First Mover: Jeri Ward

Audi's new customer experience director on making sure the brand promise stays fulfilled, long after the owner leaves the showroom

You have a new title that hasn’t existed before: director of customer experience. It sounds really nice, but what’s it mean?

There are four main areas. I’ll be doing strategy—what do we want the customer mix to be like? There’s an insights component that looks at owners and loyalty research. Then there’s the customer call center. And the fourth piece is the continuous-improvement process. That’s where we identify areas where we can improve, taking best practices and sharing them across the organization.

How’s any of that different from what a senior marketer would have to do anyway?

I look at the entire customer journey, from shopping to ownership to repurchasing to the call center. It’s about taking the momentum of the marketing and making sure that it’s being fulfilled.

I understand you’ll be working with the Audi enthusiast clubs. Why pay attention to them when they’re already fans of the nameplate?

Our fans are core to our future. The Audi Club North America is our biggest enthusiast club. It has over 7,000 members in 29 chapters. So they tend to be local. Since we’re trying to drive loyalty and create more fans, we can learn from the clubs what our owners find engaging and relevant. So we work with the clubs’ leadership to learn how we can help to engage them even more. There’s also an advocacy component. That’s why we created the Audi Drivers Circle this past year. We recruited through our owner base and invited enthusiastic owners to be part of an online panel. They commit to giving feedback on a regular basis.

And what do they get out of it? Do you send them, say, a free spare tire?

No, no spare tire. But they get insider access to things that aren’t public. They get to be “in the know.” We have over 3,500 folks on the panel. It taps into the voice of the customer and looks at what keeps the brand relevant.

Seeing as they’ve already plunked down the cash for an expensive car, I presume they’re not shy about being honest with you.

They don’t sugar coat anything. But that’s good. 

You’ll also be focusing on the customer call center. You’re aware that people hate those things, right? So what are your plans?

The call center is another robust source of information, so it’s taking the literal voice of the customer and making sure we’re listening and learning from the information and acting upon it. And then we’ll continue to evolve the systems we use to service customers. We’re launching Web chat here soon so customers can chat with an advocate through our site. And we’ll do more outreach.

Is that a tricky thing, calling people who might not want to be bothered?

It all depends on how a customer wants to be contacted. But there are moments when we can surprise and delight a customer with a call—say, when there’s a milestone in their relationship with the brand.

These are still pretty tough times for automobile brands. But Audi led the pack with clean-diesel engines; you had a 16 percent sales increase last year and you’ve got no shortage of buzz about the 18 new or revamped models due for 2012. What more could you possibly want?

We’re really striving to improve as a company and a brand. This new role is our next step.

By the way, did a new Audi come with your new job?

Actually, yes—it’s part of my [long pause] executive research capacity.

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