Electric bicycle sales are higher than ever, but it’s created a new problem

While the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world and the e-bike industry with it, the pandemic also led to a huge surge in electric bicycle sales.

Nearly every company that offered electric bicycles soon found themselves with empty shelves and warehouses.

Between people being at home with more time on their hands, riders exiting lockdowns and itching to spend more time outdoors, and commuters looking for socially distant ways to get to work while avoiding public transportation, e-bike sales have never been higher.

But now that’s created a new problem in the industry: supporting all of those customers.

Large e-bike companies who count their customer base in the thousands and tens of thousands were already tasked with managing a carefully orchestrated customer service balance.

But now those systems have been pushed past the breaking point as countless new riders receive bike boxes at their doorstep, a small portion of which inevitably come with hidden problems.

VanMoof, one of the more visible e-bike companies lately thanks to a large marketing campaign around its recently released S3 and X3 e-bikes, has acutely experienced this phenomenon.

VanMoof’s flashy ads across various social media platforms are often followed by a litany of public comments complaining about customer support, or a distinct lack thereof.

And while this surely represents just a small portion of its customer base, VanMoof saw sales more than double nearly overnight, meaning even a small number of complaints were bound to increase as well.

As co-founder Ties Carlier explained to The Verge,

“There’s a lot of frustration, I know. Even if it’s only a few percent of buyers that’s still way too much. We calculated in about 1% – 1 out of 100 bikes within the first week or so would have something important enough for a customer to give us a call. But that turns out to be closer to 10%.

Our next frontier is to transform our business by building a full support ecosystem around every rider.”

And VanMoof isn’t alone, of course. Everyone has been forced to up their game.

Rad Power Bikes, the largest electric bicycle company in the US, began increasing the size of its customer support team once the e-bike buying boom began.

Founder Mike Radenbaugh explained in a call with Electrek several months ago in the early days of the pandemic:

“We’re already hiring like crazy, our customer support team is up to about 40 or 50 right now, I’m not even sure. It’s hard to keep track. We should be up to around 70 in the next month or so.”

The increase in customer service at Rad Power Bikes came at a key time, as the company capitalized on the e-bike boom by launching a popular new $1,099 model known as the RadMission.

RadMission e-bike Rad Power Bikes

Other electric bicycle companies found themselves in a similar boat.

Lectric Ebikes launched the $899 Lectric XP just over a year ago, which became one of the biggest runaway successes of 2019. During the e-bike buying spree of 2020, Lectric Ebikes released a followup in the form of the Lectric XP Step-Thru.

Anticipating the huge increase in customer support needed during the one-two punch of COVID-based buying frenzy and a new product launch, Lectric Bikes began increasing its customer service team.

The startup also hired a Director of Operations to bring in outside expertise and experience, helping further improve the company and customer support system in the midst of a massive run on e-bikes across the country.

As Co-founder Levi Conlow explained in a call with Electrek:

Bringing in our new director of operations has been a huge benefit. She obsesses over performance and details. We first told her about our competitors and how they can have wait times of days for emails and wait times of hours for calls, and how we thought we were doing alright since we had phone wait times of around 20 minutes and maybe up to a day for emails. But she came in and said ‘Nope, that’s not fine by me.’ She wanted those numbers brought down to 97% of phone calls being answered in under one minute and emails being treated more like a customer chat with quick responses. She wanted to make us become the most available electric bike company. And someone with that type of vision, it inspired all of us to get behind it. And now I’m confident in saying we have one of the best if not THE best customer support in the industry now.

Do e-bike brick-and-mortar stores have an advantage?

While direct-to-consumer e-bike companies are hugely popular in the US, ordering an e-bike over the internet isn’t for everyone.

Companies with retail presences may have an advantage when it comes to service. Pedego operates a vast network of over 120 retail locations where customers can not only test ride and buy a bike, but return for service as well.

In fact, I was just in the Pedego shop in Fort Myers, Florida (below) earlier today test riding the new $1,499 Pedego Element e-bike for an upcoming review, and saw their service center first hand. The ability to service e-bikes on site instead of requiring customers to wait for phone or email support, and then wait longer for a replacement part to be mailed out and replaced by the end user may be attractive enough to win over many new riders.

Needless to say, the electric bicycle industry has been put under huge pressure by the skyrocketing demand for e-bikes.

It is unavoidable that some customers will unfortunately experience problems, but the industry as a whole appears to be well on its way to improving service across the board.

And you can be sure that any company that doesn’t pick up the slack will quickly find themselves shamed in countless social media comments and threads.

Now we want to hear from you! Have you had any experiences lately, good or bad, with e-bike company customer service? Let us know in the comment section below!

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