With the right platform, it’s possible to turn solar monitoring from a cost to a strategy for growth
It's not exactly a secret that the solar industry has tight margins and plenty of competition. With that in mind, solar companies are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Often, that comes down to keeping the homeowner engaged before, during, and after the installation of a solar PV system. Homeowners who feel connected with their investment post-install tend to refer others to a solar business, and this ultimately benefits not just the company but also the industry.
This peek behind the post-install curtain is also much easier than it used to be, thanks to automation and advanced solar monitoring. In the olden days of solar adoption, contractors had to rely upon guesswork and industry trends to show the benefits of a PV system, making it more difficult to pinpoint exactly how well a system was working. But homeowners today can stay constantly connected to their own systems, allowing them to see precisely how much they are benefiting from their panels.
Of course, not all solar monitoring systems are created equal. In fact, very few have been created that adhere to basic design or customer experience principles. That’s probably why so many solar businesses view solar monitoring as a cost instead of a profit center. However, with assistance from the right monitoring system or platform, solar installers can spend less time fielding calls from customers while enjoying more referrals, better reviews, and a much more efficient support team. Here are five ways a solar monitoring platform can save a solar contractor money (and headaches).
As studies have shown, a single bad customer service experience can lead to bad reviews and no referrals, wreaking havoc on a company’s reputation and bottom line. Most solar installers are incredibly aware of this fact and do their best to deliver a great customer experience throughout the installation process. However, when it comes to the post-install relationship, any proactive communications typically fall by the wayside. Instead, solar companies’ customer support departments focus on putting out fires.
One of the absolute best ways to shift this dynamic in a solar installer's favor is by reducing the number of inbound calls that have to be handled by personnel. As any service department knows, these calls and false alerts get in the way of actual completing real service tasks. They're a drain on productivity and a stressor to your team. While there isn't a magic wand that can be waved, the next best thing is a solar monitoring platform that works for both the solar homeowner and the installer.
A great platform will actually begin by keeping homeowners in the loop throughout the solar installation process and then transition into a monitoring dashboard. This allows the solar business to nurture a long-term customer connection. With homeowners able to see things like power generation and usage on their phones from anywhere, they are empowered in ways early solar adopters were not.
The best solar monitoring platforms also give homeowners the right level of detail — leaving out things like panel-level differences in generation that can cause confusion, and instead emphasizing the metrics consumers care about, like energy savings. By investing in the right solar monitoring platform up-front, solar businesses can answer many – if not all – customer inquiries about how their system is operating before they ever pick up the phone to call their contractor.
While handling fewer inbound calls saves costly work hours, positive customer engagement has an even bigger impact: lowering customer acquisition costs. Although customers have higher customer service expectations than ever before, solar companies can turn this into an opportunity through automation.
This is where it can help to look at the realities of a company that offers a well-designed solar monitoring experience and a company that does not. In the first case, homeowners have real-time data that regularly reminds them why they went solar in the first place. This data is presented in a way that they understand, and the platform gives them a way to easily refer other customers. They can see the kWh they are generating, get a breakdown of their cost savings, and even view their overall carbon impact. Better still, they can quickly share all of this information with their network to convince others to go solar too.
For customers that want to A) save money and B) make a positive environmental impact, a great solar monitoring platform continually reminds them that they made the right decision with the solar installation. It can also give a company a leg up on handling any issues that might arise. Instead of waiting for a customer to locate a problem (e.g., an offline system) and initiate a phone call, a good solar monitoring platform can alert the solar company with a message that pinpoints the issue before the customer is notified.
Customers tend to be at the peak of frustration when they’re the ones that have to identify the issue with their solar system. If a solar support team can be proactive and reach out to a customer to let them know that their system is offline and the business would like to send out a crew, a homeowner can see the post-install commitment. This can lead to more positive reviews from those customers you were never able to convert before.
Of course, this level of proactive service is only possible if your business has a solar monitoring platform that stands a cut above the rest. Look for platforms that will allow you to control your alert settings, so that your service team isn’t bogged down by nuisance alerts. Great platforms will also offer a monitoring portal for your homeowners that is fully white-labeled with your company’s branding. That way, your customer base never forgets who their solar company is and can continue to sing your praises, even if it’s been a decade since the install.
