Six things Tesla can teach you about customer experience

Why is it that Telsa has been able to build such a passionate army of brand advocates, while many other car manufacturers fail to connect with customers in the same way? Steven van Belleghem finds out

Do you know any friends or colleagues that own a Tesla car? If so, chances are they will have told you all about it. That’s because the brand has a staggering Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 96, meaning consumers extremely likely to recommend the product to others.

Is this all down the rockstar CEO, Elon Musk, the company’s wider mission or just a clever customer experience strategy? Here I have tried to highlight six reasons, and the lessons other businesses can take away.

Are you part of a movement?

It is important to note that Tesla is not just selling cars. Its bigger mission is to ‘accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,’ and you can feel that running through everything the company does. They want to make the lives of its customers more sustainable and help save the world, but they also want every employee to be committed to something bigger than ‘just a job.’

Over recent years we have seen plenty of companies make nice public statements about their eco  mission, or even put huge slogans up on their office walls, but for Tesla it really does feel like a commitment to a cause. How many other CEOs can you think of that refuse to see other companies as competitors, but instead try to get them to buy into the same vision? Elon Musk open-sourced all of Tesla’s patents and even praised its rivals for their progress on electric vehicles.

Are you a friction hunter?

A bad sales experience is one of the most common ‘frictions’ for customers buying cars, and over the years, car salespeople have perhaps built a reputation for being pushy. So why not remove the biggest friction or annoyance for customers? If you want a customer experience that stands out from others in your industry, hunt for the typical frictions and find a way to remove them.

Do you enable customers to help themselves?

When it comes to removing frictions from a customer journey, one of the most common approaches for brands is to move their sales process online. For Tesla, they have made sure all the information you need to configure, buy, and schedule a pickup of one of their cars can be found easily on their website. They have simplified their pricing so there is none of the stressful haggling customers are often uncomfortable with, so the whole self-service process is as straight forward as ordering groceries online.

Of course, there are still some ‘old school’ customers who like to touch and feel a car before spending, so Tesla still has fancy showrooms with customer experience specialists, rather than salespeople, who can help with test drives and provide a human touch when it is needed.

Do you keep your customers close?

Many car companies collaborate with dealerships for selling and servicing their products. The problem with this for Tesla is that these dealerships often have the very ‘traditional’ approach that they are trying to get rid of.

Tesla’s strategy is to own the entire customer relationship, from start to finish. The company sells the cars directly to its customers, without any third parties being involved, meaning they have complete control over the messaging and relationship to offer a consistent experience.

Do you sell a product, or an experience?

Tesla’s CX strategy is to not just offer a product but augment it with services and experiences. It recognised that finding charging stations was a challenge for customers, so they set about building a large network of them across the US and Europe. And for customers that cannot wait for their battery to charge, they can even exchange their car’s battery for a new, fully charged one in 90 seconds.

Crucially, the company culture is focused on listening to customers. It makes about 20 engineering changes every week to its Model S vehicle in response to what customers tell them about their driving experiences, or to data insights gathered on how customers use their cars. It means software updates can happen overnight, so customers feel like their car is constantly reinventing itself.

Tesla is a great example of management guru Philip Kotler’s concept of the ‘augmented product’, where the nonphysical part of the offer – the experience, the service, the mission and the brand – is what sets it apart.

How honest are you really?

Lots of companies like to think they are honest with customers, but Telsa has made transparency an important part of its brand, which perhaps sets it apart in the car industry. When the delivery dates of the Model 3 kept being pushed back, customers started to become understandably disappointed and worried. Tesla decided to be completely honest about the challenge, and Elon Musk even directly responded to the concerns people were sharing on Twitter.

The reality is that problems and mistakes happen in all industries. Customers will understand that. It is only when the communication around them happens openly and honestly that you can maintain a good customer relationship during challenging times.

Steven van Belleghem is a thought-leader, speaker and author on customer experience. His new book, The Offer You Can’t Refuse is out now. See

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