Ricky Tay

"I Oversee Every Single Customer Complaint."

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
"I Oversee Every Single Customer Complaint."
Ricky’s first
car was
a classic
Beetle that
had a semiautomatic
Ricky’s first car was a classic Volkswagen Beetle that had a semiautomatic gearbox.

RICKY Tay is the first Singaporean to helm Volkswagen Group Singapore since the firm began directly managing its retail business here in 2007.

The 59-year-old, who is married with two children, is a motoring industry veteran with over 30 years of experience under his belt. Half of that was spent with the Volkswagen Group.

Interestingly, Ricky’s first foray into the automobile business was with Alfa Romeo, followed by the Fiat Group, where he stayed for 14 years. He then did a six-year stint with Peugeot, before finally moving to Volkswagen.

Ricky’s first post in VW was in 2001, when he was a regional manager overseeing the Pacific Rim. He was then assigned to Shanghai Volkswagen, where he was tasked with developing the dealer network and increasing the brand’s sales.

He was then appointed as the managing director for Volkswagen Group Malaysia, before once again being sent to China. This time, however, he assumed the role of managing director for both Volkswagen Group Import China and Bentley Motors China.

Ricky sits down with Torque to discuss the challenges faced by Volkswagen, and tells us how he plans to grow customers’ loyalty to the brand.

Where were you working at before Alfa Romeo?

Interestingly, my first job had nothing to do with automobiles. After I earned my degree in mechanic al engineering, I began working in the steam boiler business, maintaining and repairing steam boilers used by hotels for their laundry. My time at Alfa Romeo gave me my first overseas posting – I spent seven years in Taiwan.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in Shanghai Volkswagen?

When I moved to China in 2001, the automotive business had just taken off. At the time, we were only selling 200,000 cars a year. Today, that figure is around 1.6 million. Initially, we needed to reorganise the whole dealer network.

There was no synergy between sales and aftersales. The main objective was to merge these two, and that took four years. Service, sales and spare parts – all dealerships had to have these three.

What were the issues you faced as managing director of Volkswagen Group Malaysia?

When I moved there, we were selling about 2500 cars annually, and we brought it up to around 13,000. To increase sales, I focussed on increasing our brand awareness, which was quite low.

We already had 13 dealers then, and I did not want to add more. It is important to ensure dealer profitability so that they’ll support the brand. You have a strong background in sales and aftersales.

Which one matters more? Selling cars is one thing. But in order for customers to keep returning, we need to delight them. Customer delight creates loyalty. Achieving a sales target is great. But without returning customers, you can forget about doing business tomorrow.

My Reading Room
How do you achieve “customer delight”?

Meeting a customer’s expectations is only a 99 percent achievement. We must exceed this if we are to delight them. I actually oversee every single customer complaint.

The most important customers are those who don’t complain. They don’t wish to create trouble, and will instead quietly leave your brand for another.

How do you deal with minor issues that get overblown, especially on social media?

I think a lot of it is down to communication. The problem could be small. If my receptionist or technician does not communicate well with the customer, that could lead to an issue.

If the customer is confused because he or she is not technically inclined, then the problem is magnified. Our guys have to educate the customers on the technicalities of their car. Perhaps augmented reality apps can help.

What was your personal reaction to “Dieselgate”?

It was a shock to me. I couldn’t imagine such a thing happening. After the company admitted to engineering the “defeat software”, we had no choice but to face the issue. 

How do you win back your customers’ trust?

Putting “Dieselgate” aside, what matters more to me is how satified a customer is with his car. Does it serve him well? When he needs the engine's power, is it there? This is more important to the person who buys the car.

There’s already a solution to “Dieselgate”. Once the affected cars are re-mapped, the problem is solved. I’m focussing more on winning the customer’s trust in our cars and services.

In the larger picture, there are a lot more vehicles on the roads today that emit more harmful particles than our affected models.