Groupe PSA, our fellow workers from France naturally visited our department and wanted to know what we actually do. Groupe PSA didn’t have a comparable department. We shared many good conversations and presented our work, and Carlos Tavares decided in the end that the entire group could benefit from having a customer experience unit like this one. So my previous role at Opel/Vauxhall has now been extended to all of the brands and all of the regions in Groupe PSA.
Will you continue to work Rüsselsheim or will you be transferring to Paris?
I will be commuting back and forth. The entire customer experience team, which will include around 70 employees, will be distributed between Paris, Luton, England, and primarily Rüsselsheim. I am really excited about my new job, because this expansion represents an upgrade for the entire team and shows that our work is seen as valuable.
This means that you’re not just looking after Opel and Vauxhall, but are also responsible for customers at Peugeot, Citroën, and DS Automobiles now. To what extent do customers of these five brands have different expectations?
Every brand has its own profile, including when it comes to the customer experience. You have to make sure there isn’t any confusion between the brands. When a Citroën customer, who tends to be young and focused on their family, contacts the call center, they have different needs than a DS customer, who would be more likely to value luxury. The customers might be assisted by the same call center, but we make sure that their needs are addressed in a way that’s appropriate for the brand. The same also applies to the configurator and mobile app, for instance. Our aim here is to create a common technical platform that has a customized look and feel for each individual brand.
Finally, if money weren’t an issue, what tools or approaches would you like to put in place to take the customer experience to a completely new level?
Over the past few years, my team has worked hard to persuade their fellow workers that each and every one of us contributes personally to our customers’ satisfaction. I think it would be great if each employee would take the customer’s perspective more often, which would mean putting the customers at the center of their work. And this would cost next to nothing as well.
Thank you very much for the interview.