Audi has recorded 96 straight monthly U.S. sales increases beginning in November 2009, the longest string of success in the market.
What has gone right for Audi? Lots of things, of course, but Peter Donnellan has his own explanation: customer service.
The last time Audi reported a monthly sales decline, it ranked No. 12 in J.D. Power and Associates' annual Customer Service Index Study, far behind most other premium brands. In the previous year, 2008, Audi ranked 19th.
But for the last four years, Audi has battled Lexus and Mercedes-Benz for the top spot in the survey, which measures the satisfaction of owners and lessees of 1- to 5-year-old vehicles with their service at dealerships for maintenance and repair work.
For Donnellan, Audi of America's senior vice president of aftersales, customer service is the secret sauce of the brand's success. He says the brand's long road to the customer service summit is a result of the factory learning to invest and to trust its dealers.
A decade ago, Audi "had a lot of things it needed to work on," Donnellan said. "In 2008, Audi started with product quality, and then it addressed dealer service."
Donnellan joined Audi in March 2011 with a mandate to improve the brand's lagging customer service score. His first step was to listen to customers, dealers and his fellow executives — and to take notes.
"I did an autopsy on any customer [service] situation that came in for the first two years," he said. "I would go through and find out what caused the customer to reach out to me at my level for help, and what did we need to do to change what had gone wrong?"
What Donnellan found were things that, in retrospect, look silly for a company that sought to focus on improving customer service.