As far as influential forward-thinkers of the twenty-first century, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk — who also happens to be CEO of SpaceX, the world’s first successful commercial spaceflight company — is one of the greats. Indeed his involvement with Tesla, space travel, renewable energy and even new forms of transportation has earned him the same kind of reverenced respect as the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.
Just like Jobs and so many other intelligent, driven business leaders throughout history, Musk isn’t one to suffer fools gladly. From the press calls we’ve sat in on when Musk has shut down an reporter for asking an inappropriate question to tales from former Tesla employees detailing Musk’s expectation that they give as much to the company as he does, it’s fairly well known that you don’t want to get on Musk’s bad side.
Yet that’s exactly what happened to Californian venture capitalist Stewart Alsop recently when he discovered that Tesla Motors had cancelled his order for a brand-new all-electric Tesla Model X luxury SUV.
As The Guardian reports, Alsop first got himself into hot water with the Tesla CEO when he wrote an open letter to Musk on microblogging site Medium back in September, complaining that the Tesla Model X Launch event was badly run, late, and inconsiderate to Tesla’s existing and prospective customers.
“It’s bad enough that your event producers couldn’t actually produce an event — the so-called Model X Launch Event,” reads the opening paragraph of the letter entitled Dear @Elon Musk: You should be ashamed of yourself. “Starting a 7:00pm event at 8:50pm is simply unacceptable, particularly when the invited guests are actually your customers! But for you to stand up at 8:52pm and not even acknowledge that you have wasted your own customers’ time was insensitive and poor judgement,” it continues.
While Alsop’s post carried on in a similar vein, arguing that the lack of food, long test-drive wait and overcrowded venue had angered him and ultimately reflected badly on the Californian automaker, he finished the post by noting that despite his frustrations, he had gone ahead and ordered a Model X.
“Now I’m wondering. Should I be proud and boastful of being a Model X customer?” he asked. “Should I wonder if there are other problems in managing Tesla as a company? Is this a marketing failure or do you treat your customers like this after they get their car? I never did see the Model X. I still really want one…It’s a computer, disguised as a beautiful car, just like I want. It probably won’t matter that you screwed up this event completely. It would still be nice if you showed some class and apologized to the people who believe in this product.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Tesla had found itself dealing with an angry customer. While they’re few and far between, they do exist — and we’ve encountered a few ourselves over the years. But rather than ignore Alsop’s ranting (and take his money anyway), Alsop says that Musk called him personally, and told him that his order was cancelled.
In a followup post, posted on February 1st and entitled Banned By Tesla!, Alsop thanks Musk for calling him and explaining that he “was not comfortable” with Alsop owning a Tesla vehicle after his previous post, something which Alsop relays that Musk felt “was a personal attack.” Describing himself as “terribly disappointed” that Musk had cancelled his Model X order — which was a red P90D with black leather seats and Ludicrous mode — Alsop expresses regret that he won’t be able to “participate in the automobile revolution that Tesla started,” and concludes that “I’m likely to just keep driving my irritating BMW X1.”
Despite his obvious disappointment in the Model X launch event, the cancelled order and what he claims is a lack of marketing department at Tesla Motors, Alsop does take time out to praise Musk for creating a car company which has innovated on almost every aspect of the auto industry today, has challenged “hateful and intimidating” sales practices common elsewhere in the automotive world, and “created a really beautiful and amazing car along the way.”
For his part in the debacle, Musk took to his favourite social media platform Twitter late last night to express his frustration in the media attention the story was getting, referring simply to Alsop as a “super rude customer.”
Must be a slow news day if denying service to a super rude customer gets this much attention
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 3, 2016
In covering the story, Alex Hern of The Gudardian calls Musk’s behavior “unbelievably petty,” while MarketWatch’s Victor Reklaitis chooses to make some less-than-subtle allusions between Musk and Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi (as played by Larry Thomas).
Here at Transport Evolved? We’re going to sit on the fence, and point out a few things that we feel is pertinent.
First of all, taking your grievances, however small, onto the Internet is bound to get a lot of attention. Alsop even acknowledges the fact in his blog posts on the subject. And while airing your frustrations online is a great way to get customer service, it can sometimes backfire. Badly.
Second, while Alsop’s post may have had the best of intentions, it perhaps may have been better for him to have addressed those concerns to Musk personally, either via email or through a letter delivered to Tesla. In a world where anything said online is super-difficult to take back, we can’t help but think there’s at least some blame to be laid at Alsop’s feet. After all, if you’d criticised a company very publicly online, would you expect that same company to take your money? What if you continued to be a difficult customer? Or what if things just went downhill from there?
Wouldn’t it be less risky, at least from a long-term standpoint, to try and dissuade the customer from picking your product? Again, we don’t think this excuses Musk’s actions here. Alsop should have thought twice before airing his grievances so publicly, while Musk could have stepped back from what seems to be a harsh knee-jerk reaction.
As for Tesla’s notoriously late timing? It’s become something of a joke in the automotive world and the plug-in community. We’ve yet to see a press event or launch event from Tesla that has started on time. Even the usually punctual investor calls and subsequent press Q&A sessions can be marginally tardy. And while that certainly doesn’t excuse it — and we’ll admit is a frustration for many in the plug-in world — it’s certainly become an expected part of any Tesla event.
Here, we can see blame on both sides, and perhaps a little less talking than we would have liked. If both men were children, we’d be sitting them down on the round mat and teaching them how to play nicely. But as we’re sure you know, the real world isn’t like Kindergarten.
Do you think Musk was right to halt Alsop’s order? Was Alsop acting inappropriately when he aired his grievances with Tesla in a very public way? Who do you think is to blame — and how would you have liked the situation to have been resolved?
Leave your carefully-written thoughts in the Comments below.
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