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Audi Australia boss details brand boosting plans

New beginnings: Audi Australia’s new managing director Paul Sansom opened up about his plans for the company in his first media event.

Customer experience, loyalty, new product priorities for Audi Australia: Sansom

Audi logo4 Aug 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

AUDI Australia’s newly arrived managing director, Paul Sansom, has outlined his plans for the German premium brand Down Under, detailing a strategy that focuses less on outright volume and instead aims for Audi to become “the best premium brand in Australia”.

Speaking with Australian journalists at his first media event in the top job, Mr Sansom said the brand’s Australian arm would focus on four key areas – brand image, product strategy, ownership experience and loyalty.

Mr Sansom said a strong relationship with the dealer network, and a high-quality sales and aftersales experience was key to his vision for Audi to be seen as the ultimate premium brand in Australia.

“I want to ensure that we are truly a premium brand, a progressive brand that is engaged with our dealer network in a true partnership style,” he said in Sydney this week. “And delivering the very best customer experience in the Australian market.”

Despite Audi AG’s previously stated goal of becoming the number one premium brand globally by the end of this decade, Mr Sansom said that the number one position on the sales chart was not his priority in Australia.

“So while sales is and always will be an extremely important measure, it’s not the most important. I don’t believe our customers actually care who’s number one. I think they care about how they feel and they’re treated by our brand.

And that’s what I mean by being the best.”

Mr Sansom said as part of the product strategy, Audi Australia would implement “a coherent, long-term product and pricing strategy that’s linked to finance products, that’s linked to aftermarket products, that offer the very best value for our consumer”.

“So the point is, clearly we have to concentrate harder on the buying experience, the aftermarket experience, giving the best convenience and the very best in terms of customer experience at every single touch point and opportunity.

“And if we get those three building blocks right then we’re going to build loyalty. And that’s critical for a brand that has been growing so quickly in recent years. We’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money on those customers.

We need to keep them in our brand and keep them growing.”

Mr Sansom said building brand loyalty required Audi Australia to focus and expand on what its customers find appealing.

“The things that matter to our customers are the premium touch points. The things that make Audi different. So, it seems only right to me, that we should be channelling all of our efforts and resources into those areas.

“We’ll continue to build a brand that’s distinctive and different. And we’ll ensure that we grow off of it in the context of creating greater demand for Audi in Australia. We need to be clear what Audi stands for in Australia.”

Mr Sansom acknowledged the challenges with building improving customer service levels when a brand is experiencing significant growth, and referenced his experience at Audi UK and the difficulties the company faced in shifting focus back on customer loyalty.

“It’s natural I think when a business is enjoying such strong growth, as we have here in Australia, it’s very easy to keep focussing on that growth. And you can easily lose sight of those customers that you spend so much time and effort and money conquesting and attracting to the brand in the first place.

“But I learned this lesson the hard way. And I can see a lot of opportunity for Audi in building stronger customer loyalty through exceptional customer service. And that’s definitely a priority for me. I know it’s something our customers will appreciate and respond to and it’s critical for our future as we move into a digital age. It’s critical that we develop a digital customer infrastructure that makes the Audi experience simpler and more engaging with changing consumer demands.”

Audi Australia’s sales have more than quadrupled in the past decade, rising from 5770 units in 2006 to a record 24,258 sales last year. To the end of July this year, sales have dipped by 9.1 per cent compared with the first seven months of 2016.

Mr Sansom admitted that following a massive product onslaught in the past few years, Audi has “plateaued somewhat as we’ve replaced our B-, C- and by the end of next year, our D-segment models as well”.

He highlighted the recent launches of the Q2 and Q5 SUVs, as well as the A4 and A5 mid-size twins and confirmed that next year the company would replace the A6 and A7, with the A8 limo also arriving in 2018, as well as “a few electric cars as well”.

“We should be, and we are, the envy of the industry introducing so many brand-new models that are so technically advanced.”

Mr Sansom hinted that the car-maker would review its pricing structure and likely introduce new programs and products to support the product offerings.

“I think it’s our time again much like (when) I joined Audi in 2005/6, when we were at the start of a product avalanche, we are there again, it’s our turn.

But in order to convert these terrific new models into sustaining themselves, we need a long-term product price strategy for Australia.

“It needs to sit beside knockout finance products, and aftersale products … and give our consumers a frictionless experience with our brand here in Australia.

We need to offer the very best value to our customers by really understanding what they expect from Audi and what they’re willing to pay for Audi in this market.”

The former head of Audi UK, Mr Sansom started the role on May 1 this year, after incoming managing director Cian O’Brien was redirected to the role of executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Audi in the US at the last minute.

Mr Sansom is from the UK and has moved his family, which includes his wife and young son, to Australia to take the helm at Audi Australia.

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