Volkswagen Group Singapore has a new boss and he wants to focus on his customers in 2016.
"This year is the year of the customer," says managing director Ricky Tay.
He replaces Steffen Schwarz, who had been MD here for three years but is now back in Germany in a new role.
"After taking over, I have analysed the weak points of the Singapore market," Mr Tay says in a candid reference to "Dieselgate", which caused the giant carmaker to lose its customers' trust.
To regain this trust after Volkswagen (VW) engineers were found to have manipulated diesel engine software to lower nitrogen oxide emissions during testing, he says he "won't bother about selling a couple of hundred more cars this year, or a couple more thousand".
"It is more important to rebuild trust with our customers and to do that, I have to be very proactive."
Mr Tay, 59, returned to Singapore last month to take charge of the German brand. He is the first Singaporean to head VW here since it became a direct retailer in 2007. He has more than 30 years' experience in the automotive industry, living in countries such as Japan, China and Malaysia for most of his career.
The last 15 years were spent with the Volkswagen Group in numerous key positions, including heading the Bentley brand in China and Greater China, and he has vast experience in areas ranging from sales and aftersales to marketing and business strategy.
One lesson in particular he has taken from China is the power of the digital platform, where VW connects with customers as well as collects data on prospects.
"Customers in China are Internet-savvy, they want to have the convenience of buying a car. That makes communicating with the customer very important and I can't just wait for them to call or visit the showroom."
So for Singapore, Mr Tay plans to roll out an app this year that will provide information on the model range and allow service appointments to be made, among other services.
With electronic brochures, for instance, 360-degree views of the car exterior and interior can be explored easily. And unlike a 2D pamphlet, users can zoom in, rotate and tap specific features or equipment for more information.
"It's a matter of helping them to discover more about the brand," he says.
Service appointments can also be booked online instead of phoning in. Going online is also useful if there is a recall. Owners can check if their cars are affected merely by keying in the vehicle identification number instead of calling VW.
But most importantly, Mr Tay says being proactive means he is not going to wait for customers to complain.
"I will track customer satisfaction as part of the effort to have more dialogue and interaction with them," he explains.
One important area is in aftersales. According to him, customers who bring in their cars to the VW workshop are less worried about the problem itself than they are about how fast and effectively it can be resolved.
"To win back customers' trust, we have to look at many small details," Mr Tay says.
One example: Instead of focusing on just the issue that the car brought up by the owner, the workshop will check other areas too, such as wiper blades or brake pads that could wear out soon. The details will be recorded, and the owners reminded about these when the time comes.
"It provides peace of mind. It's like having a secretary to do the job for you in case you're busy," explains Mr Tay.
If this is done, the next step should be "customer delight".
"We give them what they do not expect."
The motor industry veteran believes that if communication is poor, a customer will not stay loyal.
He sums it up pithily: "The first car is sold by the sales people, the second car is sold by my aftersales."
This article was first published on March 23, 2016.
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