Loyalty by the Custom Publishing Book
By John Hennessy
Volkswagen views its vehicle owner’s manuals differently than other automakers. Equal emphasis is place on thoroughness, usefulness and stylish presentation. It not only strives to make its car manuals more attractive but also more informative than those available from other auto companies. Volkswagen has sought – and apparently achieved – a competitive advantage from its owner and service manuals.
Jan Rüger, project lead in the service division at Volkswagen’s world headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, said there are good reasons why the company puts so much emphasis on its manuals. “They are the business card of the company,” he said. “The look and feel and appearance are really better than the competition’s, and we’ve found they are perceived very well in the marketplace.”
According to a report on the Baseline magazine Web site, back in 1997, Volkswagen was looking to enter new markets in Eastern Europe and Russia. At the same time, the auto manufacturer was also looking to completely revamp how it produced owner and service manuals.
The goals, Baseline reports, were: “Replace a creaky, paper-targeted production system with one that was better able to work across all media; extend the number of languages in which manuals were produced by a factor of four or more; streamline the entire production process while reducing errors and the need for rework; and handle a diverse and growing range of technical manuals, wiring diagrams, data sheets and other publications.”
The company was also looking at adding functionality to its manuals. At the time, Volkswagen was in the process of bringing the Phaeton luxury sedan to market. With a price tag of $60,000, the company wanted to give its customers something extra in their owner’s manuals for the money.
The result was the company customized each owner’s manual to describe specific features and options selected by the buyer. The manual was not simply a Phaeton manual, but John Doe’s Phaeton’s manual.
At this juncture, Volkswagen has no plans to create customized manuals for its mass-produced models. As Baseline reports, “While its new editorial system could easily produce such manuals, the company would face a potentially huge logistics problem. Volkswagen produces cars at two-dozen facilities around the world, at a rate of about 3,000 cars per day and with myriad combinations of engines, radios and other equipment. With all manuals printed in a single plant in Germany, nobody has yet figured out how to match manuals to cars on such a global scale.”
Moderator’s Comment: What elements of their business that perhaps retailers take for granted can be improved to strengthen customer relationships?
Most of the Baseline article is about Volkswagen’s refining the process of creating its manuals. What caught my eye was how the company didn’t view
this process as a necessary evil but as something that could be used to better connect Volkswagen with its owners. That kind of thinking leads to different results.
For retailers, a few suggestions: How about posting a calendar of local and major events in several places in your store. Your busy customers will appreciate
being reminded that there’s a holiday weekend they need to stock up for or a local event for which they may need treats and juice boxes. You could even offer a spot where local
youth sports teams could post their schedules in your store and on your Web site.
What about keeping copies of your annual report in the waiting area of your pharmacy? Give your customers a chance to learn more about what your company
is all about.
While we’re in the pharmacy, how about borrowing a page from Ikea – it hangs disposable tape measures around the store – and hang disposable magnifiers
in your pharmacy to assist shoppers with the small print on medications. I bet you could even get a vendor to sponsor them.
Your turn. –
John Hennessy – Moderator