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One Way Better Place Wins In Israel: Actual Customer Service Page 2

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2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car, powered by Better Place in Israel [photo: Brian of London]

2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car, powered by Better Place in Israel [photo: Brian of London]

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This often leads to a complex discussion with skeptical residents' committees. Mine was relatively easy, though I did rely on Better Place to appear before the committee with me, since my poor Hebrew meant the company would be far better at explaining itself than I would have been.

Three visits

The installation of the charging box was performed over three visits. All organization related to this process was exemplary, and the end result is neat and tidy. The company made firm appointments (usually arriving at 8 am) and stuck to them: I was never left waiting for a visit during the half-day time slot.

The first time Better Place installed the box, one wire was too short. It took only a single phone call, and it was swapped for a longer one on the next visit.

At the handover ceremony (I went to pick up my car, but it can be delivered if requested), I received a comprehensive training session covering every aspect of the car and its Oscar navigation system. I'll also receive another, optional training session on how to drive efficiently, for no extra charge.

Problems: the real test

Electric-car charging station at Ramat Aviv Mall, Israel

Electric-car charging station at Ramat Aviv Mall, Israel

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The Oscar system tracks and reports the status of every switch station in real time. On the one occasion when I wanted to use a station marked "out of service", I phoned and was told it would be returned to service for me before I arrived. And that's exactly what happened.

The real test of customer service, of course, is when something goes wrong. I know two customers who've been delayed by a problem at a battery-switch station. Each station is equipped with two spare cars used for testing.

If a customer can't recharge his own car, he can drive away in one of the fully charged cars--and Better Place will sort everything out later. It's hard to be upset with that--it's nearly instant, and very low hassle.

In both cases I know of, the owners elected to wait (most switch stations are near a regular gas station with a café). The switch station went back into service in less than an hour, and they continued their journeys.

Response to slow charging

Electric-car charging station at Ramat Aviv Mall, Israel

Electric-car charging station at Ramat Aviv Mall, Israel

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The customer service center is also responsive to queries concerning the availability of public charge spots, and will provide the operating times of public parking garages if they have the info. If it's not easily available, reps will do their best to get it and then call back.

Last week I noticed, via the iPhone app, that my car seemed to be charging more slowly than usual while parked publicly in Jerusalem. I called to ask why. When they couldn't give me a definitive answer on the phone, I asked for an email instead of a return call.

One hour later I had my e-mail: Another car was charging next to me, so this meant we were both charging more slowly. (It did not affect my ability to drive home.)

The Visitor Center's video shows an owner phoning ahead to place a coffee order at a battery-switch station. I haven't felt the need to do that, but Better Place has answered every other request I've had.

In a country where "customer service" can range from disinterested to brusque, that's quite an accomplishment.

Brian Thomas ("Brian of London") emigrated from the U.K. to Israel in 2009. He now drives a Renault Fluence ZE sold through Better Place--joining David Rose and other early Better Place customers. He owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 staff. Thomas regularly blogs at Israellycool about life in Israel, technology and business topics.

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Comments (5)
  1. Interesting.
    I didn't know that some charging stations reduced their output if two cars are attached.
     
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  2. Regardless of their customer service, the reason I would never invest in a company with this business model is the same exact reason I would never invest in the Chevy Volt, were it a standalone company : they both depend completely for their success on the continued existence of very expensive batteries, both in terms of initial costs, as well as overall lifespan costs.I simply don't believe that that situation will continue, certainly not for the extended period required for a company like this to recoup its borrowed capital.
     
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  3. Of course the service is great, all new companies put on a show for customers. It's like opening a new store, the staff are attentive and the service is fantastic but a few months later the store settles down to a daily pattern of operation. The test for Better Place is, will they maintain their level of service over time and can they maintain the current level of service as their customers grow in number.
     
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  4. The story refers BP's switching stations, which are for battery swaps, but only mentions getting recharged. Did he do any swapping? Without it, do you need all the other fuss and bother that comes with BP?
     
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  5. I have swapped 6 times now. Two were on the way to new destinations in Jerusalem and were insurance against not being able to charge my car (I was able to charge both times). The others were generally not necessary. I do have some trips coming up which will absolutely need switches however.
     
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