Some new Tesla cars are being delivered with flaws, and owners say getting them fixed is a painful process
- Business Insider spoke with 12 Tesla owners over the past two months, many of whom described a range of problems with their vehicles that required attention in the weeks and months after delivery.
- They were split on the quality of service they received when their vehicles were being delivered or repaired.
- Some said Tesla's service centers were slow, unresponsive, and inattentive to cosmetic and mechanical problems.
- Others said they were fast, effective, and easy to contact.
Much has been written about the production delays Tesla faces each time it introduces a new model, but the challenges don't end once a vehicle rolls off the assembly line.
Customers have reported problems before, during, and after receiving their vehicles, including delayed deliveries, broken door handles, and internal computer systems crashing and leaving their cars inoperable. Accounts of early, persistent problems - some that become apparent within days of delivery - contrast with the high customer satisfaction scores Tesla's vehicles have received from independent surveys.
Business Insider spoke with 12 Tesla owners over the past two months who have purchased the Model 3 and Model S sedans. Nearly all of them said they loved their vehicles when they worked properly, but many described a range of problems that required attention in the weeks and months after delivery.
The owners Business Insider spoke with were split on the quality of service they received when their vehicles were being delivered or repaired. Some said Tesla's service centers were slow, unresponsive, and inattentive to cosmetic and mechanical problems. Others said they were fast, effective, and easy to contact.
A Tesla spokesperson told Business Insider that customer satisfaction scores for service in North America have consistently topped 90%. The representative also said the company is expanding its parts distribution capacity, mobile service program, and customer service workforce.
"While we're incredibly proud of the customer support and service we offer, we're always working to improve," the spokesperson said.
The customers Business Insider spoke with who had a positive impression of Tesla's customer service were more likely to have had experiences with the company's mobile repair units, which can fix minor issues at customers' homes or workplaces. (A Tesla representative said the company has a 97% customer satisfaction score for mobile service.)
Those who had a negative impression interacted more often with Tesla's service centers, which the company uses for deliveries and more extensive repairs. For one of the most polarizing companies in the tech industry, divergent perspectives on Tesla's customer service are another example of how nearly everything the company does is up for debate.
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Some owners are frustrated with Tesla's customer service
Dennis Phillips, who works as the director of technology for a public school district in Massachusetts, received his Model 3 in May. Two days after delivery, he noticed a problem: What looked like the head of a nail was sticking out on the roof. He called Tesla and spoke with an "arrogant" employee who insisted the company would have noticed that kind of blemish before the car was delivered. Phillips, who said he spotted a razor blade on the backseat of his Model 3 before he took it home, insisted otherwise.
"This is not something I could possibly have done," he said.
Phillips said he took the car into the Dedham service center for a repair he was told would take two to three days. Over a week later, the car was ready. Since then, Phillips has noticed more issues, including blemishes, brakes sticking when he drives in reverse, and the touchscreen failing to turn on for the first part of a ride.
"At what point is your brand-new car not a brand-new car anymore," he said.
Communicating with Tesla employees has brought mixed results, Phillips said. While most of the service employees he's interacted with have been pleasant and professional, Phillips said an employee who has scheduled his service visits has used an exasperated tone when speaking with him, as if Phillips is bothering him. This led Phillips to start communicating with the company via email, but he said employees can be unresponsive to his messages and evasive about the nature of the work being done to his car.
At the time of our interview in early July, Phillips' Model 3 had been in service for a week. He didn't know what was being done to it.
"I don't know how they can not know what it is that they're doing when they've had the car for a week," he said.
The repairs were finished a few days later and, unlike the first time he brought the car in for service, Tesla ultimately told him all of
Sultan Meghji, an entrepreneur and technology consultant who lives in St. Louis, ordered his Model S in May and was told it would arrive on June 23. He didn't receive the vehicle until August 2. During his first attempt to pick it up at the St. Louis service center, he waited for 15 minutes before being told the vehicle had not arrived. Later, Meghji would learn that the service center did not have the trade-in and financing information he had submitted on Tesla's website, further delaying delivery.
After picking up his Model S, he drove for less than a block before he realized the vehicle was improperly aligned.
"I drive off the lot and my alignment is so far out of whack that I can barely drive," he said. "I straighten the wheel and I almost run into a bush on the right side of the road."
He returned the vehicle to the service center but was told he would have to keep it for four days until his repair appointment. Meghji said he wished the service center had taken his vehicle and given him a loaner. While the repair took a few hours longer than expected, Meghji said it was effective.
