A great EV charging experience - how not to drop the ball

By Keith - November 26, 2021

Early days - the all-in-one CPO

In the early days of EV charging, chargepoint operators also designed and manufactured their own chargers. In modern parlance we say that CPOs were also EVSE manufacturers. 

CPOs sold to Hosts such as supermarkets and local government who wanted chargers on their sites. In this situation the CPOs and the Host sites had quite a simple 1:1 relationship. When a problem occurs, it must be either the CPO’s fault or the Hosts’ fault, and usually pretty easy to see which. Responsibility for the recognition, diagnosis and resolution of service failures falls clearly onto the CPO in most cases.

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Today - an emerging ecosystem

However, as the EV charging market becomes an ecosystem, CPOs are increasingly buying-in EVSE equipment, rather than (or, as well as) building their own. There are many advantages to this including focus, choice and competition. But there is a big potential disadvantage too, which is that the number of relationships between parties triples:

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The result is that responsibility for recognising, diagnosing and resolving problems can all-too-often become a “dropped ball” between one of these three parties, and finger-pointing as to who is to blame. The result is a poor experience for EV chargepoint users, causing brand damage for all the parties.

Solution to deliver good customer service

The solution is three-fold:

  1. Clear contracts showing who is responsible for what. In particular, the Host should almost certainly have a “Service Level Agreement” (SLA) with the CPO stating what level of service performance they expect, how it is measured, and what happens if it is not met. The CPO will in turn have some kind of contractual relationship with the EVSE manufacturer, although this may be more of a “hardware warranty plus callout” rather than a true service contract.
  2. Clarity of the facts on the ground - what is the actual user experience? This is what Service Monitoring can deliver, using OCPP/OCPI if available. It can be used by any of the parties to monitor the performance of the others against SLA, and/or to demonstrate (and indeed, to deliver) their own performance against their own SLA.
  3. Business processes set up to detect, diagnose and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, potentially by involving third-parties as necessary, to protect the SLA. Again, Service Monitoring is a key agent to deliver this, as it can automate the triggering of business processes, as well as keeping humans immediately informed of performance shortfalls.

Performing against SLA

A well-designed set of business processes for meeting an SLA will seek to use the quickest, cheapest resources possible to resolve each problem. By classifying the problem type, Service Monitoring can engage each resource as appropriate, maximising customer satisfaction while minimising operating costs.

  • Machine: The quickest, cheapest solution to a problem is usually to get a machine to do it, if possible. Sometimes at least the first step in triaging or resolving a problem can be completely automated. For example, if an EVSE falls offline for more than 3 hours, then maybe the first step is to send a reset signal and see if it reboots successfully. Machines are well-suited to all the steps needed:
    • Recognising that this type of problem has occurred, and raising a ticket
    • Sending a reset signal to try to resolve it
    • Detecting after some period of time whether it has indeed been resolved
      • If so, marking the ticket as closed
      • If not, escalating the issue to one of the following
  • Office worker: Someone behind a screen in an office is often the next-cheapest, and next-fastest. People are good at detecting issues which machines may have missed (perhaps because this particular type of issue has never happened before) and of creatively taking action to resolve the issue, possibly by calling people up
  • Local field service agent (e.g. on-site facilities technician): If the problem is site-local, for example a breaker has gone, then someone will have to physically intervene on site. If there happens to be someone on the site (probably employed by the Host) then they can be instructed to make the intervention. Service Monitoring can automatically track whether this has happened and whether it has resolved the problem, and if not escalate further.
  • Qualified electrical engineer (pre-approved): If the EVSE needs specialist attention, then likely a visit by an electrical engineer is necessary. The Host will likely insist that this person is pre-approved to ensure they have the necessary qualifications and insurance. Service Monitoring can help engineers avoid wasted trips by diagnosing problems before they set out, so they take the right parts and tools.  And it can verify that the problem is indeed resolved.
  • EVSE manufacturer (warranty repair): If the problem is within the equipment itself, then likely an engineer from the manufacturer will have to visit. Service Monitoring can help to diagnose cases where the manufacturer needs to be involved straight away, saving the cost of an electrician’s visit first. In this case and for field service, scheduled checks and maintenance may also be needed. Service Monitoring can warn of impending issues, for example faults which are occurring with increasing frequency, so that manufacturers can conduct predictive maintenance at the same time as scheduled maintenance, saving cost and time.

An alternative to the "Qualified electrical engineer" stage above is when the CPO has chosen to outsource all Operations and Maintenance (O&M) activities to a third-party company, such as Siemens. While this is certainly attractive in one way, it also creates even more parties, with more interfaces and the potential for confusion or dropped balls. So clear contracts and service monitoring are even more important.

Conclusion

EV charging is starting to involve more types of entity, creating the risk of "dropping the ball" between them when it comes to customer satisfaction, which needs effective detection and resolution of performance issues. The solution is a combination of a) the right contracts to enforce an SLA with b) the use of Service Monitoring to enable all parties to see the actual performance on the ground against that SLA, and also to automate the detection and resolution of issues so that the faster, cheapest resources are used to resolve the problem.

The result? Happier customers and lower operational costs.

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