The Curious Case of the “Self-Driving” Tesla and one of Utah’s bright Entrepreneurs –aka “Mr.Tesla”

or why it is ESSENTIAL to always listen and respond to your customers.

I hope every large corporation which is interested in customer service will take a moment to read this. Corporations need to understand that merely spouting off well-worn quotes on the need to make “the Customer Priority ONE” is fine.” But you need to back it up with world class execution. You not only need to listen to the customer but you must respond in a meaningful and personal way. 

As someone who has spent nearly four decades in a series of amazing tech companies, I cannot think of one which did not say “The Customer is #1.” But saying it and living it are two vastly different matters. In the curious case of Jared Overton and his self-moving Tesla, there is a big lesson for us all to learn about truly being “Customer Centered.”

By way of background, I am a proud member of the Utah Technology Hall of Fame. Salt Lake City was just named by Forbes Magazine as America’s #1 city to start a career. The State of Utah has received many such accolades including the “Best State for Entrepreneurs.” And one of the best and brightest of these is the dynamic Jared Overton.

The young, positive and hard-working Mr. Overton is busy beyond belief creating a terrific company called PigeonShip. His company features an innovative delivery service that takes advantage of empty spaces in vehicles.

Before going further, I want to be clear on a couple of points: First,  I have known Jared Overton for more than two decades and can attest to his character. I have been in the Tesla in question and have seen a very precise demonstration of the functions of the Tesla at issue. Further, I have seen independent written testimony from the other individual that was an eye witness to all of this. These guys are authentic. They are regular guys just trying to raise a family and make a living.

On the day I visited Jared most recently, his computer screen never slowed, his cell phone and text messages were all going off non-stop, and his office was a veritable beehive of activity.  He has two very busy and engaged young children, holds callings in his local Church congregation, serves, and on top of everything is trying to build one of Utah’s next great technology companies. The last thing in the world that Jared Overton needed on April 29, 2016, was to have his new Tesla try to park itself and have his windshield smashed when his new Tesla went rogue.

The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways. – Richard Branson

The story has now gone viral but it did not need to. You can blame this one on careless customer service by Tesla and their abject failure to truly listen and respond appropriately to a potentially dangerous customer situation. In fact, it was never Jared’s intent for the incident to be picked up in dozens of countries around the globe.

According to Mr Overton, here is what happened.  On the morning of April 29, 2016, Overton parked his Tesla S 70 D on the street in front of a local business to retrieve a sign which had been created for his fast growing company.

When he arrived at the business and exited his vehicle, Jared was greeted by the employee of the sign company who noticed that Jared was driving a Tesla. The two of them stood next to the Tesla for roughly a minute or two conversing about the benefits of Jared’s very cool new car. They then went inside to retrieve the sign.

Upon returning to the vehicle roughly five minutes later, they were shocked to see that the vehicle had “self crashed” into a trailer that was parked directly in front of the Tesla. Somehow the “Automatic Park” feature had become triggered in the Tesla and it moved forward on its own directly into the trailer. Evidently, the radar range of the Tesla is insufficient to detect that there was a large trailer right where the self-determined Tesla wanted to park. To be fair, Jared had been warned by Tesla of this potential hazard in advance. Turns out, if one sets the signal on the steering column to “Self-Park,” it begins a process where precisely in 3 seconds of the driver exiting the vehicle, the car will proceed to park itself. It is important to note that this process is supposed to initiate within exactly 3 seconds. But, in this case, according to Jared and the eye witness, it took several minutes for the car to decide to move itself.

Mr. Overton immediately reported the incident to Tesla outlining his concerns regarding a possible scary malfunction of the vehicle. It is important to note that Jared was not making a claim for damages.  Rather he was simply alerting Tesla to ensure they were taking steps to prevent any possible injury or damage to others. The truth is that the only damage done to Jared’s Tesla required a simple windshield replacement which was covered by insurance. Fortunately, neither Jared nor his business colleague was injured.

Following notifying Tesla Motors of the incident and receiving the cold shoulder for days that turned into weeks, Jared felt like he needed to speak out concerning the hazard so as to protect others. He had previously posted the incident to his Facebook account with a photo of his Tesla and its smashed windshield. A bright reporter from a local television/news station picked up on the incident and called Jared to interview him. Mr Overton probably would not have taken their call but for Tesla’s lack of meaningful response to him.  

Understand this – a simple 15-minute phone call to Jared from Tesla Motors probably would have avoided a viral pock on Tesla’s reputation. No one at Tesla Motors seemed legitimately concerned about what had happened.  And yet, to quote Jared, “All I could think of was the safety of my children. I was worried that this could have happened at home and done real damage to my kids.”

