The electric vehicle CX challenge: consumers who go green shouldn’t end up seeing red

Customers know what they’re buying, but do they know what they’re buying into?

Published ·April 19, 2023

Reading time·9 min

It’s late, and on the drive home the fuel warning light comes on. There might not be enough in the tank to go the distance so it’s time to find a petrol station. But at each station either the queue is too long or the pumps are out of order. As the needle moves closer to empty a filling station in full working order comes into view. However, the pump nozzle doesn’t fit the car for some reason and the automated system doesn’t accept cash, credit cards or even a contactless payment. To pay means installing an app, and creating an account.  

This sounds like a bad dream, but if we imagine the fuel in question is actually electricity and the petrol stations are public charging points then this story isn’t a dream, it’s a reality for many EV owners – especially those that live outside the southeast of England.  

One chance to get customer experience right

Across business, but particularly within sectors where goods and services have achieved commodity status, the levels and consistency of CX a brand can deliver is its only true point of positive or negative differentiation.  

A good CX is the route to customer loyalty and advocacy. Three in four U.K. consumers are not prepared to forgive a brand and maintain an existing relationship following a single disappointing customer experience.  

Over one third of British consumers would contemplate paying more for a product or service if it came with a premium CX. And no one would be prepared to pay a premium price for an inferior product or service that thanks to CX deficiencies, offered a substandard ownership experience.  

And yet, due inconsistencies in messaging and positioning between car manufacturers and dealership networks, and in levels of customer support between different e-mobility services and the EV charging networks to which they provide access, there is a lack of a joined-up customer view or understanding of the individual touchpoints that make up the EV ownership experience. So that means buying and living with an EV in the UK is running the risk of being exactly this proposition – a disappointing CX sold at a premium price.  

Customers know what they’re buying, but do they know what they’re buying into?  

It’s easy to argue that because buying an EV is a conscious decision; owners have conducted all of the necessary research. They understand how charging network’s function and how different it is from the fossil fuel refilling experience. EV drivers are pioneers, early adopters that see themselves shaping the customer journey for others to follow.  

There are other, valid arguments regarding the age of the market itself and the fact that 12 years after EVs hit the UK market, we’re only now arriving at a point in time where investments can be made with confidence in the supporting infrastructure and related services and focused on sustainable growth and, crucially a financial return.  

But even if many EV owners were historically ready to take the rough with the smooth, how ready have organisations in the automotive ecosystem been to collect and share the relevant data and use it to improve services, identify and remove pain points and start mapping out an optimum mainstream customer journey?  

EV sales are growing faster than charging networks

Despite being the worst year for new vehicle sales since 1992, one of few positives to come out of 2022 automotive industry figures is around EVs. For the first time, battery electric vehicles overtook diesel sales. Dealers sold an impressive 267,000 electric cars in 2022. That’s a 40% increase over 2021 and means that 16.6% of cars sold last year were battery electric vehicles.  

This sales milestone doesn’t mean that there are another 200,000+ tech-savvy early adopters on the road. As a market grows, it evolves and diversifies. New customer types, new personas, new wants, needs and expectations. And this is certainly the case in 2022. EVs were readily available unlike other models – the supply of which was constrained due to material and processor shortages. Many deals were made because of price and availability. Or because owners believed that after 12 years of testing, the companies that provide the services related to EV ownership have got it right.  

To their credit, OEMs have been fastidious in providing easy to understand information regarding the EV lifestyle – even if all communication and guides have accentuated the positive aspects (plus of course, a national campaign doesn’t reflect regional differences in the ownership experience). However, dealerships have to buy in, in order to ensure potential customers understand what to expect when going electric. Salespeople have had to undergo training and really get to grips with the subject. And against the backdrop of a shrinking labour pool and rising salary demands, not all showrooms have been able to attract and retain the employees with the right blend of hard and soft skills to help consumers arrive with confidence at the decision to buy.  

As a result, a lot of today’s EV drivers setting out on a road of discovery. What’s more, once on that road, their sense of direction will be dictated by how well informed they were during the sales process and how much effort was made to onboard the customer into the EV ecosystem. 

Consumers who go green shouldn’t end up seeing red

As EV ownership increases, the percentage of drivers with access to at home charging decreases. There are over 8 million homes in the UK where at home or off-street charging is currently impossible. This is clearly going to put greater pressure on the public charging network – two thirds of U.K. EV owners currently rely on public charging.  

Luckily, last year was the biggest to date for new public charging point installation. Some 8,700 charging points joined the grid (a 30% increase on 2021’s efforts) and a feat that brings the nationwide total up to 37,000.  

