Five Lessons Customer Engagement Pros Can Learn from Tesla's Ridiculous Success

Last week we posted about getting customers to be as passionate as you are. It’s so frustrating to pour out your blood, sweat and tears only to be met with apathy.

Especially when you compare it to a business like Tesla Motors.

400,000 pre-orders for a product that doesn’t even exist yet and won’t until late 2017 at the earliest.

It’s okay to admit if that pisses you off just a little bit.

I confess to being jealous of that sort of fanaticism and excitement.

I’m not an inventor. I have no technological advancements that will change the world (like a battery that can power a car for 250+ miles) hiding up my sleeve.

I’m willing to bet that describes most of us reading this. We’re business people trying to secure revenue by cementing customer relationships.

Our companies are doing great work. We just don’t have 400k people forking over $1,000 just for the right to spend at least $34,000 more on our next shipment.

For a second, ignore the pizazz of the next gen product and the hype around having a Tony Stark clone as your founder.

Underneath the excitement and frothing are a few great lessons that any engagement and loyalty pro can use, whether you’re inventing flying cars or running a coin-operated laundromat.


1. Master Your Product

“Nail it and scale it” is one of those trendy business phrases people love to repeat. The problem is, it just isn’t followed.

Most businesses look for the way to make a $1,000,000 dollars before they make $1.

Meanwhile, the biggest influence on engagement and loyalty is the actual product experience. Most people won’t think twice about walking away from an average product, even if it has great potential.

Tesla is hot now but has been around since 2003. In those 13 years they’ve hit rough spots but continued refining their vehicles.

Most of us don’t have the funding to sustain such a long product development cycle, but it’s a reminder that as good as your product is, you should continue to push it forward. 

2. Minimize Risk

Yes, people are putting $1,000 down to buy a $35,000+ car that doesn’t exist.

But not really.

Loyalty Statistics The Ultimate CollectionWhat they’re doing is reserving a space in line. When the vehicle is ready, they’re under no obligation to buy. They can get to the front of the line and back out, no questions asked.

People like a way out. Easy return policies and no-risk guarantees are trite but they can make the difference in a purchase decision. It helps to have your product mastered and to understand where potential pitfalls may come. And yes, you’ll have some returns and complaints that don’t seem justified, but the gains will outweigh the losses.

3. Reduce the Cost of Entry

Money-Back-Guarantee.jpgEngagement and loyalty thrive when there’s a formal relationship. That could be as simple as a free text or email newsletter list. It could be a loyalty program, or even a cheap membership option.

The point is you’re giving people a foot in the door with your brand. You’re formalizing the relationship. Give me an email today, and I have the chance to make you a customer tomorrow.

With the Tesla example, people aren’t buying a car for $35,000. They’re throwing in $1,000 to have the option - a much more realistic entry point than $35k. It’s a free loan for Tesla, but even better it’s a captive audience, waiting to see what comes next.

Free trials can work well. Some associations have even experimented with “name your own price” models

4. Ignore the Competition

It goes without saying that your competitors aren’t as good as you are. So why take any cues from them?

Tesla just rolled out a car that can go 300 miles on a single charge. If they were trying to stay a step or two ahead of their competitors, they’d be bragging about their 65-mile range.

Start with your customers. What are their ambitions? What would they want you to do for them if it were only possible? As we said earlier, every industry is ripe for disruption from a company that’s more empathetic and responsive to customers.

Don’t just rely on customers to tell you what they think, however. Feedback is critical in product improvement, but innovation is largely up to you.

Build something great. Not what the industry tells you to build, or what your competitors are up to.

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5. Dare to Fail

Come 2020 (a year that will be full of “looking back” puns; I’m getting in early!), we may look back at the Tesla Model 3 escapade as one of the most overhyped events in business history. It may be up there with the Segway, or the Zune.

Or, it could be everything people hope for, plus a bit more.

Don’t just fail for failure’s sake. As mentioned, Tesla is 13 years in. They’ve got vehicles cruising down the road as we speak, not to mention plenty of lawsuits and recalls behind them.

The Tesla 3 launch is the big bang at the end of a period of dedicated learning.

Or more likely, the middle - the company is already discussing the next, even more affordable iteration.

Drive On

The Tesla 3 launch has been insane to observe. Like I said, I’m jealous.

Some of the hype isn’t transferrable. As mentioned, most of us aren’t at the helm of world changing technology. We’re selling shoes, or spaghetti, or makeup, or discount programs.

We don’t need a waiting list of 400,000 potential customers. We don’t need, or even want, to change the world. We just need to build better relationships with customers.

And in that regard, Tesla is doing some valuable work in the art of building a product, setting expectations, minimizing risk, and being bold. These all appeal to their tagret audience, and actions every business can use for engagement and loyalty.

(Tesla image courtesy of Bit Boy)

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Topics: Customer Engagement, customer loyalty

Written by: Brandon Carter

Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter

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