Digital reception is transforming Citygate’s aftersales operations

  06 February 2017 - 12:00pm |   

At Citygate, there is a group-wide aspiration to have digital job cards within the aftersales department. So when we heard that Volkswagen was planning the ‘Aftersales Digital Reception’ (ADR), as a forward-thinking company, we were very keen to get involved. The ADR scheme is a new approach to keep service customers informed every step of the way. It encompasses redesigned service reception areas, hand-held tablet technology and online ‘explainer’ videos and is designed to give drivers a ‘more relaxed, enlightened and straightforward experience’.

The major advantages of having a digital job card are increased and improved data capture, which leads to a more efficient process within the business and the ability to better communicate with our customers. At the moment we have paper items and often details slip through the net. When you are looking for improved data capture and cohesive communication between departments and with the customer, that scenario is less than ideal.

Future possibilities

There is a long-term vision within Citygate to improve all of our processes and for me that lies in improving the systems that we use. ADR is just another step towards that. Our journey has been quite interesting since we were asked to be part of the Volkswagen pilot in 2014, an offer that we duly accepted. We have always been a RTC (Real Time Communications) user and we tend to use the system to its fullest. In fact we are known – certainly in the Volkswagen world – for being the guys who embrace these new systems and push them to their limits.

On the basis that we’ve also got a communications centre that makes all of our in and outbound bookings, many years ago it seemed appropriate to implement RTC and we also use Workshop 360 and the technician videos, so very quickly came the thinking behind the implementation of ADR.

Pilot progress

I jumped on the pilot, which took place at our site at our High Wycombe retailer. That site was chosen because we have the communications centre and service manager onsite. It also represents the best-case scenario in terms of ADR was going to work, it had to work there. It helped that the technicians had already started to use 360 video about a year before that, and ADR was one step on. The brand that we represent – and the people we employ – took to it quite naturally.

I’ve been quite pleased with the reactions from the staff – we are giving them quite a different tool to use, but they are embracing it. There was lots of testing, but by the time came to go live, the users were very confident.

We learned some very important lessons. Firstly, the wireless and IT infrastructure needs to be more than substantial. You need to have coverage that stretches out over the carparks and within the building itself.

More importantly, something else that came out of the pilot that none of us thought about was the ability to move around the site and hold the same IP address. We would move from department to department and drop an IP and pick up another one. That meant that the tablet you were using would refresh between IP addresses, resulting in lost data.

Citygate had already made a big investment in our broadband and IT infrastructure around the group, but we then spent around £25,000 on additional hubs to make sure that infrastructure was solid.

Tablet choice

When it came to devices, there were further lessons learned with ADR. We originally started with Lenovo Windows tablets, which taught us that you can’t use a non-customer-facing system – whether it is Kerridge or RTC or anything else – in it’s current guise, you have to go down the app route to ensure it is seamless and intuitive, otherwise it doesn’t look very good in front of the customer. We tried to use a workshop management system on the first tablets and it was really clunky and the buttons were so small you couldn’t really use them.

As a result the project was halted after a couple of days because it wasn’t functional. But it did whet our appetite, and our customers were also interested in it. At that point we parked the pilot and Volkswagen and RTC went away and re-developed the RTC app, a process that we were also involved in, and it has morphed into a very useable bit of kit.

Information overload

When I present the system to our front of house teams, the picture I paint is of when I used to be on a sales team and would be asked more than 30 questions by a customer. More than half I wouldn’t be able to answer and they would slip through the net, which isn’t what customers want. Examples such as how much a certain accessory was; when a certain job would be scheduled or completed; how to program the Bluetooth phone; what a certain button does in the car – all sorts of things. If these questions sit outside your standard skill set you struggle to answer them and ultimately don’t get answered.

But for our current sales advisers, who use, iPads, having all this information at their fingertips it’s great. They have the ability to use RTC, but also to go onto YouTube, access Volkswagen’s ‘How to’ videos, or find out details about tyre stocks and can answer any question that a customer might have. The sales staff love it because they know that all they have to do is use Google or YouTube and they have an answer.

Having that amount of information gives you a certain amount of power and it also keeps customers engaged. They are then much more likely to stay within the Citygate group and won’t go home and search for somewhere else to buy a car. The added bonus is that we fulfil our requirements on data capture.

ADR and RTC are gradually transforming our business – we are on a journey with Volkswagen and it has clicks and bricks in place and we are embracing all of that, as we are an innovate business. The Volkswagen ‘Blended Retail’ approach is great and Citygroup and a few other groups are trying to move aftersales into a modern retailing concept.

As product launches go, it has been very easy – especially because the tablets we eventually chose (iPads) are very intuitive. In my time of launching products, I’ve looked back and thought how it could be improved, but ADR came at the right time, on the right platform and our staff and customers are almost expecting this sort of innovation within the group. It is now rolled out to all of the Citygate sites, so digital reception is available to all our customers.

All about Aftersales Digital Reception

Why has ADR been developed?

The ADR process has been created to give routine service customers a much clearer picture of what is happening to their car: from booking to job completion. Beginning with the ‘check-in’ process it sees an expert service advisor greet the Volkswagen driver with an electronic tablet-based arrivals form and inspect their car – taking photographs of its condition if required – and talk them through the selected service/maintenance process.

What happens then?

Customers join their advisor in the new, informal, service reception and consultation area which, thanks in part to the hand-held tablet technology employed, does away with formal desks and the physical barrier of old-tech desktop computers. The outline of work is discussed and the customer either opts to wait for it to be carried out, or takes advantage of a pre-booked lift, or courtesy car to get on with their day.

What role does video play in the process?

As the car undergoes its 34-point visual check, carried out by a trained Volkswagen Service Technician, a video is created showing what work has been identified. In the brief film the technician points out risks such as worn brake pads or tyres, and allows the customer to see for themselves any maintenance work required. The video can then be sent straight to the customer’s computer, or smartphone, for them to view and make a decision on before any work begins.

How does the customer benefit?

The thinking behind the new ADR process is to keep customers better informed about, and more involved in, their car’s servicing work at Volkswagen Retailers. The initiative is rolling out across the brand’s 227-strong Retailer network throughout the year, with 800-plus Service Advisors in the network undergoing detailed training online and at the Volkswagen National Learning Centre in Milton Keynes.

What’s the official company line?

Kevin Rendell, Volkswagen UK’s head of service and parts operations: “The Aftersales Digital Reception initiative has been many months in the making and is, we believe, a revolutionary approach to Volkswagen servicing and aftersales customer care.

“Advisors consulting with customers, technicians demonstrating what work needs to be done via video and simple online explanations showing why work has to be carried out all combine to make the service process much less intimidating.”

By Simon Poole, Citygate Automotive

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