I HAD A VERY INTERESTING CONVERSATION with the director of VW cars in India – on loyalty, or rather the dearth of it. Steffen Knapp says the loyalty rate in India is an abysmal 12-15 per cent and that too if your cars are very good. With buyers swayed by what is new and wanting to have something different every time, he points out that life is very difficult for a brand (still) trying to establish themselves. “What do you want as a company?” Steffen asks. “You want loyal customers and you work hard for it.” A valid point but not something I subscribe to because how can you fault a buyer for wanting the best?
What I do agree with is an extension of loyalty, and that is pride. Rightly, he observes, at any automotive award function in India you hardly see any executives walking around with manufacturer badges pinned to their suit lapels. “It is not so important for them,” he says, and the natural by-product of this is a high rate of attrition and churn. You rarely come across lifers, unlike Japan or even Europe where it’s rare not to come across people who’ve worked their entire lives in just one company. This permeates right down to dealerships where, “if a competitor comes and pays thousand rupees more, poof, off he goes.”
As for the work-life balance that many keep harping about he points out, “in the world, the first priority of a person coming to a company is atmosphere. The second one is your future and opportunities. In India the first priority is how much do I earn. The second priority is how can I balance my life? Balance of life in Europe is far on the other side. Here it is work less, earn the most.”
It’s a damning statement but I have to tell you Steffen means no malice with these comments. Recognising the depth of talent in his team he is pushing for global postings for his Indian colleagues. He despairs that there are no women in his sales team and is trying to correct that. He implemented a work from home policy. He wakes up his colleagues to go running on Sundays. He loves motorsport saying, “rally drivers are real drivers”. He is one of the good guys and these dispassionate and unvarnished observations, while touching a nerve, aren’t off the mark.
He also confirms that the new Polo is being evaluated, “it will be stupid not to do something on the car,” while confirming it isn’t coming anytime soon. And that, I fear, isn’t going to help his loyalty rates very much. ⌧