“I know how important it is to speak with the customer and get a view of what they feel about our product”

The driving force

Audi Japan puts customers at the centre of its strategy

 


Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Kageaki Smith


America may be a republic, but there the customer is king; Japan’s emperor may not be divine, but here the customer is God — wherever you go, businesses stress the absolute primacy of the customer. But as firms the world over compete for those same kings and gods, attracting people to your brand takes more than just a mindset that puts them in a place of prominence, it takes a plan.

Philipp Noack, president of Audi Japan, has developed a strategy for this year to become an even stronger organisation and better appeal to customers both new and existing. It focuses on three areas: the product, the dealership network and, most importantly, customer centricity. By first understanding their customers and then working backwards, Noack believes dealers can provide them with the products and services that will keep them invested in the brand over the long term.

“I know how important it is to speak with the customer and get a view of what they feel about our product — what they like and don’t like, and what we need to take seriously,” says Noack, who has worked at dealerships, in regional sales and at headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany.

Audi began exporting its cars to Japan in 1967, then, for a time, worked here with its parent company Volkswagen before establishing a 100% Japan subsidiary in 2000. Despite enjoying a stellar reputation around the world, the firm still has room to grow in Japan.

“Globally, we go head-to-head with our competitors”, Noack remarks. “Here, there’s a gap, and it’s our job to close the gap on market penetration and development.”

In order to do this, Noack is working to further promote Audi’s existing products and its latest vehicles in Japan, in line with his 2019 strategy. There is an impressive range of 42 models already available to the Japanese public, and more than ten are scheduled for release in 2019. Japan has its own favourites among the automaker’s cars.

“The Q models are popular, especially the Q2”, he notes. “We’re gaining a high market share with our sports performance models, like the R8 and the RS range. Japanese people really like horsepower.”

Last September, less than a week after Noack took up his current post, he launched the firm’s two new flagship models in Japan, the A8 and A7. They have already both sold well beyond expectations. Since the start of 2019, Audi Japan has already released the RS4 Avant and the Q5 40 TDI quattro.

“We are progressive premium — in the premium segment, but we also want to be a bit different, a bit on the edgy side, to differentiate us from our competitors,” he explains. “This year, to promote our cars, I’m challenging my media team to come up with new, fresh ideas that are not yet in the market.”

 

He also points to the launch of Audi’s first electric car in Japan, the e-tron, to show that the firm’s products are at the forefront of industry trends.

“Press and media have tested the car and the feedback has been phenomenal,” Noack says. “I’m proud to be president when we sell our first electric car in this country.”

Having strong products isn’t enough, however. After working in Germany, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and the US, Noack has learned the fundamental, universal value of excellent customer experiences at dealerships. It’s part of his plan to make these experiences better here in Japan.

“The dealer is the touchpoint with the customer,” he states. “We want to improve the quality of the network, so we keep providing dealers with state-of-the-art technology, keep training them. But we can’t just bring dealers to Tokyo or Yokohama to train, we have to go out and meet them, see what’s happening at the dealerships.”

Another key to reaching a wider audience in Japan is to make the brand even more accessible. Audi already has 126 dealerships across the country, but it is enlarging its network by an additional two this year, and by another six in 2020, for a total of 134 dealerships.

Even better products and dealership experiences connect to the core idea of Noack’s strategy to have Audi Japan become more customer-centric. But Audi is also going the extra mile to make the buyer’s life easier. One way it is doing so is by bundling its services.

“We make sure our financial products have one signature on the contract, which includes insurance, maintenance, the whole package,” he says. “This is where we make life easier for our customers, so they feel well protected.”

Noack also believes that it’s the small details that can result in long-term loyalty to the brand.

“It’s doing the unexpected things,” he explains. “We can surprise the customer for their birthday, send a little note when their car is one year old — these are the little things that put a smile on their faces.”

Audi on demand is something else that is putting a smile on faces in Japan. The firm is offering its cars for rent for fixed periods of time, and it began a pilot scheme in Tokyo in June that allows clients to get behind the wheel of most Audi models, including an R8 super sports car and the RS series vehicles.

“It has been a great success”, Noack says. “We can see we’re developing loyal customers, as well as touchpoints with people who talk about it on Facebook or Instagram. This helps us extend and promote the brand in Japan.”

With his three-pronged strategy, Noack is convinced that Audi is on a path to take hold of even more of the Japan market. As people become better informed about its offerings and have the opportunity to encounter the brand, he knows the product will speak for itself.

“When we get people in the car”, he says, “we win them.” 

“We can see we’re developing loyal customers”

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