Desperate owners turn to Twitter
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has developed a reputation for being more active and candid on Twitter than other executives at multibillion-dollar companies, often responding directly to frustrated customers. Sometimes, when owners lose faith in their service centers, they'll turn to Musk, hoping to catch his attention. Some tweets seem to carry the assumption that Musk reads every tweet addressed to him, evidence that his Twitter habits have made an impression on customers.
"@elonmusk please help me with this customer service nightmare," one user said in August. "Fremont delivery team was completely incompetent. Worst customer service experience ever. How do you forget half the paperwork and lose deposit check and then act like it's our fault?"
Even if it doesn't reach Musk, a well-timed tweet can accelerate an otherwise dire repair timeline.
Adam Whiting, who works in the employee benefits industry and lives in Arizona, sent his Model 3 to a Tesla-approved, independent body shop after it was involved in a collision. (Tesla has begun testing company-run body shops for light repairs in select markets, but most customers have to use independent body shops.) The car went into service on June 11, and Whiting was told it would be ready by late July. Later, the body shop informed him that it wouldn't receive all of the parts needed for the repair from Tesla until September.
Whiting asked Musk on Twitter if he could make the parts arrive faster. While Musk didn't respond to him directly, Tesla noticed the tweet and, in early August, said the parts he needed would be available within days.
Not all owners are unhappy
Other Tesla owners said they were taken aback by the high quality of Tesla's customer service. Danny Corrigan, who works in the tech industry near Portland, Oregon, said he has spent hundreds of dollars on pizza for the employees at Tesla's Portland service center and had the initials of three employees inscribed on a brick he dedicated to them in Portland's Pioneer Square.
"It's just phenomenal service. It's just blowing me away," he said.
Corrigan owns a Model S and said on multiple occasions Tesla employees have been especially attentive to his needs. Once, after his Model S became inoperable around 150 miles from his home due to a software glitch, Corrigan called Tesla and said the company quickly had a tow truck sent to pick up his vehicle, called him an Uber, and prepared a rental car. While he was waiting for his car to be repaired, he received a call from a Tesla employee checking in on him.
Even when he doesn't have an issue and just wants to be educated on how his car works, employees take the time to respond to his calls and emails.
"What other company goes above and beyond and does this kind of customer service?" he said.
Dave Pai, an attorney who lives in San Francisco, became concerned when he learned in July that Tesla had sold its 200,000th vehicle, which meant a $7,500 tax credit available to customers would begin to expire. He configured his Model 3 in June and was told it would arrive in October. Tesla's website indicated it could be delivered as late as December, which meant he might become ineligible for part of the tax credit if the delivery window was pushed back.
So Pai called the San Francisco service center, which told him he could take delivery that week. Pai said the delivery experience was "amazing," with the car arriving hours earlier than expected. The employees he worked with were enthusiastic, and Pai said a Tesla employee stayed on the phone for an hour in case he had any questions while he went to his bank to sort out financing.
"The guy who I was working with was sort of bending over backwards to make sure I was happy," he said.
Will Tesla's new customers be as patient as its old ones?
According to Ron Montoya, a senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds, it's normal for customers of a particular brand to have polarized opinions about the quality of service they receive. What remains to be seen is if new Tesla owners who experience early issues will remain enthusiastic about their vehicles once the company starts delivering more affordable ones, like the $35,000 base version of its Model 3 sedan.
For now, Tesla benefits from an unusual amount of patience since many of its customers are wealthy enough to own multiple vehicles or passionate enough to look past imperfections.
"I keep expecting people to be so frustrated with a lot of the bugs and the problems that sometimes these vehicles have, but, for the most part ... people are happy about their cars and they have pride in this company and they want it to succeed," Montoya said.
A Tesla representative said customer satisfaction scores for the Model 3, its newest vehicle, have averaged around 90% since January. The representative also said the company's internal data shows that the Model 3 has improved since the beginning of this year.
Saul Friedman, a television executive who lives in California, said he wasn't bothered by the fact that his Model 3 stopped working the day after he brought it home. He said dealing with glitches is the price of early adoption.
"Was I angry that it happened? No. I have the 33,000th car that's rolled off when they're rushing them out and trying to meet demand," he said. "It's otherwise a fantastic car and there's a lot of software and they're constantly updating it so it's completely understandable."
Once Tesla fulfills CEO Elon Musk's dream of becoming a mass-market automaker, the company will find out if its next generation of customers feels the same way.
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