Q&A: Audi's Jeri Ward Focuses On Customers

Jeri-Ward-Audi of America has tapped Jeri Ward for a new position at the Herdon, Va.-based organization: Director of Customer Experience. The position focuses on customer experience and loyalty. Ward, who will now be a member of Audi’s executive management team, will report directly to Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America.

In the new job, Ward, who had been general manager of customer advocacy, interactive marketing and launch strategy, will lead consumer insights activities, the Audi Drivers Circle online owner panel and something new: the Voice of the Customer program. Ward also will oversee all enthusiast clubs, including the Audi Club of North America, Audi Customer Care Call Center operations, and will work with dedicated regional leads.



Ward, who came to Audi of America in 2007 from Ford, where she oversaw marketing for such vehicles as Ford Edge talks about the new position with Marketing Daily.

Q: Why did Audi feel a need to create this new position?

A: First, the Audi brand is obviously on a roll, with sales growth driven by new products. Dealers have been making significant investments in facilities, so the network is improving. Marketing and advertising really have been driving demand and interest as well. So, when we think about the future -- as we plan for long-term goals -- we want to make sure customers feel all this progress in terms of brand experience through every touchpoint. The customer experience is really the next frontier for us: we want to proactively build loyalty and create fans for the brand.

Q: How is this position different from what you had been doing? 

A: I come from a marketing background -- a more traditional marketing communications position -- having helped launch campaigns like "Truth in Engineering" for Scott [Keogh, CMO]. Then I took on more interactive marketing and product launches, which involved lots of digital and tons of consumer touchpoints. But when we started looking at customer experience we wanted to make sure the customer journey included an experience of the power of the brand, and not just in terms of CRM or aftermarket sales.

We want to look at it from a holistic point of view: shopping, purchase, owning, service, and make sure the brand is woven throughout the entire experience. So it made sense to put someone in charge of that holistic view. What I am able to do is look across the organization, find opportunities, and plan for future. For example, digital and social technology has evolved so the customer experience at retail needs to evolve as well. Having someone dedicated to that means we can be a leader in this space.

Q: What are some of the areas you'd like to advance? Digital technology at retail? 

A: We have a digital team looking at that, and now have a best-in-class platform including social media, at tier three [dealer level]. We have been rolling that out over the last six to eight months. The other thing we have done with this team is put an even greater focus on consumer insight. So this team can serve as a center of expertise at the company in terms of the customer voice in syndicated research, satisfaction, focus groups, segmentation data, the owner-insight channel. We can roll that expertise out to the rest of the organization for actionable insights and trends.

Q: Does this new position also support a new dedicated organization within Audi of America?

A: Actually with this change there is definitely a direct headcount, a dedicated team in three key areas: first, customer contact, which includes the call center in Auburn Hills, which reports directly to me, and social media teams answering consumer questions through social channels. Second, consumer insights, and third, continuous improvement in terms of working with dealers through the retail channel.

Q: What is the Voice of the Customer program and how is it different from the Audi Drivers Circle online owner panel?

A: They are related. The Drivers Circle is the group of existing owners whom we went out and contacted, and asked if they'd be willing to serve on an online panel. We have 3,500 who have signed up, and we query them once per month. They do online surveys and give us feedback on new ideas, or their past experiences. That is something we will continue to build over time as we launch more models.

And we may expand beyond new-vehicle owners to include CPO [certified pre-owned] owners as well as part of that. The Voice of the Customer is the umbrella program. We will take information we get [not only from] the Driver's Circle but other channels, and aggregate that for trending, or early indications on how programs are working.  The Voice of the Customer program will be one of the first things we create.

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