Forrester's Harley Manning: Audi of America Revs Up the Customer Experience

Customer Loyalty
Customer Experience
Jeri Ward, director of customer experience at Audi of America, speaks about the brand's focus on customer experience

When I talk to people at automotive companies, they're always interested in what Audi is doing. In part, because Audi is Volkswagen Group's (VW Group's) main profit driver, contributing about 40 percent to VW Group earnings. And in part it's because when you talk to Audi owners -- like John Vanderslice, global head of Hilton's luxury and lifestyle brands -- you get an earful of how much they love the brand.Wouldn't you like to know what drives all this profitability and customer love? We thought so. And that's why we invited Jeri Ward, director of customer experience at Audi of America, to speak at Forrester's Forum for Customer Experience Professionals East in New York on the morning of June 25.

As a preview of what you'll hear from Jeri next week, she agreed to answer some questions about Audi's path to customer experience maturity.

Q. When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?

A. As a global organization, customer experience has always been a core focus of the Audi brand. Our employees and dealers live by the philosophy "Kundenbegeisterung," which simply stated means "inspiring customer delight." But it's more than that. It's going above and beyond, exceeding the expectations of our customers, and providing the very best experiences possible for our current and future drivers. It's creating lifelong Audi fans.

In the spring of 2010, the customer experience became an absolute priority for Audi in the U.S. The brand was on a roll, with sales growth driven by new products; significant improvements in our dealer network and facilities; and increased demand spurred by exceptional marketing and advertising efforts. It became more important than ever to make sure that our customers felt that same progress through every touchpoint. So Audi created the Customer Experience Department, a whole new group within the U.S. organization that focuses on strategy and programs for improving customer experience and loyalty across the company.

Q. What were the first steps your firm took to improve customer experience? Why did you choose to start that way?

A. First, we implemented the Kundentisch "customer table" within Audi of America, a panel that regularly analyzes specific customer needs and finds solutions to them. Then, we brought the same initiative to dealers.

In the fall of 2012, we pushed the philosophy of inspiring customer delight further into the organization with the formal launch of the Creating Audi Fans program. The first step of what we're calling the "Kb Journey" was to host a series of Creating Audi Fans Immersion Events for all 10,000-plus individuals working for Audi of America at the corporate, dealership, and agency levels. It was an eight-city, 16-show tour -- inspired by the TED Talks model -- to reinforce our mission of customer delight (the vision behind Audi's worldwide strategy) and inspire our employees to make our customers a number one priority.

As a second phase, Audi in 2012 hosted Leadership Workshops, seminars attended by nearly 300 representatives in leadership roles from 264 dealerships. These focused deep dives into understanding the Audi customer and developing action plans for each dealership to become more customer-centric on enhancing Audi signature experiences and exceeding the expectations of our customers.

In 2013, we've hosted Experience Workshops across the country -- seminars designed to further the organization and our employees on our mission of Kundenbegeisterung.

Looking ahead, we will continue the momentum of the Creating Audi Fans program by hosting ongoing "Living the Experience" sessions for our dealership employees. This in-dealership coaching will reinforce the lessons learned in the Immersion Events and further bring the tenets of Kundenbegeisterung to life.

Q. What if anything is different about what you're doing now to improve customer experience versus what you did when you were starting out?

A. Improving the customer experience is an ongoing process. We are constantly gathering insights from our customers and sharing best practices across the organization. We're continuously introducing new technology and features, like proactive live chats, to better service Audi drivers. As we move forward, we will continue to adopt new behaviors and implement new processes to further benefit our customers.

Our JD Power Call Center Certification ranks in the top 20 percent of customer service scores, a testament to our work so far that suggests we are well on track.

Q. What advice would you give to a company trying to plan its own path to CX maturity?

A. I'd recommend two immediate steps.
1. Get started! Creating a customer experience initiative is a journey. The course may and will change over time. Be prepared to adapt as needed along the way, as customers' expectations evolve and the company improves.
2. Celebrate successes along the way! Acknowledging wins -- both small and large -- motivates teams and individuals and fuels your momentum.

+ + + + + +
About the Author: Harley Manning is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at and tweets at @hmanning