Even as I write these words, it is not clear whether Volkswagen will survive its self-inflicted scandal caused by lying and cheating on emissions of its diesel cars. The problem goes back to 2008, according to the New York Times, and many Volkswagen executives and engineers reportedly have been involved in the subterfuge.
VW owners around the world are furious at the company … not to mention VW dealers, vendors, suppliers and others. Volkswagen customers, however, are most important because their cars have fallen drastically in value due to years of criminal behavior condoned at many levels in the company.
So, as tens of thousands of brand-new VWs sit idle and unsold, what can the company do today to begin repairing all the damage it did to itself, its relationship with customers, and its legendary brand … if anything?
- VW needs to acknowledge publicly and to itself that it has one of the worst self-inflicted problems in modern day corporate history. Self-inflicted because no one did this to VW but Volkswagen. The company must make such an acknowledgement regardless of consequences in order to have any chance at rebuilding trust. VW needs to take responsibility and admit — beyond what executives have already stated — that it knowingly caused the problem and hid the problem from customers for years.
- VW must stop announcing “sweeping restructuring of its global operations” because such old-fashioned PR card-shuffling of highly paid executives further reveals a massive company in complete confusion, disarray and teetering on sinking. To be frank, no one gives a damn over a team of new executives because new people only signals delay in righting wrongs. VW today needs one single visible “face and voice of the company” to establish any blush of trust with audiences. Moreover, VW needs to rally all the expertise already in the company to fix the problems … as quickly as possible.
- VW must clearly explain how the company will make things right with its customers … millions of them … around the world. Making things right means detailed and specific action steps, a timeline for solutions. And making things right with customers may range from immediate, free repairs paid-for by the company to outright replacement of a vehicle. Volkswagen can begin by giving every VW owner with a vehicle made in the last three years free oil changes, routine maintenance and tire rotation for however long they own the car. That gets customers in the doors at dealerships.
- The company needs to say that regardless of legal consequences it faces, it will be open and transparent in all communications with its customers.
- VW must start behaving with honesty and integrity, and that begins by not hiding behind press releases and statements prepared by lawyers but rather through open and instantaneous interaction with customers. That can be done overnight. Customers need a channel to vent anger at the company, and that is easily and quickly achieved through online. Such a moderated forum would signal that VW is listening to its publics.
- VW must openly communicate in the digital environment that dominates our world today. It’s not difficult but it mandates being brutally honest. VW should create a special news channel (not a PR “newsroom”) to detail through credible news-style stories, photos and video what it is doing right now to fix things. Such a bold move will show audiences globally what the company is doing.
Delay by the corporation will put the fate of VW further at risk. The clock is ticking for Volkswagen.