Volkswagen Picks Veteran to Oversee Customer-Experience Push

Volkswagen

picked a company veteran to run a new user-experience division as the car maker aims to step up its engagement with customers while navigating sweeping changes in the auto industry.

As Volkswagen’s first chief experience officer, Markus Kleimann will be responsible for the management and development of Volkswagen’s customer interfaces, leading a newly created team of around 40 that will work across Volkswagen’s divisions and markets, the company said this month. Dr. Kleimann, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering, had previously been head of Volkswagen’s series of mid- and full-size cars.

The new unit will work on improving customers’ experience anywhere they interact with Volkswagen, according to the company. It might develop tools that let customers customize and buy a car online, make it easier to charge an electric vehicle or improve the experience of calling a service hotline, for example.

Volkswagen follows in the footsteps of General Motors Co., which recently hired

Mastercard’s

chief experience officer, Donald Chesnut, as its own.

More automotive companies are investing in experience, in part because they are interacting with customers much more than they did before, said Christophe Castagnera, head of strategy for the U.K. and the Middle East at Imagination Group Ltd., an experience design agency specializing in the automotive industry.

Car buyers for decades would have just encountered an auto maker through a dealership, and maybe an official service provider. Now they can meet them online, at concept retail stores, via their in-car software and entertainment, and increasingly via apps, electronic charging stations and subscription services, Mr. Castagnera said.

“It’s become a total experience for people, and the more sophisticated and digital vehicles become, the more companies are going to want to control every part of that experience,” rather than relying on technology companies to fill in the blanks, he said.

The creation of the new team at Volkswagen is part of the company’s “Accelerate” brand strategy. The goal of the plan, which was announced by Chief Executive Officer

Ralf Brandstätter

in March, is to transform the company from a vehicle manufacturer into a what it calls a software-driven mobility provider. It envisions a faster shift to manufacturing electric vehicles, an investment in autonomous driving technologies, a simpler vehicle portfolio, and the creation of new revenue streams such as electric charging and energy services.

“As a result of the increasing digitalization of cars, new interfaces to our customers are being created inside and outside their vehicles,” Mr. Brandstätter said in a company statement about the new chief experience officer. “Now more than ever before, an integrated customer experience and the rapid implementation of customers’ requirements have become a key differentiating factor.”

Volkswagen’s new unit, and the customer experience framework it has been tasked with developing, will let the company incorporate customer feedback and requirements into its offering more quickly and consistently, Dr. Kleimann said in the company statement.

Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]

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