However, this is still miles away from the government’s 2030 target of 300,000 charging points and means that there are only seven years left to install the remaining 263,000. 

To meet this target requires investment and cooperation – cooperation between the charging point providers, the mobility and payments services that populate these networks and provide access for consumers as well as with the wider stakeholder group of local authorities, private land owners, the national grid, part and component manufacturers and of course skilled technicians and installation and maintenance teams.  

But crucially, it also means an investment in CX. As the networks are being built, so are brand perceptions regarding the different mobility service providers and those providers that want to build positive future brand perceptions for the future need to get the CX equation right, now.  

What is the EV CX equation?

It’s a combination of: the physical location of a charging point relative to the customer in their moment of need; the steps needed to access the charging point; the time required to access accounts and settings, then to connect and charge the vehicle; and the overall cost of the service.  

Currently, the only way to address the issue of location is deeper partnerships with all existing charging point operators. With the right communication, customers themselves will understand and accept that from a geographical perspective, at least, the network is somewhat uneven in its distribution of charging points outside major cities.  

But they won’t accept shortfalls in other aspects of the CX equation. As well as the ultimate annoyance of the charging point being out of service, the biggest frequent frustrations of EV drivers are waiting times – be it for the customer in front to finish, or for their own charging session to start and conclude – and around ease of access – problems interfacing with the charger because of having the wrong app, an inability to make an ad-hoc payment, or because keys or other forms of authentication don’t work.  

Each of these is a moment of truth in the customer relationship and one where your customer needs to be able to engage directly to resolve the issue on an emotional as well as on a technical level.  

A consistent conversation

Whether it’s a phone call, email or chat message and whether it’s to an e-mobility service provider or the charge point operator, when a customer reaches out, you need to be there. But more than that, you need to be able to identify who that customer is, see their customer history and be able to take action based on the issue. This is easy if the issue is one over which you have direct control but if it means interacting with another partner within the ecosystem, that process needs to be simple and it needs to be transparent and simple to track. Especially if it’s one where the customer must remain in the loop.

Don’t forget, even though automation and self-service are popular and do genuinely help customers help themselves when it comes to simple problems and frequently asked questions, 82% of consumers only have confidence in live channels and customer service representatives when it comes to solving a serious issue.  

A real-time relationship

CX should be about setting customer expectations as much as about meeting them. Providing information and insights, proactively, will enhance the customer’s experience and will reduce pressure on your channels and CX function. For instance, if certain geographical areas are very busy and wait times are increasing, share that information, proactively. The same is true of other issues that could adversely affect the charging experience. Push that information out and use it as a way to maintain an existing conversation or begin a new engagement. These updates are an opportunity to do more to enhance the relationship; it could be a chance to discuss new tariffs or payment options, or to discuss upcoming improvements, etc. Equally, it’s an opportunity to solicit customer feedback and to use the findings to optimise existing operations. 

Pain-free payments

As the market for EV grows, so does the diversity of needs and expectations within its customer base. Recognising this diversity means more than providing a good mix of channels for issue resolution.  

It means examining user interfaces and user experiences within apps and those integrated into charging points themselves. Is navigation intuitive and is it easy to initiate a charging session and to pay for it?   

That means accepting more than one payment option and it also means keeping the payment process itself uncluttered and transparent. Prices can fluctuate because of the time of the day, or because of the source of the electricity being used, or because the charging point isn’t within the mobility service’s app’s existing network. How and when these variables are communicated can enhance or detract from the customer experience and can simplify or overcomplicate the payment process.  

Sharing is caring.

Even if e-mobility service providers are the ‘face’ of EV recharging and are perceived as the organisation providing customer satisfaction, all ecosystem members are equal partners in the delivery of CX. Hence solving the equation and delivering a service that aligns with or surpasses expectations needs to be built on a foundation of data collection and data sharing.  

Data relating to the availability of charging points and their current state – in service or out of order – needs to be shared with other partners who then need to provide that information to customers. And vice versa. If an EV driver reports an issue with a charging point, it will be with their service provider, not the charge point operator and that information needs to be operationalised.  

The same is true of network traffic. Information regarding a customer’s local geographical area and the most frequently used charging points needs to feed back into the wider ecosystem for future planning and network development.  

This data and associated insights are also crucial to getting to understand who today’s EV drivers are, what elements of the ownership experience they enjoy and which are destroying their satisfaction. These findings are the basis for developing new tariffs or service plans and adding new features to existing operations.

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