Volvo has a worldwide reputation for some of the safest cars in the world, but in 2016, the brand’s direction and message was unclear and it showed in a lack of dealer confidence and sales. While other luxury car brands were experiencing a surge in sales, sales of new Volvo cars remained stagnant. Far from being a product problem (Volvo, in 2016 had received awards from CNET, BusinessInsider, Kelley Blue Book, MotorTrend, Cars.com and the IIHS). However, at the dealer level, one glance at customer satisfaction rankings told a different story—compared to competitors, Volvo scored significantly lower. Volvo was in need of a transformation in the way customers saw their brand and the way Volvo employees saw their customers.
It was this challenge that inspired the team at LABOV to begin work on an instructional event design process that would put the attendee first. The objective: Engage and fill Volvo employees with pride, share the vision and mission and reignite the Volvo brand.
“How do you set yourself apart?” asked Beth Clark. “You do it in how you treat your customers.” Beth is an Account Supervisor at LABOV. I spoke with her to learn about their Volvo Pride event and their secret recipe for making awesome training events.
Although LABOV is a full-service agency, they specialize in companies that sell through the channel—such as dealer networks, distributors or reps. In the automotive industry alone, they’ve worked for Audi, VW, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati and Harley-Davidson. Now in their 35th year of business, LABOV has created hundreds of programs and events nationally and internationally.
LABOV’s mantra is that their training should be both fun and inspiring for the participant—and for their client. That is why when designing their training events, LABOV places a strong emphasis on technology. Pre-learning engagement, live polling, augmented reality, self-guided learning and the use of an event management platform all have a place in LABOV’s technological approach. As I soon learned, a tech-savvy approach is crucial when working with the automotive world.
Apps are now an expected part of the automobile purchasing experience
LABOV’s instructional designer and gamification expert, Jim Buck, explains. “For instance, at car dealerships, it’s expected among luxury customers that they be presented offers and information about the vehicle from a tablet device.” But despite the expectation, many dealers are still not comfortable using and demonstrating technology—often the thing that attracted the customer to the product in the first place. If the LABOV team was going to train Volvo employees on how to improve their customer experience, they were also going to need to get them more comfortable with technology. “We wanted to show our participants that engaging with technology can be fun and inspiring—it doesn’t have to be intimidating—certainly nothing to be scared of,” says Buck.
The LABOV team definitely had their work cut out for them.
The LABOV Instructional Design Process
Two teams. Five weeks. Ten cities. Over 3,000 customer-facing employees. That was the scope of the Volvo Pride customer experience training event series. The theme, Volvo Pride, arose from research conducted by LABOV during the Learn phase of their instructional design process. The other stages of the process are Create, Inspire, and Sustain.
The first step of the process is to learn. The LABOV team immerses themselves in everything they could possibly learn about the product, process, or service that they are working for. At LABOV there's a saying: “To inspire others, you must be inspired.”
For Volvo Pride, LABOV immersed themselves in everything Volvo. They started with the corporate offices. How did the leadership and employees of the company view their brand as well as their dealer family? How did the dealership employees view the brand? Where did they think the brand was heading? Just how did the brand become so revered for safety? How do dealerships view their customers—as transactional or relational?
During their research on a visit to Volvo’s home country of Sweden, LABOV learned that Volvo dispatches a team of experts to inspect car accidents involving Volvo cars, to investigate and further improve the safety of their cars. Also during the experience, the LABOV team uncovered something much bigger and much more relevant to the customer experience goals of the event series.
“We noticed during our immersion process that Volvo executives and employees were almost beaten up by the past issues," says LABOV President and CEO, Barry LaBov. "But when they talked about the new product and the great things Volvo is doing, their energy went through the roof. We needed to capture and bottle that excitement and passion in the brand and spread it throughout the thousands of people representing them nationwide.” This would become the focus of LABOV’s project. “In order to create a great customer experience, you have to take pride in the brand, demonstrate it, and inspire customers in everything they do,” said Dick Swary, LABOV Vice President.
Through their comprehensive research LABOV identified the core of the situation. Next they would need to create a comprehensive strategy and methods to address it.
Main Take-away: Your training event is much more than just information to be shared. It’s sharing passion, insights and building a purpose that is bigger than an individual. That experience should not be reserved for only one type of employee, for example sales people. The entire organization from Receptionist to President must be engaged.
