Method to madness: How Kia became a disruptive force in India in just a year
Motoring forward in a complex automotive market to find wide-spread favour with a diverse car-buying audience isn't a drive in the park here in India. And yet, in just a little over a year, Kia Motors has managed to scale giddy heights to become a household name. That it only has three products in its portfolio - two being the primary volume drivers, is testament to how the Korean car maker studied and executed its plans here and may give an indication of the course it wants to take moving forward.
While Seltos and the recently-launched Sonet have been power players, Kia is in the game to play the long innings. As such, while existing and newer products may remain the fundamental pillars for it, it is a robust post-sales network that has to act like mortar to help the company stand the test of time and metaphorical assault from rivals. Little wonder then that the company has managed to spread out across a massive landscape with as much focus as it has had on cars that deserve to be in Indian households.
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In an interview to HT Auto, Tae-Jin Park, Executive Director and Chief Sales Officer at Kia Motors India, explains the multiple levels worked upon to not only ensure confidence in products but in a long-lasting relationship with customers.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
HT Auto: How are concerns of Indian customers different from those of customers in countries where Kia has been present for longer?
Park: India is a very unique market, with a diverse culture and diverse customer preferences. We realized that there are similarities between European and Indian customers in terms of preferences in their vehicles, the love for their cars, and the importance of proper maintenance of their favourite vehicles.
Considering our success in the European market and identifying similar behavioral traits among the audience, we were confident enough to appeal to and impress the Indian audience with our products, quality, service, and after-sales experience.
HT Auto: How challenging was it to establish and expand a service network in a large and diverse Indian landscape?
Park: Two years before the sales launch, we conducted dealership roadshows from Aug to Sep 2017 where we received a tremendous response with over 5000 interested dealer prospects. Later during the Auto Expo 2018, we showcased a power-packed line-up including the India-bound SP2i concept which intrigued the entire country. The Auto Expo 2018 helped us gain dealers’ trust by making them believe in the power of the Kia brand.
Later we executed our network plan in a strategic manner to offer the utmost accessibility to our customers. We offered our dealers in main cities to open i2S in smaller towns, which majorly focuses on servicing and maintenance of the vehicles. Soon we were ready with our 265 strategically selected touchpoints across 160 cities – the largest network among the new entrants.
In 2018-19, we conducted another roadshow across 26 cities in India to further raise brand awareness and reiterate Kia’s design prowess. This brand initiative was purely led at the local level through our dealer partners which helped us create a strong bond with potential customers.
HT Auto: Being one of the newest car makers here, what are the main challenges in providing after-sales service? How were these addressed?
Park: India is a diverse country with varied customer needs and demands, which has evolved with the changing trends. We entered India with a focus on delivering the best quality product and service to meet these unmet needs of the consumers.
Even though Kia is one of the youngest brands in the market, we have already established ourselves as a disruptor in terms of product innovation and after-sales experience. We understand the importance of a strong network presence in a diverse county like India. We paid extra attention to our dealership and network strategy, establishing the biggest network of 265 brand touchpoints across 160 cities - the highest for any new entrant.
All our initiatives are aimed towards offering utmost transparency to our customers for a delightful ownership experience.
HT Auto: Is it a bigger challenge to reach out to customers in Tier 2 and 3 cities when it comes to providing service?
Park: Our core service strategy is region-agnostic as we offer similar facilities for maintenance and repair services across both urban and Tier 2 and 3 cities. However, the dealerships in rural markets play a bigger role in terms of engaging directly with the customers and all our service initiatives in smaller towns are conducted keeping the dealerships at the core to establish a deeper connection with the target audience.
We are very close to reaching our goal of reaching 300 touchpoints by the end of this year to extend our services to even the remotest parts of the country.
Additionally, in Tier 3, 4 and upcountry regions, we have a very flexible model where we have the i2S dealerships, which are service and spare modules and the vehicle retail can happen through the nearest bigger outlet.
HT Auto: What kind of service-related challenges are being faced in Covid-19 times?
Park: The pandemic has brought about visible changes in customer service across segments. It has definitely disrupted normal life; however, it has also been a learning curve for all. Hygiene retention, the imperative need for digital services and contactless payment gateways along with flexible financial schemes were some of the major concerns that brands had to pay more attention to.
HT Auto: Has the customer base increasingly looked at technology and digital platforms to benefit from post-sales service?
Park: Technology and digital transformation has become the key driving agent of today’s businesses, be it in the auto sector, manufacturing, or any other.
Since the beginning, Kia has focused on providing an end to end online solution to the discerning Indian customer to cover an end to end digital sales and service experience. We focused on building a robust online as-well-as traditional approach to reach out to our digital savvy customers and offering them the best of digital post-sales service. Kia offers a complete digital solution right from the purchase consideration phase to online configuration, payment and delivery of the car to their doorstep.
Add to it our fully digital app based service which includes car service booking, estimate approval and final payment all on app and what we get is a fully digital car ownership experience for Kia customers.
HT Auto: What are the future plans of building on the goal of being customer-centric car maker?
Park: Continuing with our efforts to come up with innovative solutions for our customers and ensure that they get best-in-class service, we will work closely with our teams to understand consumer needs and continue to introduce more convenient service initiatives in the future. Our customer-centric ownership experience initiatives reiterate our brand’s aftersales identity of offering a seamless and hassle-free Kia ownership experience.