Archive for December, 2017

Anatomy of a Meltdown: How I Discovered Tesla’s Weak Underbelly

In my thirties, I had a bit of a temper. I’ve since mellowed. I used to smoke and yell. Now I yoga and preach moderation.

So it takes quite a bit of mishegas to get me to blow a fuse these days. But Tesla’s shoddy customer service managed to do just that.

Yesterday morning I took to Twitter to let loose on my entrepreneurial idol, Elon Musk, sharing with my followers Tesla’s horrific rating from the Better Business Bureau. It was a gratuitous shot, but I was pissed.

By late yesterday afternoon, Tesla delivered a replacement Model X to my home—for reasons likely unrelated to my tweet.

Here is the story of what got me there. Just the facts, in chronological order.

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September 28, 2017: A driver rear-ended my one-year-old Model X, denting the back bumper and damaging the back sensors. The car was drivable, but only in an impaired state, as the sensors play a key role for the Tesla (and the panel flashes a sign when the sensors are out). Tesla doesn’t have its own repair shop, but has contracted with authorized third-party repair shops. I took my car to one such authorized repair shop (Service King Collision Repair) to begin the healing process shortly thereafter.

October 6, 2017: Service King orders the parts from Tesla. I agree to drive the car in an impaired state while the parts ship, under the assumption that shipment and installation would occur in short order.

October 20, 2017: Tesla ships the parts to Service King.

November 6, 2017: I drop off the car at Service King. Geico, the insurer of the driver who struck my car, covers the rental expense for a Cadillac SRX from Enterprise. (The SRX is a fine car, but it is not a Model X and it is not what I paid for.) Upon removing the bumper, Service King learns that more parts are needed from Tesla. Service King requires authorization from Geico to purchase the additional parts.

November 20, 2017: Service King orders the additional parts from Tesla.

December 7, 2017: My Model X has now been at Service King for over 30 days. I’ve reached my limit. We are now two months into this ordeal. To add insult to injury, Tesla has never updated me as to the status of the replacement parts; it’s as if they don’t care. I ask the salesman at the Tysons Corner Tesla dealership to have a manager contact me that day. No manager will speak with me—the head of sales and service are allegedly out of the office. I am told to contact an associate in Tesla’s service shop. I tell the associate that I am making a firm demand: Either Tesla can give me a new Model X while Tesla locates the parts, or I can retrieve and return my Model X to Tesla for a full refund of what I paid. I further tell the associate that I want an answer from a manager the following morning.

December 8, 2017: I dash off a reminder text to my salesman, expressing dismay from not having heard from a manager. I post the angry tweet. I later discover that the service manager was in fact trying to call me that morning, but did not have my phone number. That Tesla did not have my number is a reflection of a broken customer service operation. During a frank conversation, the service manager offers to loan me a new Model X. I accept the offer, and the new Model X arrives at my home in the afternoon.

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December 9, 2017: I return the Cadillac to Enterprise, and I am presented with a copy of the invoice (pictured above) that Geico will receive for 34 days of a rental. My original Model X is still at Service King, and for all I care, Tesla can take its time to locate the replacement parts.

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I am sharing this story with the hopes that Mr. Musk will notice this ordeal and begin to take the customer-service side of his operation seriously. You can’t sell a car that can’t be repaired; the two things go hand in hand. Thus, I can no longer recommend a Tesla to a friend or associate without the caveat that “It is the best car on the planet provided no one hits you.”

Tesla needs to recognize that the kind of people who can buy a Tesla are accustomed to being treated as if they are VIPs. In that spirit, I would hire away the head of customer service from Mercedes or from a high-end hotel like the Four Seasons. This seems mission critical.

Mr. Musk has mastered the art of making cars. Now he must master the art of dealing with prima donna customers.

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