Right now, disruption is everywhere. Alongside the rising cost of living, there’s been huge (and obvious) disruption to the energy sector, resulting in emerging categories, new channels and new regulations – not to mention seismic changes to customers’ needs and behaviours.

Whether we take the perspective of brands, of providers, or of insight agencies, the more change we face, the more important it is that we stay close to customers and respond to what they tell us. Let’s talk about a landscape that faces more disruption than many: personal mobility.

The world of EV is growing rapidly, and its shape is changing. There were more battery EVs registered in March 2022 than in the whole of 2019: more than 16% of vehicles sold in the UK that month were electric.

Yet EVs still account for only 1.4% of the cars on our roads. So whether they’re consumers or commercial drivers, those who have made the move from ICE to EV are the trailblazers: the exciting audience, the people well worth knowing.

Once drivers ‘go electric’ they’re in a whole new world. They’re offered new ways to charge their vehicles, both at home and on the go. They’re faced with a myriad of new brands; PodPoint, Wallbox, Instavolt, Gridserve ... alongside more familiar names like Shell Recharge and BP Pulse.

Adapting to this new world demands knowledge and planning: knowing the availability of chargepoints, having backup plans, understanding payment options, getting clarity on the cost of a charging session, downloading different apps for different charging networks – the list goes on.

Tapping into an ever-changing future starts with Shell understanding EV driver needs in depth and detail. The long-term insight community we’ve built for them, PluggedIn, has proved to be a valuable part of the solution. But a drive into the sunset of a successful community is never without its challenges!

Roadblock #1: Finding EV drivers. They’re a difficult group to bring into research, especially long-term research environments like this one. As audiences go, they’re typically affluent and time-poor. So we thought really carefully about the kind of psychological contract we were trying to build with them:

  • We set extremely clear expectations about what we’d need from them: not underplaying the commitment we’d want; not overstating likely levels of activity either
  • We put a lot of investment into recruiting them via targeted ads, on a selection of highly relevant sites. This was precise identification and selection at the top end of the typical budget scale: nothing ‘volume’ about it
  • We showed them our genuine commitment with authentic introduction videos from the team when they first landed on the community homepage
  • We encouraged initial engagement by mirroring the discussions that we knew EV drivers were having on other forums, and that they were familiar and comfortable with

Roadblock #2: Delivering the best possible experience of community membership, by working to the principle that ‘we needed them more than they needed us’:

  • We let the drivers set the agenda. EV drivers are often more interested in talking about the cars themselves, than the charging process that we’re so keen to focus on. We took a conscious decision to let them lead us away from client-led objectives, and to loop back to charging when the time was right
  • We demonstrated a commitment to getting to know them. We reflect what we’ve learnt about our participants in the tasks and activities we set. For instance, many EV drivers are proud of being early adopters. They love to talk about the way things have progressed, and about how their current experiences differ versus ‘the early days.’ Creating space for that kind of recollection within projects helps us to get the best insights

Roadblock #3: Keeping drivers for years; not weeks. There’ll always be attrition in a long-term community, but we’re constantly thinking about the balance we need to strike between engaging drivers and asking them to weigh in on relevant topics, without expecting too much or pushing them outside of their comfort zone:

  • We acknowledge their research likes and dislikes and reflect them. Classic ‘creative’ qual exercises like brand personification often don’t resonate. EV drivers are typically pretty camera-shy, too: we’re more likely to generate good video content if we ask community members to film a process, rather than a piece to camera
  • We design activities that give drivers chance to share their expertise. Often their experiences have earned them the right to show off! Asking EV drivers to, say, share hints and tips on out of home charging tariffs plays up to their personal pride, and encourages them to learn from one another: something they enjoy and value about being part of the community
  • We incentivize them properly. Certainly not a new idea, but one we pay ongoing attention to! They’d know if we were trying to skimp, and would (quite rightly) interpret that as us not placing sufficient value on their time

Our success is built on the human relationships we’ve created.

We’ve been able to bring Shell closer to EV drivers’ real experiences, by capturing their deeper emotional responses about everything from needs and expectations in different parts of the charging ecosystem, to Shell’s overall value proposition.

Around two thirds of our members have taken part in one or more of over 20 projects since we launched it around a year ago, which have enabled global and local teams across Shell to:

  • Gauge the opportunity for innovative new products and solutions
  • Take key decisions about the customer value propositions
  • Shape different parts of the loyalty roadmap

Things will continue to change apace in the EV space and the wider world – but we’ll respond by continuing to listen and learn from our EV drivers, by showing that we value and respect their input, and that we put their experience as community members first.

Talk to us about out how communities can keep you closer to your customers