When utilities first got into the electricity business, it was all about supplying electrons to power a lightbulb. As time progressed, appliances were added. Today, distributed energy sources and electric vehicles (EVs) are paving the way forward as part of the next paradigm shift for utilities.
As utilities navigate the role they want to play in the future of promoting EV adoption and embracing customer engagement, they first need to identify how EVs are different than anything else they’ve worked with before. Many utilities lack the resources and time to engage customers in capturing the decision process for a nascent technology like EVs. As a result, it is tempting to simply replicate approaches that worked for energy efficiency or appliance rebate programs, without giving much thought to whether they would work for EVs.
However, data suggests that buying an EV is not the same as buying a dishwasher or switching to LEDs.
The consumer has long term emotional, financial, and social interests vested in a decision to acquire a car, which are completely absent from an appliance purchase.
For starters, the financial impact of an EV is an order of magnitude higher, with cost in the 5- to 6-figures. As a result, consumers spend much time comparing options, and think hard about resale value before making a purchase. On the other hand, the average appliance is less than $3,000 and its resale value is not ever factored when consumers make a decision.
Beyond price, other purchasing criteria are also vastly different. EV consumers have to think about vehicle availability, charging stations, energy rates, incentives, utility programs, range, maintenance, battery life, and insurance, among others. There are perceived risks inherent to a new technology, and many related questions to be answered. The appliance consumer generally is only concerned with is its functionality, warranty, and aesthetics.
The contrast in purchasing experience is also clear. The average appliance consumer will buy it at the store, install it and forget it. On the other hand, an EV buyer needs to interact with a dealer, the utility, an EVSE vendor, an EVSE installer, charging station networks, and the various government agencies that provide incentives. Gaps in this multi-faceted experience will create frustration, negative financial impact, and potentially stranded customers.
A vehicle purchase is complex, multidimensional and emotional. An appliance purchase is straightforward, uni dimensional and mostly practical.
As a result, utilities need to incorporate EV-specific questioning into their customer engagement efforts:
- What is the EV customer journey in our service territory?
- What are the main gaps and frustrations in this journey?
- What EV-specific information or support do customers need?
Impact in EV customer engagement can only be achieved by understanding customer concerns and addressing them in a specific, actionable way. Copy-pasting the approaches used in energy efficiency will only get us so far.