Not Just Fast: Understanding a Responsive Experience


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As a customer experience consultant, I find myself working with leaders across the globe and across business sectors on some very familiar themes; needs fulfillment, customer effort reduction, surprise and delight, etc.


One of those bedrock issues in daily consulting includes “responsiveness.” From my worldview, responsiveness is a make or break differentiator in all business arenas including retail, banking, online sales, air travel, and automotive.

Often responsiveness is cast as simply a swift reaction to an inbound request from a consumer but there is more to it than speed. Responsiveness carries with it the need to provide a relevant and effective reaction.

24 Minutes from Tesla

Let’s take a recent example from Tesla Motors to illustrate the key elements of responsiveness. At 8:47 p.m. on August 18th, Paul Franks from Bamford, Alabama tweeted the following to Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk:

@elonmusk can you guys program the car once in park to move back the seat and raise the steering wheel? Steering wheel is wearing.

A mere 24 minutes later Elon Musk tweeted a response to Paul which read:

Good point. We will add that to all cars in one of the upcoming software releases.

Unquestionably, Elon Musk’s reaction could be characterized as cutting-edge responsiveness from a swiftness perspective, but it is the nature of the response that is equally noteworthy. Elon could have responded in half the time and been less “responsive.”

What if?

Imagine instead of Elon’s actual response arriving in 24 minutes he instead crafted a tweet which arrived 12 minutes from Paul’s original message. That tweet could have read:

Paul everyone has ideas on how to make products better. Get a programming degree, make the fix, and send it over.

The hypothetical tweet would have been faster, defensive, unaccommodating, and “less responsive.”

Ultimately the test of Tesla’s responsiveness will come if/when the automatic steering wheel/seat adjustment is “added to all cars in one of the upcoming software releases.” It is easy to utter a swift and accommodating response after a customer offers input. But it is quite another thing to see that promise into fruition.

Writing for Electreck, Jameson Dow, suggests that Tesla uses its smaller size to be nimble in executing customer responsive solutions:

One of the things Tesla is able to do, as a smaller company, is to make changes a lot more quickly than larger companies can. It also helps that Tesla’s cars are capable of over-the-air updates, so if a feature is missed, it can be added later in a software update. Most manufacturers would add these as part of a new model year, in order to entice owners to upgrade their cars, but since the cost of the upgrade is so minor to Tesla, there’s no reason not to push the software out to every owner. This keeps customers happy and keeps them evangelizing the brand, resulting in high customer satisfaction numbers.

The Payoff

Tesla not only holds strong satisfaction numbers, as referenced by Jameson but more importantly it drives enviable loyalty among its existing customers. In the 2016 list of Car Brands, Consumer Reports ranked Tesla first among customers who said they would buy from the same manufacturer again. Not only was Tesla ranked #1 in this Consumer Reports survey but they substantially outdistanced all competitors. Here are the results for the top 6:

Rank Brand Would Buy Again
1 Tesla 91%
2 Porsche 84%
3 Audi 77%
4 Subaru 76%
5 Toyota 76%
6 Honda 75%

What About You?

Whether you are a massive service organization like the American Red Cross, an individual brand like an attorney in private practice, a mom-and-pop restaurant, or a retail behemoth like Amazon; responsiveness matters. To be known as responsive, we can all take a page from Tesla:

1. Be Swift

2. Be Accommodating

3. Be Relevant

4. Be Active (delivering on all promises)

If you consistently deliver on those four ways of being you will “be” two of the most important things of all – rare and long-lasting!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


  1. This is great, Joseph. Customers today have a need for speed. But, making if fast as well as effective… is the ticket to marketplace success. Tesla is disrupting their industry and, in so doing, providing a solid role model for all organizations, regardless of their industry. Do I sense another Michelli book in the works here? You keep adding to my professional library and knowledge!

  2. Well said Joseph. Speed is only one component of responsiveness.

    I like how you identified Tesla’s ‘advantage’ of being smaller (one which, no doubt, Mr. Musk is trying to change). Smaller companies are often much hungrier and, because of this, place more value on each individual customer. It’s not unusual for larger companies to get so focused on being big that they lose sight of those pesky little individual customers…

  3. Great post. More than organization size and scale, responsiveness (and, I’d add, proaction) is a function of customer value delivery focus baked into both cultural and operational DNA. Years ago, a wise CEO told me that his secret to success with stakeholders is “think big, execute small”. Always thought this was great advice, in part because I’ve seen similar ideas expressed by experts like Drucker and Kotler. This enables the organization, and the people in it, to be dynamic, responsive and flexible on a granular basis, while innovating, growing and building from within.

  4. Hi Joseph: I like your list, but suggest adding ‘be genuine’. I often find that what customer service departments provide in the name of responsiveness comes across as merely fulfilling CX checkboxes, or satisfying KPI’s. I regularly get ‘auto-replies’ to my online questions within 15 minutes, but then follow up is weak or spotty. Two recent examples: Sorel shoes (cruddy response, apparent disinterest in the issue I raised), and Huckberry (‘auto-replied’ to me within minutes, but went ‘radio silent’ and never followed up with an answer to my question). In the case of Sorel, I would not be surprised if their records show that my issue was ‘resolved,’ but I doubt whether I’ll ever purchase their product again. I trust that the company is not the only one that makes such perception gaps systematic, which drives further bad decision-making.

    Interesting that you bring up Tesla. I constantly see laudatory commentary about the company, their service, and their products. Then, some buzzkill journalist goes and ruins it for me: Tesla Is the Most Valuable US Carmaker Because of Hope, Not Results. What? All that putting the company on a pedestal and they still haven’t produced consistent profits? Clearly, there’s a financial lesson that’s also embedded in their vaunted customer-centricity.

    Agree – take a page from Tesla’s strategy book, or try to emulate their tactics – but make sure to consider how to implement those ideas without hemorrhaging cash, or sacrificing your company in the process.

  5. Chip, I better do a book since your contribution on that front is outpacing me not only on quality but vastly on quality. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Michael, that word proactive is so essential. The Ritz-Carlton is all about “anticipating unstated needs.” Bravo for adding that to the discussion.

  7. Andrew,I suspect if a company has the resources to play the long game like Amazon, they could double down on customer focus until they thin the competition – after which a profit move can be made. To your point, those opportunities are rare – as most investment funds are impatient.


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