We were chatting with a solar company out of the midwest who had a highly seasonal business. At some times of the year, one project manager comfortably oversaw 30 projects, while at other times she could be managing as many as 60-70 projects at the same time. However, when they hit those higher project volumes, things started to break down. Project managers were unhappy, customers were unhappy, and the business suffered during what should have been a time of excitement and growth.
When we heard the solar company explain this huge pain point, our first thought was that they were not alone. We know many solar businesses who thought a higher project volume would be a blessing, only to realize that the increased load completely destabilized their operations, while manifesting into turnover, negative reviews, and the other hidden costs of poor communication
It's no longer ye olden times and throwing bodies at seasonal challenges is not necessarily a good solution! Yes, you can always hire to take off a little bit of the pressure, but no matter how hard-working your project management team is, there will eventually come a point and time in your solar company’s growth where it’s simply impractical to keep doing things manually. Your business (and your team) can achieve greater success by embracing the ability in modern times of automating customer communications.
By automating your solar homeowner communications, suddenly growth no longer requires a linear increase in resources. Your higher project volume can be handled by your existing PMs, and your customers don’t feel any negative impact on service. In fact, they’re likely to report a better customer experience because, through automation, you can guarantee a regular cadence of relevant and personalized updates, even when the update is “there is no update.”
And that’s just the beginning. By sharing 5 ways automated communications can help you manage seasonality, we hope we inspire you to start automating today.
1. You can give time back to your project managers
Many solar professionals worry that by automating customer communications, their business will lose the personal touch and the relationships that make working with your organization special. However, if done correctly, automation should give your team more time for these irreplaceable interactions.
When we help our customers set up their automations, we always tell them that we’re automating the routine. Think of the emails that your PMs are likely just copy/pasting, or otherwise typing out variations of over and over again.
Automation allows project managers to focus on the meaningful over the mundane. It gives your team time to handle the 30 minute calls that can actually push a customer toward leaving that 5-star review or sending along a referral. By freeing up their schedule, you also give your project managers time to actually push the project forward, ensuring they can stay on top of all of the many actions it takes to get a system to PTO.
Think of it this way: Would you rather your project managers spend an hour going through all of their projects and sending routine updates — some of which might even be “We’re still waiting on permit approvals, but we’ll let you know when we learn more!” Or would you rather they use that time to schedule the install, order the necessary mounting racks, and take a call with a customer who promised a referral? Automation means all of these required updates go out, while your PM still has the bandwidth to get after these more meaningful actions.
2. You won’t have to deal with angry customers complaining how there’s been “no update”
Solar customers expect constant updates. Thanks to Amazon shipping notifications and food-delivery apps, your customers expect constant engagement. Without these regular messages, they feel in-the-dark and may have a negative customer experience, even after an otherwise successful solar installation.
Remembering, and sending, regular updates is time-intensive for solar project managers. It takes time to go back into a CRM, understand where a customer is in their journey, and then send an update. It takes up even more of our businesses’ time when a homeowner already feels like they can’t get in touch with their project manager and so reaches out to their salesperson. Solar sales reps can probably attest to the frequency of this happening, but in our own research 15% of a salesperson’s time is spent following up on customers’ project statuses instead of selling new projects. This kind of process leaves everyone frustrated — the sales person, the PM, and the homeowner.
Fortunately, automation can allow you to deliver great touches for the customer even if the project isn’t moving forward, and it won’t take any time away from your busy PMs. Automating these “no update” updates can save your solar businesses from taking a reputational hit. As one solar business told us, “I’d rather a customer get upset because we over communicated vs not communicating with them enough.”
3. You can grow your team sustainably
When demand is driven by seasonality, there’s a real fear around “overhiring” during the rush and then downsizing once the busy season ends. We all know why this sucks: Your team’s morale takes a hit, you have to let go of a good worker, and then you have to go through the whole thing all over again the next year.
Automation allows you to scale your operations during these busy periods so you can keep up with seasonal peaks. There won’t be the same need to staff up for a season when sending routine updates to customers has been taken off of your team’s to-do list.
We shared this in another post on automation recently, but one Texas installer said it best: “By adding automation, we don’t overhire when times are good; only to have to fire when times are bad.”
4. You can improve the quality of life for your existing team
Of course, your business may not necessarily go the hiring route during the busy season. We’ve known solar companies that try to get through the busy period by just knuckling down. These solar companies are often coming from a good place: They don’t want to have to do lay-offs, so they ask their current team to just bear higher and higher project loads.
While you can sometimes get away with this for a season, it’s not sustainable in the long run. Either your employees will get burnt out, or they’ll quit. We all know that the demand for solar is growing. Busy seasons are only going to get busier. If you want to take advantage of that demand, your solar company needs a better strategy for handling this growth than just grinning and bearing it.
Automation levels out the project load, allowing project managers to handle higher volumes without burning out. As we always tell installers, a platform that not only allows you to handle higher project volumes, but also improves their quality of life is worth investing in. It can cost up to 2x the employee’s salary to replace them — do you really want that hit to your revenue or to your team culture?
5. You can grow your business continuously by leveraging reviews and referrals
When your business is consistently delivering a great customer experience and keeping customers in-the-loop, it shows in your reviews and referrals rates. Communication issues are the number one driver of bad reviews — well, that and high-pressure sales tactics — and yet it’s one of the easiest things to automate.
Customers that have automated their communications with Bodhi have an average Google review score of 4.7 and have 30% of their business come from referrals. As a result, they’re able to stop buying leads and instead invest that money elsewhere in the business.
Finding the right platform to automate your solar operations
Even if a solar business realizes they urgently need to automate, we know the process can still be intimidating. That’s why we think it’s so important for companies to invest in an automation platform that also functions like a partnership. At Bodhi, we assign a dedicated Customer Success representative to each of our solar installers. That way, no matter how complex or unique you need your automations to be, you have an expert to help you implement them.
If you’d like to get in chat about how you can see automation benefiting your business (and taking away some of these headaches!), reach out and schedule a demo today.