Making the Company Human

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If you are one of the lucky few who plunked down the equivalent of a four-year degree to buy a Tesla Model X, you probably already know about your car’s special holiday light show.

For those who haven’t heard about this before, here’s the video. Model X owners can press a special sequence of buttons to get their car to flash its lights and open and close the doors in time to holiday music. It’s like one of those over-the-top Christmas light displays, except for your car.

Most car owners–and I’m going to guess most auto industry executives–will probably think, “Why the heck does anyone need their car to perform a musical light show?”

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But evidently that’s not what Elon Musk thought. Because at Tesla, it’s apparently completely rational to invest a meaningful amount of design and engineering resources in making the car do something completely useless and utterly frivolous just because it’s cool. We know this because the light show isn’t the only wacky feature programmed into Teslas: there’s a whole web site devoted to Tesla’s easter eggs.

There’s a lesson here about how the customer experience plays into a company’s brand. Most companies don’t spend much time and effort being playful or frivolous. But for most people, that time spent having fun, doing things just because, is very important. It’s what we enjoy most, it’s what we wish we had more of, and in some ways it’s what makes us human. Play is even recognized as an important part of mental health.

So when a company shows that it, too, can be playful, it helps humanize the company. It shows that the business isn’t just a giant faceless bureaucracy, but rather people with personality. And that makes us like the company more.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Great post. And, an important component of the customer experience today. It clearly humanizes the customer experience as well as the brand. It also helps attract the best customers and the best employees.

    Customers do not just want value-added service (an expression of generosity) like upgrading you to First class if you are a frequent flyer. They want value-unique, something unexpected–like Easter eggs. It is what made Cracker Jack a successful company for over a hundred years. It was not the great caramelized molasses flavored popcorn and nuts; it was the free prize inside.

    Customer advocacy at its highest peak is not a “would you recommend,” but rather a “would you tell a compelling story.” Hotel Monaco will put a goldfish in your hotel room…if you will just give it a name. Their complimentary bathrobes in the guest room closet are not boring white but rather leopard or zebra print. And, they include a yoga mat. The 6pm wine and cheese party in the lobby just might include a magician, palm reader or mime. My books, Sprinkles, Kaleidoscope and Take Their Breath Away contain countless examples of value-unique ways to create a customer experience using innovative service. There is a limit to generosity since each value-add can elevate the customer’s expectations; there is no limit to ingenuity. Wise companies never run out of unexpected, simple ways to leave customers with a special surprise.

    The most popular section of the casino, and the biggest money-maker for them is not black jack or roulette, It is the slot machine with its surprise based variable ratio programming. Coins do not fall on a soft, quiet landing tray; they land on a loud medal tray and the slot machine lights up and makes sounds. It is the ultimate surprise that involves everyone nearby who vicariously shares the glee of the gambler on the business end of the one-armed bandit. The Tesla light show is not just for the owner’s pleasure; it reaches vicariously everyone who watches it.

  2. There is a fun side to corporate cultural humanity; and, like employees, customers feel it and gravitate toward it.. Just ask Southwest Airlines and Trader Joe’s if “keeping it light” works for them. And, even if cultures like Umpqua Bank’s and TD Bank’s are not laugh-a-minute, they are still casual and flexible enough for both customers and employees.

  3. i JUST HOPE THAT “FLASHING LIGHTS AND DOORS OPENING/CLOSING” DOES NOT HAPPEN WHILST DRIVING IN HEAVY TRAFFIC….???

  4. The Christmas light show can only be initiated if the car is parked and locked with the windows closed and is initiated from the FOB…otherwise, the owner of the car would miss the show!! They have many other “Easter eggs” (as they call them) including turning the GPS map on the giant dash screen into a map of the moon and your car becoming a Rover lunar mobile. Many more surprises are on the planning board at Tesla.

  5. My friend Joe Hage has a Medical Device Marketing consultancy and is the owner of the Linkedin Medical Device Group (352,886 members). Joe rfecently added an additional post to his blog every Wednesday. He talks about what he is up to and usually describes how his parents and other family members influenced how and where he is today.

    All of a sudden I feel I know much better, he is more human and I am happy to tell his story to my friends and associates (like right now).

    We all can’t put easter eggs into our products but we can make ourselves human and that is what Peter Leppik just did.

    Thank Peter and have a happy holiday.

  6. Forward thinking companies understand they provide outcomes, not just products. As an Apple customer since 1990 I’ve paid a premium and never considered other vendors.

    I’m rooting for Tesla and hope they hit production targets to address their backlog. Who but Elon Musk, under severe cash flow pressure, would fund Easter egg development? A power move I can’t imagine any other car manufacturer making.

    Most B2B sales organizations pay lip services to superior buyer experiences. It seems only B2C companies (i.e. Apple, Disney, Tesla) are recognized for delivering them. B2B companies teach sellers to discuss offerings as nouns. Executive buyers want sellers to describe offerings as verbs. Their interest is in learning how business outcomes can be achieved through the use of a seller’s offerings.

    A laser focus on products impedes initiatives to be customer-centric. A focus on usage can provide superior buying experiences as well as a sustainable non-product competitive advantage.

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