At a critical juncture, Tesla is taking a new approach to customer service.

The company has dealt with a few high profile customer service complaints in recent years, most notably from a car owner who sued the company after he says it stopped responding to his emails and calls about repairs. (Tesla has refuted several of the customer's claims.) Other customers complain that they had to wait weeks for repairs after the release of the new Model X last year.

Now, the electric-car maker is rolling out a big change that might prevent similar issues. The company revealed that it is now allowing customers to escalate their issues directly to a company executive. Jon McNeill, the company's president of sales and service, made the announcement on the Tesla Motors Club forum this week. It was first spotted by Elektrek.

The change comes as Tesla enters a critical stretch in its history. The company, led by Elon Musk, has received about 400,000 pre-orders for its new $35,000 Model 3 and wants to ship them all within a 12-month span. The first batch of Model 3s rolled off the assembly line last month.

The company has shipped about 250,000 vehicles total, which means that the number of Tesla vehicles on the road worldwide will double sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Tesla is already making other customer-facing changes in anticipation. In June, it revealed that it's building 100 new service centers, a big jump from the 150 it currently has. The locations for those facilities will be decided using the addresses of customers who have ordered Model 3s. Tesla is also rolling out 350 new on-demand service vans across the country.

With the new feature, Tesla owners will be able to log into their My Tesla accounts, then choose an option that reads, "Escalate this concern for executive review." It's a somewhat risky tactic--with a quarter million car owners and climbing, it's inevitable that some customers will abuse the system and eat up employee man hours. But the risk could be worth it if it gives Tesla's already fervent fan base another reason to love the company--and it could help Tesla avoid the bad PR that customer blowups can cause

Tesla, which currently has a market cap of about $50 billion, has taken some heat lately from analysts who believe the company is overvalued. Some, like prominent Greenlight Capital investor David Einhorn, have gone so far as to predict that we're in a Tesla bubble.

The next few months will go a long way to determining whether those things are true, or whether the company is worthy of the hype. Tesla currently manufactures about 20,000 cars per quarter, and it hopes to produce 500,000 in 2018.

Either way, amping up its customer service is a good step for the company as it dives into this critical phase.

Published on: Aug 18, 2017