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Tesla loves its product more than its customers; that may hurt one day

By April 9, 2015January 12th, 2016Customer experience, Mark Satov

Mark Satov
Founder and leader, SATOV Consultants

Tesla has created a fantastic piece of innovation, but my recent encounter with the car maker proves that its customer experience needs recharging. Here’s a view of the mistakes it made and how you can avoid them in managing your customers’ experience.

Already sold on the Tesla brand, I’d decided to buy before I walked into the showroom.

Asleep at the wheel

The salesman at the dealership was about 25, knew nothing about cars and talked to me like I was one of his pals. His hot tip: Go with green because his friends think it’s a cool colour. I suddenly longed for the scripted sycophant from BMW. Still, I happily passed over my Amex for the $2,500 deposit.

A couple of weeks later, Jake (all names changed to protect the guilty) called from Tesla’s head office. He helped finalize my order and options and told me roughly when to expect the car.

Wrong Turn

The next call was from Dave, Tesla’s delivery coordinator in Toronto. I told Dave that he’d need to hold the car because I was going on vacation. He said no: space was too tight at the pickup spot.

Dave got my sales guy to send an email confirming that there was no room at the inn. The fact that it wasn’t my sales guy was only part of the issue. Nobody said, “Sorry about the mix-up” or “Perhaps there was a misunderstanding.”

I stayed in touch with Dave – or tried to, anyway. He did try to direct me to the channel of his choice, mind you: He sent a text saying, “I get lots of emails and texts are better if you want a speedy reply.” Really, Dave? Is that how to talk to a $90,000 customer? He didn’t respond to my texts either.

Speed bumps

When I asked to see the lease before picking up my car, Dave said to check with Bill from leasing. Bill never responded. I warned Dave that if he didn’t send it, I wouldn’t collect my car. He never replied; nor did my old friend Jake in California after I left a voicemail asking for better service. When I didn’t pick up the car, a fellow named Brandon called. He apologized about the lease and sent it five minutes later. That was tough, huh Tesla team?

Although there were a few other bumps in the road Brandon was attentive when I showed up at the dealership. After a couple of glitches with the iPad checkout terminal and more apologies from Brandon, I escaped with my new Tesla.

Driving a better customer experience

If you are in the service business, you probably spotted myriad issues with my journey at Telsa. Here are some areas to focus on:

    1. Know your customers
      Folks who can afford a $90,000 car expect $90,000 service. You don’t have to say “Sir” and “M’lady”, but things need to run smoothly and quickly. I wonder how much time Tesla spent trying to understand who buys cars from BMW and Mercedes Benz and what they expect.  These are the people they are trying to steal, not 26 year olds who want something new to sync up to their iPhone; they generally don’t have any dough.
    2. Don’t focus on everything
      I am sure that the design team in California got excited about making everythingabout buying a Tesla different. They didn’t just want a new car, they wanted a new car buying experience. Every start up with a disruptive innovation says that, or some variant thereof, and it is nauseating, especially when the re-designed process sucks. Focus on what you can truly be great at (building a remarkable and fast car that helps rich people feel less guilty about the environment) and improve the packaging when you can be amazing at it.
    3. Sip the e-channel KoolAid slowly and carefully
      We work with companies in many sectors on figuring out when to have people call the call center, be visited by a sales rep, or go on line to serve themselves. Of course the internet saves everyone time and money. In many parts of the customer experience journey you don’t have to trade-off between efficiency and customer NPS scores. But when you do, especially when you deal with a high end customer and high margin product, protect the big bucks, not the pennies in transaction costs.
    4. Provide an integrated end to end journey with accountability
      If I buy a shirt at any Harry Rosen store in the country, my salesman will know about it, and if for some reason the shirt didn’t fit he would make sure it was altered, help me exchange it, or just listen to me complain if that is what I wanted. At Tesla, I didn’t know who my sales person was, and I got handed off multiple times without any knowledge or accountability between team members. When your purchase process is complex and your margins are high, make sure someone can help navigate the customer through, and make sure they are a customer service expert.
    5. Customer centricity comes from culture
      In a recent newsletter, we highlighted the importance of appointing a chief customer officer. Tesla doesn’t have anyone in that role, and it shows. The company has created an amazing product and probably spends a lot of time reminding staff of that to boost their sense of pride and loyalty to the brand. In the process they may have not paid enough attention to their customers. In the early years they will get by on innovation and the cool factor, to be sure. But as Tesla and the electric car market mature they will have to invest in the right customer experience to drive customer loyalty and to thwart off competition from other cool cars.

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