“Customer experience is not designed in hidden laboratories, it needs to be an open-minded, ongoing process in which the only goal is to improve.”

Margarete Wies, Head of Holistic User Experience, Volkswagen AG.

You have to be prepared for change, there is no innovation without continuous improvement.

There is no consistent definition of innovation. Every industry and every department perceives it differently. How do you define innovation with respect to customer experience?

Over the past decades, customer experience has become more and more established as something not just being accepted, but being evaluated and even questioned by customers.

This is one of the most exciting aspects of customer experience – if you ignore the customer, the customer will soon ignore you.

That means every product and service plays this game. You really need to work hard to maintain standards and to work even harder to stand out.

In order to stand out, you need to innovate. Innovation is the result of three elements combined:

  1. The first element is improvement. There is no innovation without continuously improving.
  2. The second element is process. Innovation in general never ends. It’s an ongoing process, as it aims to always change the current status quo.
  3. The third element is open-mindedness – that means the innovation of customer experience always requires a mindset that is open to innovation.

Customer experience is not designed in hidden laboratories, it needs to be an open-minded, ongoing process in which the only goal is to improve.

Quality, cost and time management is a dominant paradigm in the automotive industry. User experience is not valued in that paradigm. Do you think the time has come for new, more customer-focused and action-based philosophies?

Calling for the impact of disciplines like communication, marketing or even design is a common habit within our industry.

However, there certainly are already companies that make customer experience and such disciplines a top priority – but they also have to achieve budget targets, deadlines and a certain level of quality.

In my opinion, customer experience and the other disciplines are ‘translators’. They translate the product or service into a language that the target group understands. Looked at the other way around, products and services can only be created successfully if they match customers’ demands.

In my view, it is imperative to focus on customer demands. As I said earlier, if you ignore your customers, they will ignore you.

At the end of the day a company needs to be profitable, and that calls for a well-balanced combination of economic and translating factors, including customer experience.

You are Head of Holistic User Experience for the electric mobility product line at Volkswagen AG.

Why is it so important to not only develop products with incremental improvements but also to build innovative and superior value propositions?

Because they sell a vision. And you need to be visionary. Otherwise, you will lose your audience.

Most people need a reason to believe. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for instance, benefits from the fact that more than 500 people have already travelled in space. People believe that this is possible.

Accordingly, every improvement has to have an anchor in common sense and in today’s situation. Once that is defined, a superior value proposition not only sells a vision, but your product as well.

For my daily business that means connecting the dots, the visions that already exist. At the same time, however, it means questioning the status quo and implementing new visions that help to create superior value propositions in a thoroughly holistic user experience.

It is arguable that user experience and value propositions are very much linked to each other. Where do you see the difference between those approaches and traditional product development?

Those approaches focus on the customer. They established the idea that customers are not only buyers, but also have to live with the product or service. Due to the oversupply of goods, customers are able to choose. And due to the tendency of saturated markets, you can no longer just produce and hope that the customers will like your product.

The traditional style of product development has to widen its scope, to come out of the hidden laboratory and to start a conversation with the company’s customers.

Once that is done, the combination of both worlds will have a really great impact.

What are your personal goals regarding innovation for the next 12 months?

My overall goal is to generate an holistic user experience. An overarching concept that connects all contributing elements, focused on the creation of a common understanding of user experience.

The aim is for this understanding to become an integral part of the development processes at Volkswagen.

My team and I will be working hard on that over the next 12 months and beyond.

About the interviewee:

Margarete Wies is an information technology professional with a Bachelor of Arts, Communication Design BA focused in Communication/ UI Design from University of Applied Sciences Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. She worked at Daimler for many years in different positions involved with UX Design including, Vice President Advanced UX Design and now she is currently leading the Head of Holistic User Experience at Volkswagen AG. She is currently implementing her expertise on the Volkswagen’s project “TOGETHER – Strategy 2025.” The user experience will be a key factor for the adoption cycle of this future business model.