As competition heats up in the electric vehicle market, manufacturers must listen harder to customer feedback and factor it into their designs. As SJ writes, paying closer attention could bring to light a few surprises
It’s not often that the voice of the customer leaves me speechless, but as I lay on the leather-clad table, holding on for dear life, with my esthetician looming over me and rapidly plucking away at my eyebrows, I asked her once again: “Wait – why did you buy a Tesla?”
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time analysing the ‘voice of the customer’ – feedback on their experience with your product or service.
We see this reflected often in our everyday lives: our latest Instagram ad recommendations; the Google reviews we religiously scan when comparing the best restaurants; the scarily accurate ‘recommended for you’ products on our Amazon home pages.
After the slew of eyebrow raising gas prices recently, I’ve been asking everyone I bump into what their take is on investing in electric vehicles (EVs), in order to get a sense for what customers really think is important for such a major purchase.
The first response I normally get is, “I’d love to own one, but they’re so expensive!” It’s a price tag that makes more sense when you consider the tremendous cost for automakers to retool their existing manufacturing production – in the ballpark of $20 billion dollars.
It’s not enough to add an electric feature or a single electric option anymore. Manufacturers have to build all of the vehicle subsystems around the new electric power system.
That power system is powered primarily by a big battery. This leads me to the second most common reason given for getting an electric vehicle: furthering the shift away from fossil fuels to help fight climate change.
A noble purpose, but I doubt many of the potential customers I run into are aware of the challenges of recycling batteries and materials from EVs.
Nor are they aware of the complex and sometimes harmful practices required to supply rare earth metals – lithium, cobalt, nickel – to make car electric batteries.
What choices do we have?
For customers for whom price and environmental conscience aren’t big sticking points, what other options are out there to draw them into the electric vehicle market?
Companies are testing all sorts of new and trendy features, such as the Tesla autopilot feature. If piloting behind the wheel isn’t your thing, there’s also the ability to summon the vehicle with an app or to start the car remotely.
Regular software upgrades include things like ‘dog mode’, to help us take care of our pandemic puppies while we run to the grocery store during boring afternoon stand-up meetings. Surprisingly, I found that some market players are heading towards a more bespoke vehicle, tailored to the ‘form, fit, function’ of the individual.
For example, the new Ford Maverick comes with an integrated tether system that works with manufacturer accessories, but also those customised by the owner for storage slots in the centre console and under-seat storage bins.
Allowing customers to tailor a car to their needs, wants and personalities makes them more likely to hold on to the car for longer and can increase brand loyalty as well as product hype. With all of these new EVs with trendy features coming to market, I have to ask: Is this really what customers want? Or are EVs just another over-hyped product that will die off in the next 10 years to be replaced by something else (like hydrogen)?
Have a think about it
As I looked up at my brow goddess, I counted off several counter arguments on my fingers: “First, EVs can be pricey. Second, you can’t travel for as far or for as long as a gas-powered automobile. Third, charging can be a time waster,“ I said. “But, you can probably save more money in the long run, reduce your environmental impact by using renewable energy resources, and take advantage of tax credits in your local area.”
As the electric vehicle market becomes more competitive, it’s not enough to capture survey data from customers.
She agreed that these were good things to consider, but not part of her overall buying decision. So, then, why did she really buy a Tesla? Her answer: “I got tired of men harassing me for my phone number or social media handles every time I went to the gas station! It’s so nice not having to visit such a hostile environment and I can just recharge in the comfort and safety of my own home.”
As I arched my eyebrow in response, and she scolded me for not holding still, I pondered how much of a role the voice of the customer will play in the future of the automotive market.
Manufacturers are taking a big risk altering supply chains and building new ones entirely from scratch, but will it be worth it in the end? Is social consciousness here to stay or is it merely a fad? And on that note, how do you build a product that lasts beyond a big hype wave?
My secret favorite is the new electric Ford Mustang – an old classic that’s been upgraded for the next generation of drivers, while still maintaining the style and performance for its loyal customer base.
As the electric vehicle market becomes more competitive, it’s not enough to capture qualitative survey data from customers. The real value is how you translate it to your business in real dollars and cents (or euros, or pounds). Businesses can then use the customer voice to better differentiate themselves in the market, building better user experiences, and creating longer lasting products that are here to stay.
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SJ is a metal additive engineer aka THEE Hot Girl of Metal Printing. She currently works as a metal additive applications engineer providing AM solutions and #3dprinting of metal parts to help create a decarbonised world. Get in touch at @inconelle on twitter