What we learned by taking a chance on innovating for Tesla

By Melanie Davidson

When the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth calls you with an opportunity to present a business case to a panel of Tesla judges, you answer! Even if you don't end up winning, you'll learn a great deal.

Thanks to the Career Management Group (CMG), Haas Technology Club (HTC) and Berkeley Energy and Resources Club (BERC), Berkeley Haas organized a selection process for teams interested in participating in a hypothetical business challenge about Tesla. Our team of four evening & weekend MBA students and one full-time MBA student was thrilled to be selected out of many applicants (pictured above: Brad Crist, FTMBA 19; Suhas Sheshadri, EWMBA 19; Melanie Davidson, EWMBA 19; Varun Kallepalli, EWMBA 19; and Paul Kim, EWMBA 19).

Customer love

The prompt we received from Tesla Sales and Service: “Present your best ideas to take the relationship between driver and car to the next level, and create true customer love.”

As a team of engineers and finance people, we were up for the challenge to put on our marketing and sales hats. Through interviews, test drives, combing through social media and reading hundreds of articles, a clear challenge emerged: With a projected 500,000 new customers being added each year, how was Tesla to maintain its high level of customer service while managing service costs? And how does the company transition from being a niche car maker for the innovator/early adopter customer segment to a true mass-market vehicle manufacturer?

Our strategy: Tesla CX

In Round One of the competition, Team Haas presented our solution, Tesla CX: an all-encompassing customer experience (CX) strategy to delight Tesla Model 3 owners throughout their ownership journey. We proposed company structural and behavioral changes to smoothly transition itself from makers of a niche car to mass-market car, including naming a customer experience officer (CXO) who reports to the CEO and implementing a CX scorecard across all departments. Our proposal included concrete examples of how the strategy could create engagement and delight in customers and help Tesla manage resources over time. For example, we suggested creating a program to engage customers on queue for the Model 3 through more regular communications and events and promotions, as well as an enhanced program for drivers to customize and get to know their vehicle better with remote support from Tesla service agents.

The Tesla judges asked particularly insightful questions. It’s clear that Tesla’s sales and service team spends a lot of time thinking about the company’s organizational structure and how its incentives helped build the best automobile company in the world.

Stiff competition

Unfortunately, in the first round we faced stiff competition from Wharton, who went on to win the event.

The final round consisted of the following four ideas, ranked as follows:

  • 1st Place, Wharton: “M8”- Reduce customer anxiety around automobile accidents. The M8 program encouraged safe driving using a car-generated TeslaScore based on the driver’s driving record that was linked to insurance rate adjustments, and an AI-powered repair program.
  • 2nd Place, Tuck: “Tesla Oasis”- A hyper-personalization program for Teslas in the car-share future. The vehicle adapts its interior to your mood and preferences.
  • Finalist, Columbia: “Tesla Connect” - Peer-to-peer charging program (Think AirBnB for Tesla charging)
  • Finalist, Tepper: “Nikolai” – Customer rewards program

 Meaningful and realistic

Overall, participating in the event was a great experience. For me, there were two highlights. The first was the teamwork: Our team embodied the four Haas Defining Principles (Question the Status Quo; Confidence Without Attitude; Students Always; Beyond Yourself) and collaborated brilliantly. The second was observing how closely our design-thinking journey reflected what we learned in Applied Innovation this semester. Using our training from this class we were able to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. This helped us provide a case solution that was meaningful and realistic.

If you have not participated yet in a case competition, our team highly recommends it. And if you have not yet driven a Tesla… we highly recommend that, too!

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Posted on October 26, 2017
Melanie Davidson
Melanie Davidson is a member of the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Class of 2019. Melanie has spent her career in various segments of the energy industry driving clean technology adoption.