New Data Tells Dealers They Need Customer Experience Overhaul For EVs

If you have been following the automotive industry or global politics at all, you assuredly have noticed a few, contradictory trends: increased public sector spending on infrastructure (e.g., a 55% increase in worldwide charging stations in 2022 alone, with 360,000 of the 600,000 installed being in China), more automotive executives committing to full electrification and pulling back (e.g., Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are planning only zero-emission vehicles by 2030, GM and Ford by 2035 and Jaguar has committed to 100% Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEVs) by 2025, Toyota recently announced it’s doubling down on its hybrid strategy), but Electric Vehicle (EV) sales has not flourished as projected. As stated well by Reuters, “Electric vehicle sales are still growing strongly, but that demand is not keeping up with the expectations of carmakers and other companies that have invested billions of dollars in the EV space. Expectations for persistently higher interest rates has led companies to alter plans as they eye 2024 warily.”

One of many possible reasons appears to be explained by new data provided by a recent study of 1000 vehicle owners by Perficient: the dealerships’ customer experience does not match the needs of a prospective EV buyer. Rather than a hard sell, buyers want a low-pressure, respectful interaction with the salesperson, the dealership and the vehicle. “Pushy and aggressive salespeople are a big complaint at traditional dealerships,” states Lisa Sherwood, Director of Audience Insights for Perficient. “Approximately three-quarters of EV owners expect dealers to be extremely or very knowledgeable on topics of importance to new EV owners, such as maintenance, repairs, charging and battery life. However, customers found almost 10% of dealers to be only somewhat knowledgeable or not knowledgeable at all on these things, and are more interested in making sales at their pace than meeting customer expectations.”

This might sound more like a broken record than a revelation since it’s easy to find a 20-year old article saying most salesmen are “… overly aggressive to customers,” but EV’s add some new twists. 50% of the non-EV owners stated that “… a lack of convenient charging stations is why they wouldn’t purchase an EV,” whereas 87% of actual EV owners felt is was “easy or very easy” to find one. Yes, Ford’s CEO, Jim Farley, struggled to charge a F-150 EV during an I-5 roadtrip in California in August, but the US Department of Energy’s report that 80% of all charging occurs at the home, which would be helpful information to a non-EV buyer in the hands of a trusted, approachable source. “75% of car buyers in our survey have yet to drive an EV, and they have a lot of misconceptions,” explained Keith Tomatore, Perficient’s Automotive Industry Lead. “Only 3% of non-EV owners in our survey have no interest in ever purchasing an electric vehicle, but we had multiple verbatims about ‘less pressure from the salesman’ and ‘employ someone who is more knowledgeable.”

Couple receives the keys from the manager.

Some dealerships have certainly heard the call and are revamping their showrooms to include lounging areas, cubes where customers can build their ideal vehicle in simulations, and relaxing coffee bars. As reported by Forbes in January, South Motors BMW in South Florida completely overhauled their showroom around this strategy. “The atmosphere is comfortable leather seating, round tables, and not a computer in between you and the salesperson.” Jonathan Chariff, CEO of South Motors, emphasized during a follow-up interview this week that the showroom isn’t the only method needing recent modification for the EV buyer. “We have adapted by putting customers in loaner EV cars in what we call ‘Extended Test Drives’ to allow the customer to drive the vehicles to see how much they enjoy it and to overcome any anxiety they may have such as charging.”

Maybe as a response to so many other dealerships staying with the stodgy showroom or uninformed pushers, most non-EV owners report doing extensive research. Not surprisingly, the largest number (82%) start with online reviews, and Google searches (77%) are a close second.

“Traditional automakers and dealerships may want to take note of the opportunity to enhance digital and in-person experiences that drive customer engagement and satisfaction to compete with Tesla for those EV buyers,” asserts Sherwood, which jives with the 71% of respondents considering “… the relationship with the dealer or showroom [as being] important.”

Hopefully more dealers will reciprocate that sentiment.

Author’s Note

There is a long-standing confusion about the difference between User Interface and User Experience, such that many uninformed folks conflate them in a contradictory abbreviation: UI/UX. To seemingly avoid that confusion, many automotive companies use “Customer Experience” or CX, which misses the subtle difference that salespeople at dealerships could also be users of those digital experiences to become more informed (a.k.a. users, not customers).

Either way, the most important thing isn’t whether it’s UX, UI, CX or alphabet soup. It’s “what does the user need” and “how do you make attaining that pleasurable?” The companies that figure out user-centered experiences can see upwards of a 400% increase in conversion rate.

And the others won’t sell many EV’s next year.

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