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Soaring E-bike Sales in Epidemic Lead to Customer Service Issues

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The Covid-19 epidemic has been bad for almost everybody and everything, but it has been very good for bike sales, especially for the sales of e-bikes. Customers in the US and Europe are turning to electric bicycles in a very big way and coronavirus is the primary driver of the boom.

With many people staying home and suddenly having more time on their hands and commuters avoiding public transport to follow social distancing recommendations, e-bike sales have never been higher than they are today.

For example, the Arizona-based online e-bike retailer Lectric eBikes reported a 140% increase in sales between March 15, when lockdowns began in many US states, and May. Company co-founder Levi Conlow said, “Our customers have been saying that e-bikes are a great option for the new coronavirus-era way of living. The dramatic increase in sales shows that, nationally, people are looking to shift how they get around. It’s also a fantastic option for those looking to socially isolate while getting fresh air outside.”

Woman Riding E-Bicycle
The e-bike sales are skyrocketing. © Profimedia

But as usual these days, every silver lining comes with a dark cloud. Because e-bike sales started surging last year, large e-bike companies have been managing a delicate balancing act between their sales and customer service departments. Now, as an unprecedented number of new customers receive their e-bikes boxes, some of which inevitably arrive with issues, these companies are finding it difficult to keep their many new customers happy.

Market-visible companies, such as VanMoof and Rad Power Bikes, found themselves scrambling to keep up with their new customer bases and the rapid increase of complaints. After its sales doubled virtually overnight, VanMoof especially found its very prominent presence on social media a handicap as its splashy ads on social platforms were always accompanied by a long list of customers publicly complaining about a lack of customer support.

Company co-founder Ties Carlier told The Verge, “There’s a lot of frustration out there, I know. We calculated in about 1% [of 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.”

Like many of its competitors, including VanMoof, Lectric eBikes launched a new model in 2019 to capitalise on the growing interest in the product and launched another bike when the Covid boom began. To anticipate the expected increase in negative customer feedback, the company enlarged its customer support team. But it took an additional step by hiring a Director of Operations to bring in outside expertise.

Co-founder Levi Conlow said this expansion of management know-how has been essential in helping the company master the consequences of its success.

E-Bike Wheel
With increasing sales, the e-bike producers need to expand their customer support teams. © Profimedia

“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,” he told Electrek. “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.”

As a result, Conlow said, “I’m confident in saying we have one of the best if not the best customer support in the industry now.”