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Elon Musk's Angry Customer Twitter Thread Is a Gold Mine of Customer Service Advice

Kirsten Korosec

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who runs Tesla and SpaceX, is known for his late-night Twitter sessions, often giving his 12.8 million followers the scoop on his growing number of projects. On Friday night, Musk tackled a single customer tweet that quickly spun into a miniature masterclass on how to conduct customer service.

It all started with a tweet to Musk, who had initially posted a video montage of SpaceX’s previous failed efforts entitled “How Not to Land a Orbital Rocket Booster.”

It is common for followers to inundate Musk with questions, many unrelated, once he posts, knowing that he will occasionally answer a few. But one stood out. A tweet at 6:38 p.m. Pacific time Friday night to Musk read: “had a terrible experience with very pushy sales guy from tesla stanford shop while shopping for model x.”

The comment stands out because Tesla is known for its anti-dealership approach to selling its cars. Its showrooms are intended to be pressure-free, pushiness-free places to buy.

Musk responded less than 45 minutes later: “Def not ok. Just sent a reminder to Tesla stores that we just want people to look forward to their next visit. That’s what really matters.”

People using Twitter to complain directly to a company isn’t unusual. Nor is it is uncommon for the official company Twitter account to respond (with varying degrees of success). In this case, it’s notable because the head of the company responded—and so quickly—and that it prompted a debate on what it means to be loyal customer.

Musk didn’t weigh in further on the subject, at least not on Twitter. But more than 200 followers did, providing a well of insights on what customer service strategies work and what doesn’t, including Tesla’s Apple-like sales approach.

One of the more interesting comments followed the initial customer’s response to Musk, in which he thanked him for the prompt response, adding “I am a real supporter of tesla and your vision.” That was immediately called into question by another Musk follower who thought the complaining customer couldn’t possibly actually be a Tesla supporter.

However, customers can show their support for a business with their negative feedback. As one follower noted, “only feedback can connect sales to the parent company.”

Other followers soon posted their own experiences, which usually hit on the two extremes of “amazing” and “terrible.”

Businesses looking to develop the same kind of loyal customer following should pay attention to those non-Tesla owners who commented on the thread. For instance, one man noted that he was treated like a valued customer even after telling the sales rep he would never be able to afford one. Another commentator clearly has visited a Tesla store a number of times even though he doesn’t have the funds yet. The aspiration quality of the Tesla brand is what attracts people to the brand; how they’re treated at the store is what keeps them coming back.

In short: treat everyone who walks in your door the same—an experience that other aspirational companies like Tiffany & Co. do as well.

For others commenting on the thread, knowledge of the product and believable enthusiasm was what stood out.

And others offered advice to Tesla and any other brand hoping to reach increasingly savvy customers, including not hiring salesman, and how the staff allowed the product to “sell itself.”

Interestingly, some folks complained about not being approached at all when they visited a Tesla store.

The lack of contact complaints show that sometimes the “light sales touch” approach can turn certain customers off.