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Web 2.0 is at the front of everyone’s mind, and there are many questions regarding the impact of this evolution to automotive OEMs. Stefan Scholer, Audi AG, Head of the Customer Service Processes Unit and Ute Gramann, SAP AG, had recently an interesting conversation about this:

Gramann: What was your first personal experience with Web 2.0?

Dr. Scholer: For our home, we were looking for a new coffee machine and entered the shop of a local retailer. We were convinced to buy a well-known brand machine, for sure that meant this would not be a cheap deal. At home, we had the idea to check the web for more machines, and prices from other retailers. In a forum, we saw postings from other consumers who made some impressive statements on the maintenance, and quality of that particular coffee machine we had in mind; others recommended a different machine, a brand we hadn’t heard about until then. So, we decided for another model, and get fantastically good coffee at any time, and have never encountered any technical problem with the machine.

Gramann:  Is Web 2.0 a topic to talk about with Audi?

Dr. Scholer: Web 2.0 can be understood as keyword for the recent evolution of the web. Instead of few information sources, a plethora of new information sources will occur and play their roles for some time. All these sources cannot and will not be surveyed by a brand owner like Audi. For the end customers, a huge pool with information is available – they will not just find vast amounts of information, but now can articulate their personal whishes and share concerns with others on the web. Web 2.0 is for the consumer: they can contribute very easily, very fast and very directly. This is going to be a challenge for the automaker: not only because we cannot oversee all postings, articles and blogs, but also because we cannot validate the correctness of all written pieces. Customers may not be able to accurately understand and determine which information is true and right or just an exotic individual case or simply wrong. And who is to say that information is not manipulated by “strange” individuals?

Gramann: … the behavior of automotive customers will change?

Dr. Scholer: The end customer desires direct communication with the OEM, so he or she will search comprehensively for the information they require from the OEM’s homepage. Of course, other communities will still play a role, but in general, the position of the OEM in the sales process will emerge significantly.

Gramann:  What does this mean to an OEM like Audi? Is the Audi slogan „Vorsprung durch Technik” also valid in customer communications?

Dr. Scholer: The web will obtain more and more potential customers and the real benefit of Web 2.0 for Audi will be for example, that more leads will be generated via the Audi homepage – leads that have to be delivered to the retail channel for action. Customers expect responses in very short time frames. To meet these expectations, an OEM has to align its internal lead management processes with the lead management processes of the retail channel in a seamless way.

Today, when a customer is going to buy a new car, they usual begin their shopping process on the web, getting informed and configuring their personalized vehicle. With these web data print-outs under their arms, they enter the dealer showroom  …  the salesman has to be well prepared for this type of customer who may, in fact, have as much information as the salesperson.

So, in addition to an efficient lead management process, the sales staffs at dealers need very good product knowledge and training along with excellent customer management skills; and it is indeed part of the responsibility of the OEM to provide this knowledge and skill.

To cope with the vast amount of information about our brand, products and services on the web, Audi is engaging market research institutes to inform us about the Audi related content in the web. Defined indicators as a result of a change of consumers’ behavior are tracked – we have to take prompt actions to react to these changes. – However, the results of those researches cannot be used to define global actions although it is one global source; the markets represented are very different and require unique actions in customer communication. In all cases, the speed of taking action and decision making is crucial for us.

Gramann:  What do you think about the other manufacturers’ activities?

Dr. Scholer: We at Audi strongly focus on our most important points and on our strategy. You can do quite a lot of fancy things on your homepage, but you should never lose track of the purpose of your web presence.

In the past, Audi had a program called “AUDI A4 Global Drives”; drivers wrote blogs on their routes and shared experiences with their new cars. Another example is a private collection of blogs about Audi and other brands of the Volkswagen family (http://www.germancarblog.com/). In Germany, we operated an open forum for some time and learned that continuous monitoring is mandatory to ensure authenticity of contributions. A considerable number of unfavorable postings could not be suffered by us – it was often a tightrope walk between open and honest communication and censorship. At the end, we decided to eliminate the forums and not to pursue this technology any longer. I think, we were too early with this approach.

The automotive industry is not a simple consumer industry. An automotive brand is built and maintained in a different way. In all customer communications, the OEM must always consider the brand. The customer perception of a brand can be very easily diluted through incoherent communication.

But, there are some brilliant actions in the web. I personally rate the web presence of the FIAT 500 as very well executed. This presence is precisely aligned with the brand, FIAT 500.

Gramann: Web 2.0 is not only for your customers. For example, at SAP, developers use wikis to share information on their projects and topics. Has Web 2.0 entered Audi for internal purposes?

Dr. Scholer: Well, Web 2.0 – if you stick to available web technologies, then the answer is easy. But, the idea behind Web 2.0 is not new to us. Our help desk operators, for example, use the SAP CRM knowledge management database. Customers and prospects can call the Audi hotline and an Audi agent is querying the database for a sufficient answer. Years ago, we had several sources with different content provided by various units, and the agent had always to do a little research to find the correct answer for the calling dealer. We moved all these information sources to one database, and believe this is very effective. It’s not Web 2.0, it’s not a wiki, but it works very well.

In development, to be honest, it is not so important what kind of tools you use, we must fulfill the business requirements. The new technologies hopefully bring more flexibility for new business requirements and reduce the complexity to implement them.

Gramann: is there an impact of Web 2.0 in product development or product planning? Are developers evoking the web to gather customer requirements on new models and features?

Dr. Scholer: most of the requirement gathering is done by market analyst agencies. For sure, some developers reach out also to the web, but this is only one information source beside others like searches or car clinics.

Gramann: what has to be SAP’s contribution to the topic Web 2.0 @ Audi?

Dr. Scholer: SAP should be focused on their target industries and their businesses requirements. It’s important to understand the speed of business changes at customers and to respond with suitable solutions. For us, Web 2.0 e.g. can generate more leads, and gives new challenges in customer satisfaction – it is SAP’s task to provide software that serves the business processes behind this at Audi and its retail channels.

Gramann: Dr. Scholer, thank you very much for sharing your observations on Web 2.0 @ Audi with our community.

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3 Comments

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  1. Thank you for this insightful blog.

    While reading it I came up with some questions.  You mention that the Auto industry is different and that the brand must play a leading role.  Obviously with Web 2.0 some of the control over the brand is lost.  For example I like to visit a forum called audiworld, which helps me form a perception of your brand, your vision, your technology, etc.  This site is not affiliated with Audi, but I would say they are “Audi Backers”, meaning that they are generally biased in a positive manner about Audi.

    What is your strategy for this type of Web 2.0 resource?  I see that you advertise there.  That to me as a reader tells me that now the site has you as a stakeholder and could effect their decisions.  What was your decision process in deciding to advertise there?  In addition, do you have Audi employees read and answer the forums similar to how we at SAP participate in SDN forums?  If you do, do they make it known that they are Audi employees? Do you have a policy for employee engagement in Web 2.0 in subjects involving Web 2.0 during their personal time?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    (0) 
    1. Stefan Scholer
      We know that changes in the industry and in consumer behaviour mean that there will always be communication around a brand that cannot be managed. Therefore we have no policy that regulates what our employees can or cannot do. Official statements are distributed by the company, not by individual employees, so we see no conflict in the fact that our employees read and post in forums.
      Regards, Stefan
      (0) 

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