When Tesla lost its recommendation from Consumer Reports in October, there was an asterisk attached to the testing agency’s post. Even with readers complaining about reliability, 97% said they would buy the car again, an apparent contradiction. Credit the electric car maker’s customer service operation for that feat. With a minor seatbelt problem prompting a worldwide recall of the Model S, Tesla is on the job flashing its customer support expertise once again.
According to Tesla, a Model S owner in Europe reported an issue with her seatbelt loosening when turning to address passengers in the back seat. Though there was neither an accident nor injuries to report, the Fremont-based automaker decided to recall the entire fleet of cars from around the world to avoid any potential safety lapse as a “proactive and precautionary measure.”
The statement noted most Model S EVs in production were inspected and found to be free of the problem. Testing and repairing the problem (if necessary) should take about 15 minutes in a service center, and appointments can be made online or handled on a walk-in basis at Tesla locations.
If this response strikes Chevy or Jeep owners as remarkably swift and preemptive, it is. Large-scale automakers have been known for brazen denial of responsibility in cases where injury and deaths had taken place inside vehicles. In this case, the mere possibility of a problem down the road ended up mobilizing Tesla’s service team around the world.
These aggressive handling of any negative related to the luxury EV’s performance is a recurring theme in Tesla branding.
As Model S owners vented to Consumer Reports about issues with door handles, touchscreen consoles, and charging equipment, they also commented on the rapid response of Tesla’s support team. In some cases, complications in drive system led to free replacement of the entire powertrain. Owners were often astounded by that attention, and Tesla indeed aspires to impress customers thusly.
“Close communication with our customers enables Tesla to receive input, proactively address issues, and quickly fix problems,” a spokesperson told Consumer Reports when the low reliability rating was published. It’s impossible to imagine a nearly perfect satisfaction score otherwise.
Is this type of response the sort of luxury only a small-scale car maker can afford? For now, Tesla is indeed a boutique firm as it hopes to sell 50,000-55,000 units of its flagship sedan worldwide in 2015 — the equivalent of a bad month for the Ford F-150 in America. This attention to detail will be hard to maintain when the mass-market Model 3 enters the picture in a few years.
Until then, Tesla is winning over nearly all its customers with service that’s impossible to top. Whereas recall notices normally have negative connotations all over them, this approach may actually deliver a PR win.