When Jeff Mannering took the helm of Audi Singapore in December 2012, he had to quickly learn to operate in a COE-controlled market with stricter financing regulations for car buyers.
Four years later, the financing rules have been relaxed, but the challenge facing him is now an even greater one. Apart from the keen competition presented by rivals, there is also the slowing economy that is affecting the motor trade.
Jeff, 52, began his career at Audi Australia in 1997 as a manager for Audi Genuine Parts. Eventually, he was appointed as the head of the country’s aftersales division.
Later, Jeff was posted to the Middle East, where he started a parts depot in Dubai, UAE. He also helped get the aftersales department up and running, before eventually being appointed as head of Audi Middle East.
Jeff speaks to Torque about Audi’s strategy for continued growth, and explains why the brand must focus on creating delightful experiences for customers.
Audi Singapore did really well in 2015 and 2016. What were the factors that led to this?
We launched new models, such as the TT Coupe and Q7 SUV, which customers really wanted. But it’s not just about the cars. We’ve spent a lot of time on customer experiences, too.
Our customer relations programme, myAudiworld, has certainly helped. It has over 9000 members.
Then there’s the employee training that we’ve been conducting. Our staff must know our products and the competitors’. It’s not about giving the biggest discounts. It’s about showing how good our cars are.
It’s the same for aftersales. We’ve been doing a lot of work to make sending your car for servicing a great experience. Perhaps even the term “workshop” will change.
How was the aftersales experience improved?
There are times when problems cannot be diagnosed. But it’s how you handle these issues. Customers must be satisfied and confident with regard to what you’ve done.
Audi does a lot of customer satisfaction surveys, and Singapore is ranked among the top 10 for customer satisfaction globally.
When you arrived in Singapore, car loan curbs were just introduced. Now they have been relaxed. How do you deal with such changes?
I’ve learnt to always expect that things will change. I know that COE is necessary and I understand why the Government needs to restrict the number of cars.
The real question is: How do you adapt the business so that it can thrive in such an environment?
Features such as digital meters are no longer unique to the luxury segment. How do you ensure your brand still stands out?
It comes back to the experience you have with the brand, and the designs of the cars. Within the next 10 years, there will be a revolution in our vehicle designs.
What distinguishes Audi Sport from its rivals?
Apart from the S, RS and R8 models, Audi Sport is also about what you get after you buy one of those cars. You’re treated like a sports car driver, and we have a service advisor and showroom staff dedicated to Audi Sport models.
I don’t care if competing brands have cars that are similar. I’m only concerned about what an Audi can do for you. We have to know what the competition is doing, but it’s more important for us to properly explain our cars to customers.
The automobile industry is moving towards EVs. Can they deliver the same experience as a petrol- or diesel-driven car?
Sustainability is why electrification is going to become big. We can’t keep drilling for oil because it will eventually run out.
An electric car will be fully digitised and connected. The experience will be related to how it gets you around. For instance, will EVs have autonomous parking?
But the experience of an exhilarating sports car will be separate from one that’s just focussed on mobility.
Do you fear that machines will become too smart someday and decide to eradicate us?
[Laughs] You’d have to ask Steven Spielberg.
Audi is going into electric vehicles. We don’t know if Singapore would one day require all cars to be electric, but if that situation arises, we must be ready. We have to be able to say “We’re in the race.”
We’ll probably have a full-electric SUV ready by late 2018 or early 2019.