Unboxing Tesla, a customer experience upside down
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Unboxing Tesla, a customer experience upside down

It's all about the experience: just the product alone, its function, price or quality, won't do anymore. This golden marketing rule might be less relevant for some low value items, it is certainly vital for premium products and services. Customers tend to love the orientation, comparing alternatives, and presale interactions. Unboxing luxury items is not an online fad anymore, it's a powerful marketing instrument. But not for Tesla.

Tesla took the opportunity of selling over 30,000 cars in the last two months of 2019 in the Netherlands. There was just this narrow window because the Dutch government was planning to change tax on electrical vehicles (EV's) for business drivers, from 4% in 2019 to 8% in 2020. Buying an EV before January 1, 2020 made a huge difference. For five years on, drivers would continue to be taxed at the lower 4% rate. The government was also planning to end some other incentives for EV's as well. 

The sales surge was huge. Specifically Tesla's Model 3 was perfectly positioned. Neither too expensive and showy like the Model S, Model X or the Jaguar I-Pace. Nor too small and with a too low range like some of the €25,000 EV's. The €60,000 Model 3 fitted well within the default leasing contracts for business drivers. Tesla understood this sales opportunity at an early stage. The rumour even has it that the factory in California has been busy manufacturing the Model 3 solely for the Netherlands for quite some months, to serve the huge demand in the time slot.

I wanted to buy one as well. My customer journey started as any other car buying journey: reaching out to the dealer to opt for a test drive. The Amsterdam dealership, with hardly any parking possibilities, just didn't offer one. The man at the desk said: "You can sit in one of the cars here, but it's busy. You might need some luck. No test drives."

So, after endless online research, I ordered one nevertheless. Everybody around me was so overwhelmingly positive, Youtube reviews were very clear and also exciting to watch. The process of ordering one was again disruptive. There was no sales rep at the dealer offering a great cup of coffee and up selling the car with one of the many possible options and accessories. At Tesla you need to order this car online. The Model 3 comes in just three different versions, with only a few colors and add-ons to buy. Complexity is for other car manufacturers.

Then my customer journey went astray. The one thing buyers wanted to know was: is the car being delivered before January 1? When I ordered the car, early November, there was a notice on a Tesla webpage that the car would be delivered in 2019, but no guarantee. A later delivery would mean the higher tax level, for 5 years, easily resulting in €6,000 extra costs. Tesla didn't offer any opportunity to contact the sales team. Its FAQ's just stated that buyers would be informed in due time. "Please check your account regularly". Very frustrating. Somewhere mid-December a short SMS message popped in my phone: "we are delivering your car in 2019". That was all.

On December 20, a new message; "we will deliver your Model 3 on December 29, You can pick it up at the Car Ferry Terminal at 17:00. Does this suit? Only answer with yes or no". It didn't suit at all. I planned to spend New Years Eve and the few days before, abroad. But there was no option to contact Tesla. Answering with "no" might imply delivery in 2020, who knows? I didn't want to take the risk, so I said "yes". I tried with "could you change my pick up date?". As there was no answer I needed to change my flight plan.

Again a few days later a new text message: "please pay today, see your account page for details". Was this a genuine message? Aware of phishing messages I checked and double checked the money transfer many times.

Delivery day arrived. I headed over to the Car Terminal area, somewhere in a remote western part of the Amsterdam harbour. The experience of picking up a luxury car was nothing I've ever seen before. There were some tents warmed with air blowers. A lady helped me with some paper works and said "your car is at spot D155". On that day like any other day in December some 700 cars were being picked up by owners. The terrain was huge, it must have been several football fields large, full with Model 3s. Somebody else, with an orange vest, pointed me in the right direction. It was cold and dark and I was alone on this huge car terminal. There was no chance in finding the spot. 

At a distance I saw someone with an orange vest explaining a Model 3 to another buyer. The guy was clearly at the end of his tutorial. I waited patiently and after finishing he helped me finding my car. He was friendly enough to start a new tutorial, but first he said: "let's check the car on damage or otherwise". I said: "It's quite dark here, I will try with the torch of my phone". We found out that my car was really dirty, as if it had been there for weeks. With hardly any light around it was impossible to check the dirty car on scratches. "Is there any way of washing the car over here?", I asked. "No sir, this is a car terminal, there is nothing here but cars". 

He took a seat next to me and patiently explained all essentials, me behind the wheel. He was really friendly and took about 25 minutes. It was already close to 6:30PM and we were the last people on the huge terrain. I thought: "Well let's get to know this car real life. Let's move". I thanked him and very anxiously drove the 500 meters to the exit. It was dark, the car was completely new to me. After some formalities at the gate I was off. 

I remembered back in the days me picking up my new Audi, the salesman giving me a bottle of a superb Argentina wine, a bouquet of flowers for my wife. When we were finished doing the paper work, with a very good Nespresso, we walked to the car. There was a pink silk cover over the car, the light was dim. Car porn.

Let's get this straight. The Model 3 is a wonderful car. I like the feel of driving this EV, the huge central interface is impressive, the online updates renew the car every time with new or easier functions. If you like disruption, and care for the planet, this car is superb. It makes all German manufacturers obsolete. History. Tesla made many Dutch people happy in the last few months of last year. 12% of all new cars in the Netherlands are EV's, 7% of all new cars are Model 3s.

But wouldn't there be any chance they could have made the pre-sale experience better? Some simple CRM fixes and processes, including ticketing and customer service add-ons, would have made a huge difference. Tesla should have hired some temps for their call centre. For a €60,000 car that's what you would expect. Building a superb car isn't enough, it's about the total experience. Unboxing the Tesla totally sucked.