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Dreamforce 2021 – Volkswagen and Humana share Commerce Cloud rollout lessons

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett September 23, 2021
Two end user organizations and the stories of their respective e-commerce transformation journeys.


At this week’s Dreamforce, two very different organizations – a car manufacturer and a healthcare company - detailed their journeys to e-commerce in sectors that have typically remained firmly bricks-and-mortar. They also offered some useful lessons for other businesses planning digital projects.

Volkswagen do Brasil has been focused on delivering new digital channels to customers as part of a digitalization strategy launched across the entire Volkswagen Group in 2018. However, as the COVID crisis began and customers were unable to get access to VW products as the world went into lockdown, the priority shifted to offering an e-commerce portal.

The Volkswagen do Brazil e-store went live last December, aimed at keeping a close relationship with customers and also with its 400-plus dealers across the country. It took just 11 weeks to design and develop the store, which runs on Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Dealerships are able to interact with customers via the site, while customers are able to not only visualize and configure their ideal vehicle, but also purchase and acquire it through the new digital channel, something previously not available. Antonio Raposo, CIO at Volkswagen do Brasil, explained:

The pandemic brought us this new means of communication. A lot of the challenges that we had within our industry, which was transforming the business model from a more personal and direct interaction with our customers to a digital interaction, was a major game changer here in Brazil, not only for the dealers but for the customers as well.

Customers snapped up over 300 vehicles in seven minutes when the store went live, and the e-commerce platform has also given Volkswagen access to more customer data. Over the last two years, between the MyVW platform, the online product simulation platform, and the new e-commerce platform, Volkswagen do Brasil now has the data of around 250,000 customers. Raposo added:

We had new customers looking at our portal. We had existing customers inquiring and looking at the products. Besides being able to simulate and configure a vehicle, they were also able to actually apply for credit. That from a lead management perspective was an unbelievable channel for us to be able to again get closer to our customers, understand their requirements and mould our business around delivering the right products to the right person within the right region.

Digital health 

For healthcare company Humana, its mission was to be viewed as a world-class digital pharmacy that exceeded customer expectations. This involved streamlining the process for customers of managing their healthcare on a day-to-day basis, giving them more methods to interact with and manage their medications, and offering lower cost products.

When starting out on this digital transformation project, the business had two key aims: speed to market, and involving business users as well as technical teams from the start. Bruce Buttles, Digital Channels Director at Humana explained:

Every enhancement, every solution that we created for the pharmacy business required software engineering. We wanted to create a parallel path where business folks, marketers, content developers, designers could engage and actually deliver value themselves without necessarily requiring software engineering.

From the ideation, from the sprint planning, from the feature definitions, we're constantly thinking about how do we split this work up to be able to deliver the technical pieces and focus the engineering team on those really, really difficult aspects while in parallel allowing the business, the content, the marketing folks, the designers to divide off that work and deliver that in parallel. It's been truly revolutionary.

Humana also chose Commerce Cloud as its underlying technology platform. Buttles argued that this has noted has an amazing suite of capabilities, but admitted that it can be rather daunting to business users when first confronted with it.

To overcome this challenge, Humana focused on the four big capabilities - AB testing, personalization, content management and search engine optimization - using all of those together. The results have been positive so far:

We're only about six weeks after launch, but typically when you launch something this large, you expect to see a dip in satisfaction online. It's just a given with that much change, you expect customers to need some time to adapt to the new experience, the new flow, the new look. We actually didn't see that, so the fact that our customer satisfaction stayed level was quite a win.

Salesforce also helped Humana with its original goal of speed to market. Previously, the deployment process for any new changes or updates took about three hours; it now takes about 15 minutes.

Next up for Humana is integration between Commerce Cloud and the other Salesforce Clouds used by the company. The architecture is in place, and now it's just a matter of continuing to enable those interactions that cross from Marketing Cloud to Service Cloud to Commerce Cloud, and then Health Cloud for the clinical interaction. Humana is also keen to explore opportunities around merchandising, said Buttles: 

It may seem kind of funny - how do you merchandise prescription drugs? But we also have over-the-counter medications as well, there's those opportunities to have sales and promotions and cross-sell or upsell from over-the-counter medications. Sometimes folks just reach for the generic, but don't actually have the opportunity to fully and easily think through - should I get the name brand or talk to the doctor?

It may give them more educational information. It's not just about merchandising the products, it's also merchandising educational material and educational content as well.

Lessons learned

Both organizations have learned lessons on their digital transformation journeys. For Volkswagen's perspective, the  success of the VW e-store over the past nine months shows there is appetite for e-commerce among car buyers. But Raposo cautioned against setting unrealistic targets: 

We hear so much about the expectations of e-commerce, everyone's looking at increasing market share and increasing the possibility of sales. We have an objective of achieving around about 20% of our sales revenue through our digital platforms, but I think we’re still a bit far away from that because the actual customer is not comfortable with that.

So focus on the marketing, focus on the technology and focus on the company identity, because that's essentially what the market is looking for.

Meanwhile at Humana, Buttles urges organizations embarked on similar programs not to underestimate the power of asking people their opinion, not just for the sake of making them feel like they're involved, but to genuinely take their input and apply it to the solutions deployed. 

And stick with it! While Humana’s digital pharmacy project entailed 18 months of long, hard hours for Buttles and others on the team, it was important to persevere: 

The one word that keeps coming into my mind over and over again, and it has through this whole journey, is encouraging all of us to be persistent. Don't give up. A transformation of this size, this magnitude, this nature is no small feat. There will be times when you are going to want to give up, members of your team are going to want to give up. It may be too difficult. It may be too transformational, but it's absolutely worth it - just persist.

I truly believe we owe it to humanity. We have the ability to transform people's lives every day with our technical solutions and our innovations. So we owe it to them to persist, to do the hard work, and to transform those lives that we serve.

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