How Tesla drives customer connections

TeslaSecret shoppers have ranked electric carmaker, Tesla, dead last when it comes to turning prospects into buyers; a result the company couldn’t be prouder of.

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Now in its 10th year, the study, conducted by Pied Piper Management, measures the sales effectiveness of car dealerships in the US by sending in mystery shoppers to determine the “best car salesman” list.

Finding themselves at the bottom of the list, Tesla’s staff were described as more like museum curators than sales machines.

“We came last in that assessment and we were actually quite proud of that,” Heath Walker, senior marketing and communications manager at Tesla Australia, told Inside Retail Weekly.

Instore experience, education and engagement come before sales, Walker explains.

“I think selling such a unique product, in terms of it being an electric vehicle, there’s a big piece of education that goes with it,” Walker said.

“There are a lot of preconceived misconceptions about owning an electric vehicle. I think a lot of people think of a golf buggy when they think of an electric vehicle and we are far from a golf buggy. Breaking that mould within people’s mind is an important part of what we can do within the store experience.”

Telsa doesn’t spend any money on advertising or sponsorship, so word of mouth is critical for the brand.

“Anyone that walks into a Tesla store, we want to make sure they leave with a great experience whether they are purchasing the car or not,” Walker said.

“If someone is walking away with a bad experience, that’s the worst thing that that can happen for Tesla.

“We never do a hard sell. We don’t believe anyone should be talked into buying a Tesla, because if it’s not right for them they are going to have a bad experience.”

Store design

TeslaTesla has a unique store concept that allows it to open locations within shopping centres or on high streets.

In Australia, Tesla has two service centres, which include retail space, one on Sydney’s North Shore and the other in Richmond, Melbourne. It also operates a permanent pop-up at Chadstone shopping centre outside of Myer, and recently opened flagship store in Sydney’s Martin Place.

Walker told Inside Retail Weekly the Martin Place shop front is a statement about how Tesla approaches the marketplace.

“There’s not too many automotive stores in the centre of Sydney, and certainly not Martin Place. It just shows the approach we take to market,” he said.  

Tesla wants to grow its retail footprint in Australia, eyeing more locations in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as entering the Brisbane market.

“Now that we have a greater awareness and brand identity within Australia we are able to look at retail in the true shopfront sense,” Walker said.   

Choosing high traffic retail locations is another way for Tesla to raise its profile in Australia.

“I think going to where the people are is critical these days,” Walker said.

“People are time poor so I think being where they already are is key, certainly for a new brand like Tesla where people are still discovering who and what we are.

Tesla“So rather than trying to bring them to a destination, we are going to where they are and I think that’s why Martin Place will work so well for us and Chadstone has to date.”

To enable its small footprint, compared to a traditional car yard, Tesla only displays one to three cars, depending on the size of the location.  

Stores also feature a chassis which is used to tell a safety and performance story about the design and manufacture of the vehicle.

The stores also include a design studio where consumers can select materials and create different variations of their Model S.  

“One of the main reasons we don’t hold stock is that we want the customer to be able to choose what they design given it’s such a large investment,” Walker said. “They can actually design their car from the ground up.”

The actual purchase can be made instore or online. The car is then made-to-order in the US and upon delivery new owners are now given a comprehensive one-hour walk through of the vehicle.

Driving loyalty

TeslaA key difference between Tesla and other dealerships is the electric car maker sells direct, rather than through a third-party. A big advantage of this is Telsa is able to establish a, “true single customer”, Walker argues.  

“We treat every person as an individual and have an understanding of that individual across all our stores.”

“There are a lot of companies that talk around having a single customer view, but there’s not many that truly have the structure to do that. We are quite young as a company so we’ve been able to build that from the ground up.”

Finding out each customer’s level of awareness, asking questions around what their needs are, what their understand of the product is, rather than making assumptions is critical in delivery the best customer service.

Throughout ownership Tesla aims to reward its customers for taking a punt on its electric vehicles.

“We owe our customers more than anything, they were the pioneers for our brand and without them taking on the risk of buying a product that they weren’t necessarily exposed to previously, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Walker said.  

Last week Tesla turned its Melbourne service centre into a drive-in movie theatre for Model S owners. The cars were parked in and delivered popcorn and meals from food trucks, while they watched a movie being projected on service centre’s wall.

“There’s not too many companies who do that to reward the uptake of their products,” Walker said.

“We certainly take the tactic of rewarding them as a customer because they’ve already done the service to the brand by buying the product.”  



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