“Oh, zero. Customer research. Haha hahaha. No. I mean. I mean, we just made a car that we thought was awesome. You know, it looks super weird.” —Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc., when asked if Tesla conducted customer research in designing their new vehicle.
There’s something peculiar about the psychology of Tesla vehicle owners that runs contrary to every well-accepted theory about how customers are supposed to behave. Our understanding of customer satisfaction is based on decades of research. It relies on data from hundreds of thousands of customers in every conceivable industry (even the IRS and U.S. Postal Service are included). Core to this research is the idea that a product’s quality influences customers’ satisfaction, leading to loyal attitudes, marked by repeat purchases and positive word of mouth. In other words, high-quality products make satisfied and loyal customers, and poor quality products make dissatisfied and unhappy customers (see the figure).
Source: Theories of customer satisfaction/Figure by Utpal Dholakia
Tesla has turned this theory of customer satisfaction on its head. To see why this is the case, consider the following two data points about the quality of Tesla vehicles and the customer satisfaction of Tesla owners.