By Kingsley Wijayasinha
WHEN WALLOPTreererkngam joined Suzuki Motor (Thailand) nearly a decade ago, he wasn’t really aware of the challenges he would face or the tremendous success that Suzuki would achieve in Thailand. In just a few years, Suzuki became known for its passenger cars in Thailand. Before that, Thais only knew the brand for its motorcycles and minitrucks. It was the Swift eco-car that put Suzuki up there with other major brands such as Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi and Nissan. The brand swiftly gained popularity and even somewhat of a cult status, but it wasn’t an easy task. Wallop is currently executive director for sales and marketing at the Suzuki distributorship, which was formed by a merger between Suzuki Automobile Manufacturing (Thailand) and Suzuki Automobile (Thailand). It is fully owned by Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan. He is the highest-ranking Thai executive in the company, and admittedly looks after “almost everything” – from sales and marketing to dealer development, government affairs and PR. When Suzuki took over from the local distributor in Thailand, it did not have a strong dealership network. “Previously, the sale of Suzuki automobiles wasn’t high, and the standard of the showrooms pretty low,” Wallop recounts. “So we asked our dealers if they wanted to invest, and gave priority existing dealers before accepting new ones.” Suzuki and its existing dealers have worked hard to raise the standards as well as train those who are new to the business. “Suzuki entered Thailand at a time when sales were low and there was no foundation, no customer database whatsoever. Along the way, we had to work hard in educating dealers about the different situations that came up,” he said. “For instance, when the then-government’s First Car Buyer scheme was introduced, it generated high sales. But when sales plummeted dramatically, many did not know what to do or how to adjust to the situation. “We need to work very closely with our dealers, so we can move in the same direction,” Wallop stressed. “Now we are recovering with higher sales and dealers must adjust again. We have 120 dealers now and our work now is to modify service quality. With a small number of dealers like this, we can carry out ‘Gemba’, which is onsite inspection. When there is a problem, you must go and see it at the site, not from your office. You need to find the real cause.” Employees are also required to share knowledge with each other, so no small details are missed. “Reporting, communication and consultation [Japanese business mantra Ho-Ren-So] are important. For example, if a customer complains, you must report it immediately and work together in solving the problem. You don’t keep the problem to yourself. That’s HoRen-So. “Thais are shy to complain, and many of our dealers remain silent. We encourage them to speak out and help solve problems together. On the other hand if a customer doesn’t complain, that’s even more scary, because he can leave our brand without us knowing why,” Wallop added. “Online complaints must be dealt with swiftly, otherwise they can escalate quickly.” Wallop spends a lot of time visiting, helping and encouraging dealers. “If the dealers aren’t happy, don’t expect them to take good care of the customer. “We have a pretty lean organisation and we communicate a lot – my desk is right next to the president’s and information is relayed quickly,” Wallop said. “We have different departments, but problems can be reported quickly and taken care of quickly.” Apart from addressing problems immediately, Suzuki also gives much importance to digital marketing. “As much as 20 per cent of our customers purchase our vehicles through online channels,” he said, adding that some customers don’t even visit the showroom. “Some get the car delivered to their home. “We also have a lot of CRM activities for old and new customers to engage them with our brand. They later help spread the word and that is very effective,” he said. Sports marketing is also important for recruiting future customers. “To build a brand, you must start with the youngsters. It doesn’t take that long too – in just five years, they will grow up and have purchasing power,” Wallop said. The company is also expanding its product lineup to include MPVs and SUVs in order to serve customers who are “growing up”. “People who bought the Swift are now older and when they get married and have children, they will be looking for larger vehicle. We don’t want to lose them to other brands,” he said. “In the future we will also offer SUVs – the market will touch 1 million units and the sales of affordable compact SUVs is growing dramatically. Most customers come from the eco-car crowd,” he said.
● Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, major Public Administration – Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok.
● Master of Arts, International Affairs and Diplomacy – Thammasat University, Bangkok
● Master of Business Administration for Modern Managers (MBA), major Marketing – Ramkhamheang University
● Suzuki Motor (Thailand)
September 2009: Assistant general manager, sales and marketing department
February 2013: General manager, sales and marketing department
June 2014: Director, marketing division September 2016: Executive