The Create stage includes the building of the curriculum and all of the supportive elements that go into a successful training experience. During this stage, the LABOV team outlines the key concepts that they want to communicate and also determines the packaging for these elements.
“Pride doesn’t just come from words, it manifests itself in a number of ways. It’s shown in the unique design features or the stories of how the brand went to extraordinary efforts to protect the environment,” said Clark. One way that Beth and her team helped Volvo employees develop pride in the brand was by providing them with interesting and fun facts about the car and the brand. Take for instance the back-seat storage cabin of the Volvo XC90—designers deliberately created a cute spider design for no other reason but to give the children who would inevitably be sitting there something to wonder about.
Putting yourself in your customer's shoes, and their children's shoes via eurokar.co.uk
In addition to pride in the Volvo brand, Beth and her team needed to instill in participants a confidence with regard to technology. The best way to master technology is to play with it, to experiment, without the worry of “breaking it.” To tackle this, LABOV provided 100 iPads at every event and urged attendees to get more comfortable with using them. The team also went to great lengths to ensure that attendees mastered the technology inside the cars. Each event had six Volvo vehicles for attendees to learn about in a hands-on fashion. In the next section we’ll see how LABOV used these assets to craft engaging learning experiences.
Main Takeaway: Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes. Create an event curriculum that is aligned with the goals of your client, and diverse enough in its approach to be effective. How can you build cute spiders into your training event, figuratively speaking?
Once a curriculum is outlined, it’s time to make it inspiring. Using a selection of gamified competitions, hands-on demonstrations, competitive comparisons, and storytelling, LABOV attempts to create lessons that are unforgettable.
“If they remember five things from that day that they can share with their customers, it will go a long way.” The key to that is with stories and details, as outlined above. But it’s also with unique and engaging experiences that involve all the senses.
For Volvo Pride, LABOV turned to Bizzabo to provide attendees not only with information about the event, but to also engage them through features like live polling. Then, with the six cars that they provided on-site, LABOV held a relay-race for attendees to identify technological features. “We’re always pushing the envelope on gamification to make learning fun and memorable,” says Buck.
The overall goal is to create “aha! moments” that stick and can be sustained. As one of Beth’s Harley-Davidson clients puts it, “After this event I want them either weeping in the aisle or running through a wall.”
Main Takeaway: Leverage technology and storytelling to create “aha! moments.” Make your attendees feel something. What are five things that you’re attendees will be able to take away from the event? If nothing stands out, there’s room to make your event more inspiring.
The sustain stage is where the Learn, Create, and Inspire stages deliver results. A well-researched event with an experience that is crafted to the needs of the audience and designed with inspiration at its core, is sure to result in something that will stick with attendees.
LABOV also uses web-based training modules, digital participant guides, action plan implementation, and other methods to help make takeaways stick. “So many times with training events people do one day and go ‘OK’, and wash their hands and say they’re done.” Given how expensive training events can be, event organizers need to make sure that is not the case.
Another way that LABOV built in sustainability was to implement the program across all levels of the Volvo corporate hierarchy—involving everyone in Volvo Pride before any of 3,000 dealer participants were engaged. The executive leadership experienced the plan to make sure that they understood and supported the strategy. Then, it was rolled out to all corporate employees—inside out, top to bottom. Then their field organization experienced and ultimately it was rolled out to the dealers. This took time but built lasting credibility for Volvo Pride.
Main Takeaway: Build your event for lasting impact. Engage everyone from top to bottom, inside to outside. Keep your attendees engaged with experiences and activities that push them to think about the future. Include processes that follow-up with them once the event is done.
Wrapping Up: How You Set Yourself Apart
In designing training events, event professionals can learn a lot from the LABOV process. Here’s a review of the main takeaways:
- Learn - Your training event is just as much about the attendee as it is the companies that they are coming from. Become an industry expert.
- Create - Your agenda and curriculum should be diverse in its approach. Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes—create the experience from the participant’s perspective.
- Inspire - Make your attendees feel something. They should be able to remember at least 5 things from your event. If they can’t, you need to up the inspiration.
- Sustain - Build your event to last. Keep your attendees accountable. Follow up with them once the event is done.
In designing the Volvo Pride training events, LABOV set out to improve the Volvo customer experience and accomplished their objectives by modeling an unforgettable experience for participants at the events.
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