Referrals as one of the best ways to grow your business, and the best referral marketing programs tap into your customers’ psychology. To that end, one recent survey showed that 59% of solar customers list saving money on their electrical bills as the top motivator for installing a solar PV system. With traditional energy costs on the rise, that number is likely only going up.
Companies that offer a user-friendly solar monitoring platform provide homeowners with a reliable stream of data that, as mentioned, reinforces the decision to install a PV system. More importantly, customer confidence in the company grows as they watch how many kWh the system is generating. Solar monitoring platforms that allow homeowners to easily share their solar generation data, as well as their cost savings, grease the wheels of your referral marketing program.
By arming your customers with real, easy-to-understand information about their solar systems, you give them the tools they need to convince others to go solar. Homeowners can show interested friends and relatives what to expect if they install a system of their own, meaning that the benefits of a solar monitoring platform ultimately add up to lower CAC and less time spent chasing customer leads.
With consumption monitoring, solar installers can provide a great snapshot of a homeowner's energy use. This ultimately leads to more homeowner accountability and helps crystallize the path to offsetting energy costs – the main goal of most solar customers.
Solar monitoring also helps customers see how their energy use fluctuates based on their behavior. Particularly when their energy consumption data is displayed in a user-friendly dashboard, homeowners naturally become motivated to improve their energy usage and pick up greener habits. This dynamic encourages homeowners to maximize the potential of their solar PV system, increasing their overall energy savings and educating them at the same time.
With the right monitoring platform, you can even lengthen the amount of time a homeowner stays personally connected to their solar system. Industry surveys show that standard monitoring platforms, like those offered by the major inverters, tend to engage homeowners for the first six months post-install. Since the majority of these dashboards are not built with the homeowner experience in mind, there’s nothing to keep your customers engaged long-term.
However, with a solar monitoring platform that makes energy usage and production data easy to understand, it’s possible to foster a connection with your customer that can span years. Presented alongside other resources to learn about the solar industry, it’s possible for consumption monitoring to hold your customers’ attention longer by giving them goals to work towards and context about their data.
A stronger connection between the homeowner and the PV system is great for any growing solar business. Without devoting much – or any – additional time, installers can keep homeowners engaged for longer and allow their confidence in solar to grow. More customer appreciation of PV systems ultimately means solar upgrades and an additional boost in positive reviews and referrals.
Even the best PV systems aren't immune from occasional problems. While some solar providers have to spend additional time searching for the problem, those tapping the benefits of module-level monitoring (hidden from the homeowner but accessible to your team) have a tremendous advantage.
You can see this illustrated whenever a system goes offline. For solar businesses that have only the standard monitoring systems at their disposal, service teams often have to wade through dozens of nuisance alerts before they’re able to find real homeowner issues. While a contractor using dated technology spends time troubleshooting, contractors using advanced monitoring platforms that offer module-level monitoring quickly locate the problem and know exactly what next steps to take. The best solar monitoring platforms also allow your team to customize issue severity, allowing them to prioritize the critical systems for the day. With these resources, instead of handling phone calls from frustrated customers, solar providers can restore customer confidence without completely disrupting a team's busy schedule.
By being proactive with module-level monitoring, a solar installer can not only avoid a dip in customer sentiment but even strengthen the installer-homeowner relationship. Less time spent answering agitated phone calls means more time for employees to focus on the next task at hand. In an industry where referrals and efficiency are critical, module-level monitoring makes a difference.
Automation is changing just about every industry you can name, particularly forward-leaning industries like solar. In a world where customers regularly track packages and food delivery down to the minute, contractors not using a well-designed, user-first solar monitoring platform have an uphill battle in satisfying today’s customer expectations. They also run the risk of lowering team efficiency and looking dated in their approach. This can then feed into the vicious cycle of elevated customer acquisition costs and overworked teams.
By understanding these shifts in customer expectations and harnessing new technology, installers can stay in tune with homeowners. By empowering homeowners with a wealth of real-time, easy-to-use data, solar providers open the door to cost savings and quality referrals that can keep the business driving forward.
To see how solar monitoring can help your company turn the corner through automation, reach out to Bodhi for a demo.