How growth can actually kill brand evangelism

At a basic level, providing a great customer experience boils down to four main areas:

  1. Build things with your customer in mind. This goes for services, too. Provide offerings and tailor them to your customer. Help them, solve a problem for them, or make something better for them.
  2. Take care of your customers. Provide a great product or service… and support your customers. 
  3. Give your customers opportunities for feedback. Let them reach out for both positive and negative feedback. Provide opportunities and let them feel heard.
  4. Take that feedback and continue doing #1 and optimizing things for your customers. You have to make sure you’re responding to the feedback, though. If you let customers give feedback and then provide zero follow-ups, don’t give them a response, or don’t implement any changes to address issues then likely over time that customer no longer cares about giving feedback because they know it doesn’t matter and usually finds another way to get their needs met. 

There are obviously many other facets of a company addressing customer experience, but these four seem to bubble back up as I think about my own personal experiences as a customer.

Caveat – This post is something that I realize is a big “first world problem” and may even seem silly to some. But, it feels disappointing to have a company you’ve advocated for and supported for years let you down. And as a marketer, I take a lot of lessons from it.

Customer experience can sometimes be something that unfortunately degrades as a company grows.

Growth can be great — more profit (hopefully), more sales, more brand recognition. However, as a company you have to ensure you don’t lost the positive things that your customers love about you and what ultimately led to your growth — along the way.

You probably have a brand that you love. You love what they stand for, their quality, or maybe even the community of people associated with it.

At our house, that brand was Tesla. You notice I say was — that’s because ultimately it feels that Tesla’s exponential growth has led them to not put customer experience first anymore (based on our experience as a customer over the last 7+ years). Side note — this isn’t just my personal experience. On Tesla’s first inclusion on J.D. Power’s dependability ranking, Tesla ranked 30th out of 33 brands.

It’s a bummer, honestly. Because I used to put Tesla in the upper echelon of brands that truly embody an amazing customer experience. 

Where it started

For those of you who have known my husband and me for a while, you know we were early adopters and quickly became brand evangelists for Tesla when we got our Model S in 2013. This was back when news stories permeated the internet about Teslas catching on fire for no reason (even though they were and still are one of the safest cars on the market).

Before buying our Tesla, I hated electric cars because let’s face it, they were ugly. Really ugly. Elon Musk and Tesla changed that — Teslas looked nice, drove really well, and were super safe. At the time there wasn’t any other electric car with a decent range on the market. I also still laugh about the spreadsheet my hubby in order to sell me on getting the car at first and the email notifying me of the Tesla deposit (remind me to tell you this funny story to one day if you haven’t heard it!).

We loved our Teslas. 

When we bought our Model X in 2017, we did hit a pretty big snag. This issue was ultimately caused by a sales guy overpromising something with our delivery in order to make the sale. Long story short, I ended up getting in touch with the head of customer experience at Tesla (after finding his info on LinkedIn) and sharing a detailed account of our experience. They made it right and we were eventually back to feeling good about the brand. So, it took some work, but we still ended up feeling heard.

Where we’re at

Fast forward a few years and obviously there are many more Teslas on the road. This is a great thing to see. However, with this growth has come a major drop in customer service, support, and experience. In the last several months we’ve had several service issues. I realize now we did have several issues with our Model S. But they always handled it quickly and took care of issues. So, it was something we put up with, and still didn’t sour on.

Now there is literally not a phone number to call as an owner unless you are somehow able to get to a service center and they happen to answer. But they usually won’t. You can email or message in the app, but we literally had an appointment canceled when the main screen of the car (read — use AC, back up camera, any of the main electronics of the car) would just shut off and not work randomly. This is actually a known issue and they’ve issued a recall but our service center near our house doesn’t have the parts to fix it yet and they said they’ll let us know when they do. So don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Even though we’ve had this issue several times and documented it and been in for service at least seven or eight times, they messaged us that they couldn’t do the recall at this time and there was no issue.

Huh? No issue? Pretty sure that’s an issue when stuff isn’t working and you can’t really drive.

The end of an era

So, while I used to say, “I don’t think we’ll ever own another brand of car,” we’ve now sold our Tesla and are moving on to not buy the brand again. I still know many who love them, but it’s just not something I’m willing to continue to deal with when we’re getting lackluster service, support, and responses. And there’s an even bigger problem if when you do get in touch they just tell you there’s not a problem or sorry we can’t do anything. 

Brand evangelists have a breaking point, too. If you don’t reinforce your customer experience focus, it’ll eventually become like any relationship where it’s not a give and take. And if you’re not getting anything from it, you’ll probably walk away.

We’re definitely still open to supporting brands who make cool products and support their customers. We’ve got our eye on Rivian and that cool Rivian blue they have for their R1S 🙂 They recently posted that they’re sharing more about their service experience soon and I look forward to reading more about it.

Photo credit: Ian Schneider on Unsplash