Audi of America -- aiming to improve customer loyalty and satisfaction -- has tapped a marketing executive to fill the new post of director of customer experience.
In the new role, Jeri Ward, 39, will oversee a new "voice of the customer" program, Audi's 75-employee customer care call center and an online owner panel called the Audi Drivers Circle, the automaker said Monday. The more than 3,500 circle participants are asked monthly about their customer experiences and new programs Audi is considering, said Ward.
On the dealer side, Ward said members of her team will be assigned to the three regional sales offices to "identify best practices," and make sure "we meet the needs of customers."
"The role is cross-functional and I am working across the organization providing customer insight in planning and in activities that touch the customer," Ward said.
Ward said she and her 14-member team will be developing strategies in the coming weeks and month, followed by new programs.
Improving customer satisfaction is crucial if Audi wants to reach its goal of growing U.S. sales to 200,000 vehicles by 2018.
Audi's U.S. sales are expected to increase 10 percent in 2011 compared with 2010, when the brand sold 101,629 vehicles. Audi's U.S. sales rose 17 percent through October to 95,206 vehicles.
Audi has ranked poorly in the last two J.D. Power and Associates annual Customer Service Index studies. It scored below average and near the bottom of the 13 luxury brands that were rated.
The J.D. Power study looks at owner satisfaction with visits to dealer service departments for maintenance or repair work during the first three years of ownership -- the time when most vehicles are under a manufacturer's warranty.
Ward joined Audi in March 2007 and was previously general manager of customer advocacy, interactive marketing and launch strategy. Prior to joining Audi, she worked at Ford Motor Co. for about six years. In her last job at Ford she served as consumer marketing manager for the Ford Edge.
"She brings a decade of management experience in consumer marketing and customer strategies, and I am looking forward to her vision and guidance as Audi continues to innovate and refine the customer experience," Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, said in a statement.
Audi is the second Volkswagen Group brand this year to create a new position to oversee owner relations.
In August, Volkswagen created a similar post of vice president of customer experience to strengthen ties with U.S. buyers. The position was filled by Mark Barnes, who had been COO and vice president of sales.