The electric vehicle (EV) market is growing exponentially. Sales of EVs already surpassed diesel in Europe in December 2021. With the EU planning to phase out the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles from 2035 — and a total ban coming into force in the UK in 2030 — EV sales represent a tremendous commercial opportunity for energy companies.
It is no surprise, then, that energy companies are aggressively pursuing greater share of the EV charging market. In the third quarter of 2021, BP’s electricity sales for EV charging grew 45% from the previous quarter. Reuters recently reported that BP’s EV chargers are fast becoming more profitable than filling up a petrol car — a shift driven by growing demand for rapid battery chargers in the UK and Europe. Electricity sales are also central to Royal Dutch Shell’s retail business; by 2025, the company plans to have 500,000 charging points globally (up from about 60,000 currently).
If energy companies are to fully capitalise on EV sales and maximise return on investment, they need a digital strategy. From onboarding to organising home charger installation to home and public charging, drivers need to go through more digital hoops than before.
With multiple providers to choose from, the quality of digital experiences on offer will determine the provider drivers choose. This is especially true as charging infrastructure, safety, protocols and payments become standardised. Speaking in an interview, the founder of the Experiences Per Mile Advisory Council said: “The differentiation really comes from the customer experience that is delivered, and how well the various features are integrated to deliver value and delight the customer.”
Onboarding & installation
I recently bought my first-ever EV. Like many other first-time EV buyers, I had many questions. When will I hear from my OEM’s energy partner to organise my home charging point installation? How will installation work and what do I need to prepare? Do I need a separate app for home and public charging?
Answers were hard to come by. The first email I received from the energy company went to my spam folder. When I noticed the email weeks later, I actually believed it was spam — it made no reference to the EV I had bought and had no personalisation other than my name and email address. It wasn’t until I called up the OEM that they confirmed that the energy company was legitimate. This was only the beginning of a frustrating and cumbersome sign-up process.
If energy companies are to avoid losing customers at sign-up, they should:
Use the same, branded email address for all communication (third-party surveys often land in spam) and keep the same visual branding
Personalise emails and make it clear that you are contacting the driver following their recent EV purchase to prevent emails from being dismissed as spam
Localise information fields, such as “post code” and not “zip code” for UK customers, to avoid customers believing that they have chosen a provider not familiar with — or even available in — their country
Advise customers which documentation they will need for the registration process before they start filling it out
Provide drop-down menus for important entries where drivers might likely make mistakes or typos, such as their EV model
Indicate where customers can find technical specifications like fuse cable dimensions, as well as how this information should be formatted
Testing payments is also important. Installing a home charging point is a considerable financial investment for drivers. Poor checkout experiences will put customers on edge, especially those already apprehensive about owning an EV. The same goes for difficulty applying for applicable government grants, without which drivers may not have purchased an EV in the first place.
The convenience of charging at home is a key reason why drivers switch to electric. A study by Simon Kucher & Partners found that EV drivers see increased flexibility and lower cost of charging as key benefits to owning a home charging point. In particular, drivers value the option to connect their home charging stations to energy management systems and operate and monitor the charging system remotely.
To meet these expectations, energy companies must ensure that drivers can seamlessly control charging schedules from the app. Drivers should be able to choose and set charging windows that fit with their lifestyle and enable them to take advantage of cheaper energy rates, such as during the early morning hours. The app should keep drivers informed on charging progress through a dashboard and notifications that alert drivers once the vehicle is fully charged, or if charging stops unexpectedly.
Cost management features will become increasingly important to drivers over the coming year as energy prices soar. Cost breakdowns, in-app invoices and monthly limits can help drivers keep track of spending.
Not all drivers have off-street home parking, nor can everyone afford to install a home charger, making public charging points an essential part of an energy company’s digital strategy.
From a driver perspective, EV charging is more complicated than refuelling with diesel or petrol, mainly because it needs to be controlled digitally via an app. Drivers also need to work out which chargers are available to them based on their vehicle’s maximum charging speed. To ease customers into the EV experience, energy companies must provide them with easily-digestible, in-app user manuals and charging guides.
Energy companies must also work to assuage range anxiety. Fifty-eight percent of drivers say that range anxiety is a barrier for purchasing electric cars and 65% experience range anxiety when they first purchase an EV, according to Volvo. While investments in more charging points will likely abate these concerns over time, digital experiences play an important role. Charging apps need to provide:
Detailed, real-time charging station availability information: the nearest charging points or stations, the number of bays available, current rates and waiting times
The ability to reserve charging points for a limited amount of time, so that drivers need not worry about finding somewhere to charge
Integrated route planning that allows drivers to plan their journey based on their battery charge time and the location of charging points; the best are personalised, taking into account personal preferences, weather, load, etc.
While providing features to assuage range anxiety can help with customer conversion, the quality of the charging experience itself is what will keep customers loyal. As charging takes much longer than filling up with fuel, energy companies must rethink their charging station business model — which brings new UX and functional testing considerations.
The most successful apps:
Enable drivers to check charging progress and send notifications if there is a disruption to charging; nobody wants to sit waiting for half an hour only to find that their EV stopped charging soon after they plugged it in.
Offer rewards that can be retrieved at your charging hubs, be it for coffee or the electricity itself — and ensure customers can redeem them.
Payments are also a crucial aspect of on-the-go charging. Customers can choose from multiple payment options, from contactless cards to charge and go. There are also different payment options available for different types of customers, such as membership cards, chip cards for car sharing drivers and subscriptions for fleet owners or enterprises. So many use cases adds complexity to payment testing.
The EV charging customer experience still has a way to go
In 2022, the UK government published a report on the consumer experience at public charging points. It concluded that consumers too often report frustrations over unnecessary complexity when using public charging infrastructure. For EV drivers to feel confident using the public charging network, the report identified four stages of the consumer experience that need improvement:
Locating charging points
Comparing costs of charging
Charging the vehicle
Paying for the charge
The report also highlighted the need for EV charging to be accessible, as it is paramount to a person’s independence and autonomy that they can reliably use their vehicle.
Each stage of the EV customer experience (locating, comparing, charging and paying) involves interacting with digital interfaces. For consumers currently frustrated by complex charging processes, digital experiences that reduce friction, assuage range anxiety and simplify charging will stand out. If energy companies are to deliver, they need to create a digital strategy that involves a thorough approach to functional, UX, localisation and accessibility testing across different applications.
Applause works with global energy and automotive brands to deliver digital experiences their customers love. When it comes to EV charging, we provide trained and vetted tester teams with specific vehicles and charging solutions to test everything from onboarding to payment processes with an unlimited number of device, OS and payment method combinations.