Entrepreneurs

A lesson in leadership: Elon Musk spends weekend responding to Tesla customers, admits 'foolish oversight'

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla.
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Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla.

Elon Musk is busy trying to help save the world. His electric vehicle company Tesla aims to combat climate change by accelerating the transition away from the use of gasoline and diesel.
His rocket company SpaceX is working to make life on Mars possible because he believes there will be an "extinction event" on Earth. He's one of the founding members of OpenAI, a nonprofit organization to steer the development of artificial intelligence for good, lest killer robots become the "third revolution in warfare."

But that doesn't mean Musk doesn't have time to respond to a customer. On Twitter. Over the weekend.

Twitter user Paul Franks tweeted at Musk on Friday night with a request for Tesla: "Can you guys program the car once in park to move back the seat and raise the steering wheel? Steering wheel is wearing."

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

Another customer asked Musk if the seat and driver's wheel configuration could automatically adjust depending who is getting into the car.

Again, Musk responds: "Yeah, it should probably automatically adjust to the user [configuration] of whoever is closest to a given door when the handle is touched."

Musk continues tweeting with customers, admitting that the headrest position should automatically adjust to the driver profile, and previous omission of such a feature is unacceptable — "a foolish oversight," he says.

This is not the first time Musk has listened to customers and responded on Twitter.

Even as users make recommendations for tweaks, Tesla customers are obsessed with their cars. Tesla topped the most recent annual car owner brand satisfaction survey published by Consumer Reports: 91 percent of Tesla owners said they would buy a Tesla again.

And while customer satisfaction certainly can't be entirely explained by Musk's willingness to interact with customers on Twitter, it certainly doesn't hurt.

Listening to constructive feedback is a core pillar of business and smart innovation.

Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and partner at leading venture capital firm Greylock, says the best entrepreneurs are those who talk to their customers.

"Your assumptions about what your users want are never exactly right." -Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn

"If you're not embarrassed by your first product release, you've released it too late. Why? Because your assumptions about what your users want are never exactly right," says Hoffman on his podcast about launching and growing companies, "Masters of Scale."

"You need to test a real product with real customers," he says. "It's the fastest way to build something users can't resist."

Not every customer recommendation should be implemented, Hoffman says, but staying in close, frequent contact with the people who are using your product is fundamental to building a successful business over the long run.

In this light, Musk's weekend Twitter activity is a prime lesson in leadership. No matter how many billions you have in the bank (Musk has $20 billion, according to Forbes) or how beloved your product already is, listening to your customers can help you learn how to improve even further.

See also:

Elon Musk: 'Robots will be able to do everything better than us'

There's one thing that motivates Elon Musk above all else

Elon Musk gets personal about his 'terrible lows' and 'unrelenting stress'

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Correction: Tesla aims to combat climate change by accelerating the transition away from the use of gasoline and diesel. An earlier version mischaracterized that goal.