​4 brand leaders building the bridge between marketing and customer service

Mercer, Audi, Sumo Salad and Powershop customer and marketing chiefs share their journey to a connected customer experience

Audi goes for marketing and customer alignment

For Audi chief marketing and customer officer, Nikki Warburton, it’s no surprise traditional marketing functions are being united with what have been siloed or operationally differentiated service and support teams.

One reason is the move away from channel-focused communications to customer-focused communications. Another is the way organisational models shifting from ‘lines and boxes’ and function specific expertise to more fluid ecosystems that are focussed on the external not the internal. The third is the need to build a set of organisation capabilities that deliver outstanding customer experiences and touchpoints throughout an entire business, she says.

“A greater business focuses on long-term value than just short-term growth. If you are thinking about longer term growth you need to focus on customers not just at sale but also after the sale and for their lifetime,” Warburton says.

At Audi, digitalisation has allowed teams to map and visualise all elements of the customer journey and build resourcing around a seamless experience.

“It’s clear when teams and functions are closely aligned, then the customer experience will be better overall. This view also allows us to be more agile in keeping up with [or staying ahead] of contemporary expectations,” Warburton explains.

“For a brand like Audi, which has always prided itself on providing an amazing customer experience even outside of the product ownership aspect, the experience economy has meant more of our customers are aware of, and open to, some of the incredible experiences we provide through our ‘Audi Experience’ program.”

In Audi’s case, bringing together marketing and experience across the business followed workshops to define its ideal culture.

“This resulted in a customer-centric focus; we then reviewed our structure to ensure this was a fit-for-purpose structure,” Warburton says. “When we applied our strategic view of ‘customer first’ across our business, we saw some functions where we could be aligned, more streamlined and more efficient.”

If organisational structures aren’t perfectly aligned, then objectives could be misaligned.

“This is not to say they would be at odds, but this inefficiency creates gaps when you’re in such a competitive environment,” Warburton says. “There are 60 automotive brands in Australia, and we’re all trying to grow market share. The competition is fantastic for customers, but as a brand, it means you have to be at the top of your game to out-perform the rest.”

According to Warburton, the big ingredient is a common understanding of the brand operating system, brand story and tone of voice. She points out marketing and customer service and support teams already hold a common ambition to drive positive customer experiences and inject desirability across each stage of the customer journey.

“Having one team approach means everyone speaks the same language,” she says. “The opportunity is in building empathy around a customer’s needs and deepest motivations, ensuring the customer remains at the heart of all decision making.”

Among impactful initiatives Audi has introduced to get teams working together are a customer panel seeking feedback and engagement throughout the year, a clear focus on brand voice across the company and within the dealer network to enhance alignment to a single story and instil customer centricity, in-sourcing of the call centre, and inviting staff to answer and listen to calls.

“This gives them an opportunity to listen to the voice of our customers, hear first-hand from them and as a result, implement any changes that can improve the customer experience,” Warburton says. 

Audi has also co-created customer personas and experience journey mapping workshops to align the organisation around customers’ deepest motivations and needs, and transformed the OEM-to-dealer retail marketing model, empowering dealers to implement their own local campaigns with huge success, working collaboratively with the Audi sales and marketing teams.

In addition, technology has played a role, and Warburton notes Australia was one of the first markets to deploy Salesforce as an integrated CRM connecting marketing activity with customer service and support. Within this, there is a strong focus on analytics and developing propensity models, she says.

As for the lessons learned, Warburton says there are no shortcuts. “Take a truly customer-centric view, really understand what your customers want and then set about achieving – and surpassing – expectations in every area,” she advises.

“Learn from all the insights that are available to you, but don’t let them distract you from a humanistic view of what really makes a customer experience great.” 

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