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Electric School Bus Consumer Education

Electric school buses, or ESBs, are still a relatively new technology. Although early adopters have paved the way, many school bus operators are unaware or just learning about the operating characteristics of passenger fleet electric vehicles. Misconceptions about ESBs are still common. However, there is no doubt that electric vehicles will change the way we provide student transportation and the average school bus operator will need help and time to understand what is changing and what will stay the same. Early adopters of electric vehicles generally understood what they were doing, understanding some of the challenges prior to purchase. Grants incentivized the move.

During the Green Bus Summit held at the recent STN EXPO Reno, a number of attendees, both early adopters and potential buyers, raised concerns related to implementation and training while discussing new groundbreaking ESB technology in their school bus operations. Their concerns were relative to customer service, training and implementation.

The best customer experiences occur when the customer is at the center of the experience. Top suppliers keep the customer satisfied by creating a holistic approach to the entirety of the experience. This means, ensuring the customer’s voice is heard throughout the interaction, providing timely follow-up and confirming future problem
resolution and ensuring satisfaction with the entire school bus EV procurement and implementation process. Underscoring the importance of the whole customer experience in ESB implementation by OEMs and dealers (suppliers) cannot be overstated.

From my previous experience as a procurement officer of a large school bus operation, I can offer some suggestions of ways to improve supplier and customer purchase experience, which is sales, service and warranty of any new technology. Customers and suppliers should consider the following points.

• OEMs and their dealers (supplier) should track and analyze every customer interaction to look for ways to improve sales, service and warranty processes.
• Supplier product/category managers should sit in on significant customer conversations and immediately address any issues they witness.
• Both customer and supplier should create and save call logs and review them later to identify trends. (I always cringed when I told I was the only one to have a request or a problem like this.)
• Pinpoint areas that are the focus of the customer’s attention to help target improved results.
• Create a customer feedback process to enable improvements-based comments and suggestions of all parties involved. This has the potential to enhance customer retention by allowing you to better meet customer needs and address issues
before they get worse.
• Suppliers should use customer satisfaction surveys to understand their perspectives
and get an idea of what can be improved.
• Suppliers should not make the mistake of implementing changes in response to customer feedback without following up on the results.

Suppliers, being risk-averse in nature, understandably are being very conservative in how they create new ESB organization structures and implement skilled resources, incentive models, and KPIs to measure their product success. They have become data driven organizations investing huge amounts of resources in technologies to connect and track products, collect data and efficiently analyze massive amounts of operational and service data, using IT technologies and predictive analytics.

Suppliers that embrace customer involvement in this process will be the winners, while others will struggle to stay relevant. In fact, the ones that can successfully adapt to their customer’s needs will be able to gain significant competitive advantage and market share, while helping the customer overcome the many anxieties associated with new technology.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the September 2023 issue of School Transportation News.

Related: How receptive is your operation to adopting electric vehicles?
Related: Webinar Discusses Ways to Fund Electric School Buses
Related: (STN Podcast E177) Support Everybody: Expert Talks Special Education and Transportation
Related: Who’s to Blame for Skyrocketing Prices?

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