For the record, Tesla disputes what Jared and  his independent witness assert. The Tesla Motor Company says  that they have reviewed the “vehicle’s logs” and maintain that the incident occurred as a result of driver error.  

Here is a powerful yet simple rule. Always give people more than they expect to get. – Nelson Boswell

Naturally, Overton felt like a world-class company such as Tesla, when faced with a sensitive incident which could have rather dramatic safety implications, would be all over the accident to learn more. After waiting days for a reply from Tesla, Jared tenaciously emailed them again. This time, he received a terse email stating that “their logs” somehow indicated that it was Jared that had triggered the auto park. Therefore, the accident was his fault due to improper use of the of the self parking mechanism also known as the “Summon” feature.

Of course, Jared denies setting the automatic self-parking trigger but even if he did, the fact that Jared and his business colleague stood there for more than a minute without the car initiating any movement, indicates a further problem. In fact, all of this was corroborated in writing by the employee of the sign company who wrote:

“When Jared got out of the car, I was curious about the Tesla so I asked a few questions and we stood around the car talking for about a minute. After a brief conversation, we went inside the building for about five minutes. Upon exiting the building, we noticed that the car was underneath one of the work trailers. Jared mentioned that something must have malfunctioned, causing the car to drive itself under the trailer. Thanks, Richard T.”

It should be noted in passing that what we are talking about here is a car that costs over $75,000.00. If Jared’s version of the facts is true, it has serious life and death implications. This isn’t a dress suit that Jared was returning to Nordstrom’s or a cell phone that he was returning to Apple.

It should be added that despite being contacted constantly for more interviews, Jared said:

“I saw no need to respond to requests for interviews as it was not my intent to stir the pot. I would not have bothered sharing my story with the news station in the first place if Tesla had communicated properly.”

However, their lack of interest and then blaming Jared for the accident didn’t sit well with him especially having small children who could be playing around the vehicle in the future. It should be added that Jared’s devotion to his children is demonstrated by the very fact that the Tesla S 70 D that he owns has his daughter’s name – Sydney – engraved on his Tesla license plate.

At the end of the day, Mr. Overton believes the big fault of Tesla is their lack of concern and their lack of direct customer communication. The only formal response other than some terse emails that Jared received, was an apparent glorified form letter from the “regional service manager” of Tesla again placing blame for the incident on Mr. Overton. The service guy wrote Jared and said: “Tesla has reviewed the logs and concluded that the incident occurred as a result of the driver not properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings . . .”

No phone calls, no survey, no interest from senior management –

Despite the Tesla Motor Company claims that Overton was the individual to blame for the accident, Tesla just released a software upgrade for its vehicle that required drivers to “confirm the direction of travel when activating the summon feature.”  So at least they did something. What they failed to do is make a customer happy.

To this day, however, Jared remains one of Tesla’s biggest fans. He was one of the first to commit to a drive Tesla’s new model S 70 D in Utah and has been a loyal customer, actively promoting the brand.

Ever since the incident, Overton is known around town as “Mr. Tesla.”  Ironically he thought it was his company PigeonShip that would bring him fame, not his wandering Tesla.

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. – Jeff Bezos

As we spoke, he added jokingly: “I wasn’t expecting a personal phone call from Elon Musk, well maybe at least a family member.” However, he is still hopeful to have a high-level conversation with Tesla executives with regard to explaining the incident in full. And he adds that perhaps his fellow Entrepreneur – Elon Musk – can squeeze in a conference call.”

Elon Musk himself once said:

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.

A key cog in that Feedback loop is the CUSTOMER. Jared’s only desire was to protect others. Jared wants to have a great relationship with Tesla and continues to love what they have built. But when people feel like they are not heard, they get frustrated. In Jared’s case, there was absolutely no financial incentive to press this matter forward. The windshield repair was covered by insurance and cost less than one thousand bucks. He is so busy running a company, he barely had time to explain to me what exactly happened.

Thus, the customer focus so highly touted by Elon Musk and his Tesla Motors appears to be sadly lacking in this case.  

Musk also said:

If you’re trying to create a company, it’s like baking a cake. You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.

Right now, Mr. Musk, your company is not proportioned properly.     

Posted in Posted in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

2 thoughts on “The Curious Case of the “Self-Driving” Tesla and one of Utah’s bright Entrepreneurs –aka “Mr.Tesla””

  1. Just finished the Elon Musk biography. Unique individual. Incredibly talented and focused but developing personal relationships is clearly not one of his top talents. Interesting story. Thanks.

  2. David, I love this post. You have hit the nail on the head when you said, “but saying it and living it are two vastly different matters”. There is way too much lip service by corporate executives when it comes to customer service. They often forget who the real boss is, and without the customer they don’t have a job.

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